The mythical gods of ancient Greece were no strangers to divine footwear. Hephaestus, the god of craftsmen and artisans, designed golden sandals with wings that allowed Hermes, emissary of the gods, to fly. Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wore silver sandals. And while Nike, goddess of victory, has since lent her name to a far more modern style of footwear, traditional Greek shoemaking still thrives today. From simple flats to elaborate lace-up sandals, Greek creations give women the power to turn heads and a confidence that makes them feel like modern-day goddesses.
Stavros Melissinos, a cobbler in Athens, began making a name for himself in the early 1960s. Drawing on ancient sculpture and historic prints, his flat-soled sandals frequently feature interlaced leather straps crossing the toes and wrapping around the ankles. Global icons such as Sophia Loren, Jacqueline Onassis and Barbra Streisand all ventured to his cluttered workshop. They walked away with simple sandals made of natural leather that ages beautifully – and encouraged their legions of fans to follow in their footsteps.
Today the Melissinos tradition continues in a workshop adjacent to the Acropolis. Stavros Melissinos provides advice and inspiration, while his son Pantelis now runs the business. Their focus on quality and craftsmanship means that father and son haven’t switched to mass production, despite ever-growing demand. Their collection now consists of around 30 designs, including a Cleopatra-style gladiator sandal boot once purchased by Kate Moss. But if none of those suit, they’ll design a bespoke pair for you.
Bold and beautiful
Ancient Greek Sandals, launched two years ago, has imbued Greek footwear with a high-fashion sensibility. Christina Martini, the brand’s founder, seeks to make traditional footwear more luxurious and more elaborate. She does classic sandals beautifully, but she also uses beads, fringe and bold colours to give them added attitude. The stunning Ikaria, for instance, comes in bronze, copper, and platinum. Three straps cross the foot and decorative wings cover the ankles. ‘It’s ancient Greece but for the modern woman,’ says Martini, who lives in Corfu. ‘Inspiration is all around me at the museums and among the ruins.’
Ancient Greek jewels inspired the Chrysso, which shines with golden embellishments. Vases from antiquity led to the Hellenic prints, available in blue, black and gold, on the quirky Calypso. Medea, the brand’s most popular sandal, consists of a single leather thong that snakes between the toes before spreading out into a series of curving lines that wrap around the foot. The idea came to Martini while she was flipping through an archaeology book and saw a sketch of a mythical ship. ‘It’s quite sexy and you can wear it during the day or at night,’ she says. ‘It flatters the foot no matter who wears it.’
It also makes for a comfortable afternoon. Martini trained at the prestigious Cordwainers’ College in London, which has also produced shoe maestros like Jimmy Choo and Rupert Sanderson. She understands how to craft a beautiful shoe for the woman who doesn’t want to suffer for the sake of style. Martini developed her skills further during the eight years she spent as a designer at Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga. She spent countless hours in their factories. ‘I learned about construction and comfort,’ she says. ‘It was a great school for me.’
Now her wearable shoes, which are handcrafted by a team of five in Athens, can be seen on Hollywood stars such as Michelle Williams, as well as style connoisseurs from the United States to Monaco to Russia. Just two years since Ancient Greek Sandals was founded, its sandals already appear on the shelves of high-end shops including Selfridges in London, Colette in Paris and Barneys in New York. In Greece, they are stocked at the Free Shop boutiques in Athens and Mykonos, and at Mezzo Mezzo in Corfu.
Such momentum means it’s no wonder that the fashion world has taken notice. Last September, Greek designer Marios Schwab collaborated with Martini on two pairs of shoes which models wore during his catwalk show at London Fashion Week. One, a gladiator sandal, includes intricate leather lacing and buckles, while the other has a lower, ankle-height silhouette. Both feature painted raffia fringing and tinted raw edging. The shoes, in black and natural leather, will be available for purchase at Ancient Greek Sandals this spring. Goddess style, it seems, will never be out of fashion.