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Early this year, Kyriaki Drakotos launched a collection of hand painted silk scarves honoring women and their stories. The New York-based artist was inspired by the practice of an earlier time—stitching one’s initials onto personal, intimate items like robes, negligées, or handkerchiefs. Mixing hidden letters with motifs of the ocean, branches, and butterflies, Kyriaki’s first collection creates connections with its wearer.
Whitewall spoke with Drakotos about the art of embroidery and challenging ideas of craft and folk art.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about the point of inspiration for this new line of silk-printed accessories?
KYRIAKI DRAKOTOS: As a young girl in Greece, I learned embroidery and loved the texture and vibrant colors of the threads. They were my first journey into the world of art and my first drawings.
I grew up drawing, it was my first love. I would use fine pointed pens and colored inks to create imaginative pictures and designs inspired by the natural world. This collection speaks to this history and is ultimately an exploration of identity and a re-positioning of traditional women’s handicraft and folk art, challenging its perception in everyday life and place in fine art and luxury.
WW: Each design is hand painted. Can you tell us about your process and how it’s translated into silk?
KD: Each design is hand painted on watercolor paper using gouache. I sketch my ideas first in pencil, to determine the overall flow of the piece, then switch to paint, letting the brush determine the shapes of the design and allowing the letters to transform into strokes and figures. I feel it is important for each initial to have its own unique identity, including its own color.
I paint each design true to size. I like to think of each design as a finished painting, when completed it gives me the chance to see it as a finished work of art that can stand on its own.
The design is then sent to our printer in Como, Italy, which is family owned and has specialized in fine silk printing for decades. The process is meticulous. Each step is equally important, especially the printing process, in order to ensure that every element of the design is included and that it retains the original feeling of the brushwork in detail. The process, from conception to finished product, takes many months.
WW: Why did you want to incorporate initials into each piece?
KD: I wanted women to have something of their own; their initial represents their name. It says, “This is who I am.” Letters are visually beautiful. They can flow and transform, becoming butterflies, flowers, waves, or stand by themselves, proclaiming their identity to the world. The trompe l’oeil tasseling at the bottom carried through each scarf adds a sense of the surreal and unexpected, a playful counterbalance to the otherwise flowing atmospheres.
WW: As an artist, what do you enjoy about working in textiles?
KD: I love how fabric feels, the way it can drape and envelop the body to become a beautiful garment, enhance a room as a curtain, harmonize or contrast as a rich, colorful throw. While in art school, I often visited the Metropolitan Museum’s Medieval galleries, and spent hours studying the tapestries of mythological creatures and flora of every kind. I see them as paintings in woven fabric.
I originally imitated the tapestries by painting landscapes on black velvet that I then stretched on canvas frames. Years later, when I started thinking about creating the line, I began buying silk and painting the designs directly on the fabric to see how it would drape when worn.
WW: How do you imagine these pieces being worn?
KD: I think there is an array of possibilities. They can draped and wrapped over the shoulders like a rebozo shawl on a cool evening or layered eclectically like a kimono, folding elegantly to cloak the body.
I really think of them as jewelry made from fabric. They add a meaningful touch to a simple black dress or can be worn simply, draped around the neck to add color and texture. I like the idea that each piece is a subtle nod to identity, personal, meaningful, and not readily evident to anyone other than those who wear it and those who have given it.
WW: Would you describe yourself as a romantic?
KD: I would. I have a great love for life and am constantly inspired by all that surrounds us—histories, art, music, nature. When I paint, I often listen to orchestral music and love the rich melodies and lush scoring of the Romantic period. I am inspired by beauty in complexity—stories of romance, great fables and legends, tapestry, human experience, dreams of the unknown and the unseen. I appreciate beauty in all forms and feel harmony when I am able to translate that onto paper.
WW: What is your vision for Kyriaki going forward?
KD: Working on new designs, new letters, for the next season and exploring possibilities for other accessories and decorative items. We would like to continue to be part of the movement supporting social justice, women’s and environmental issues. Our initials, our causes. We recognize how we are all connected.