Custom-designing rings for Johnny Depp and saving lives, THEO PANAYIDES meets a former male model scared of love
Johnny Depp asked for a skull ring, says Marcus Platrides, founder and CEO of Etherial Jewellery – just a basic skull ring, nothing fancy. Custom-made, of course, not from the house line; “I don’t think he’d ever buy something from the house line”. He and Johnny only ever spoke on the phone, he explains – but, for instance, the members of venerable rock band Uriah Heep “knocked on my door” here in Nicosia, and he met Kim Wilde in Brussels where Kim was performing onstage and Marcus was accepting an EU business award. We talk on Wednesday; on Friday he’s off to London to design something for Djibril Cissé, the former Liverpool striker and current DJ. Fleur-de-lis is likely to feature in the design, muses Marcus; Cissé, being French, has a thing for fleur-de-lis.
It seems a bit unlikely, Captain Jack Sparrow phoning a one-man operation in Nicosia (there are no permanent employees; it’s just Marcus and a handful of freelancers) for his jewellery needs – but in fact it’s not so unlikely. For one thing, says Marcus, there are only three or four designers in the world making his particular niche, variously described as “rock-chic jewellery” or “luxury skull jewellery” – i.e. rings, pendants, earrings and so forth which are shaped like skulls, bones and vertebrae but made of precious metals and precious or semi-precious stones. For another, though Etherial has a cursory showroom in Nicosia (“I’m never there, I never actually go. It’s by appointment only”), hardly any of his sales come from Cyprus; instead, Marcus makes arrangements for his products to appear in boutiques and hotel shops in places like Las Vegas or Ibiza, which presumably is where Johnny Depp saw something he liked and decided to place a personal order.
The business model seems to work, overheads kept to a minimum: “I rent the equipment [to make the jewellery] whenever I have business. I buy the silver whenever I get paid”. House-line items retail from about €100 to €2,000, custom-made pieces depend on the materials (“I’m not at liberty to say what the most expensive item I sold cost”). That said, the company’s origins are surprisingly casual. I’d assumed Marcus was a lifelong artistic type who’d founded the business to promote his designs but in fact he seems to be the opposite, a businessman who became a designer: armed with a degree in Economics and Politics, he was looking for some entrepreneurial project on which to embark in his mid-20s – and found inspiration when he went to Sri Lanka on honeymoon with his first wife in 2005, and asked a local craftsman to make a copy of a ring he’d bought in London.
Struck by how much cheaper the copy was (and how close to the original), he decided to open a small factory in Sri Lanka, hiring a dozen employees who – unlike him – were goldsmiths and silversmiths. A few months later, still on extended vacation with his wife Mary (“Our honeymoon lasted about a year”) but now in Vegas, he had a stroke of luck when Mary was doing her hair in the salon of the Wynn Hotel and the stylist turned out to be great friends with Mrs Steve Wynn, wife of the man who owned the hotel. Mary befriended Mrs Wynn, mentioned her husband’s new business, Marcus met Mr Wynn “and it was just a matter of him clicking his fingers and saying OK,” he recalls. “Ultimately, Mary is responsible for what Etherial has become today – because it was that opening at the Wynn Hotel which got Etherial viewed by a potential 5,000 new customers every single day!” The only further twist was the closure of the Sri Lanka factory due to civil war, after which Marcus relocated to Cyprus and learned to craft the jewellery himself.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and I’m walking to the door of a stately old two-storey home on a hill overlooking Nicosia, a neighbourhood that’s been posh for generations. There’s money, or at least a proximity to money. Marcus’ maternal grandfather, he tells me later, owned Apollo, “the biggest garment factory in Cyprus”. His mum is now married to Marios Eliades, a prominent lawyer and former minister (Marcus looks up to Eliades and considers him more of a father than his real dad, whom he hasn’t spoken to in five years). His first wife, the aforementioned Mary, was Mary Tornaritis, scion of a big Nicosia family and a staple of the glossy-magazine circuit; still on the internet is a back-and-forth volley of disses between Marcus and Mary after their divorce in 2013, carried out through the pages of Must and Omikron. (They’d been together for seven years; he remarried briefly in 2014, a marriage that ended after only a few months.) Marcus himself looks impressive, tall, buff and bearded, his body covered in tattoos. He goes to the gym every day – “every single day” – and plays football every day; he has no other hobbies to speak of. “This is how I rest, by going to the gym and playing football.”
He’s candid, with a singular story to tell (did we mention that he used to be a model? we’ll get to that later) – but not, strictly speaking, wide-open, with a side of himself he prefers to keep private. This hilltop house is his parents’ home, where he grew up; he lives in a flat with his dog, a Miniature Pinscher named Kal-El, but “I don’t usually bring people to where I live, it’s my private quarters”. His tattoos have their own secret energy: “They basically reflect stories from my life. I have a little boy hanging from a dead tree,” he adds, pointing to one rather gaudy illustration, “and this is supposed to be me”.
Sounds a bit heavy, I note.
“Yeah… A little boy, he’s dead, hanging from a dead tree. And a girl swinging from the tree on the other side” – there is indeed the figure of a girl, swinging happily – “paying no attention to the boy”.
And what does it mean?
“Uhh… It’s personal.”
Other bits of body-art are easier to parse. There’s the clock of life, “to remind me that time is ticking away”. (He’ll be 37 at the end of this month.) Three women representing Columbus’ three ships, the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria, a reminder that he used to be in the Navy (actually “a naval commando in the Greek special forces” during National Service). And what about the painted figures crawling up his shoulder? “These are demons,” he replies. “I have demons, I have demons at the back as well. Demons leaning on a skull. And these are the demons fighting inside of me.” Marcus laughs, a little uncertainly: “Look, jewellery is not the only thing I do in my life, I do other things as well”. He pauses, whether out of shyness or a sense of drama: “One of these things is that I’m a high-ranking officer of the Cyprus Rescue Services”.
To be honest, it doesn’t sound like a case of hidden demons – more like a case of surprising altruism – but it’s certainly a big part of his life; indeed, he adds surprisingly, “I’m actually waiting for a position to open in the Civil Defence”, after which (assuming he gets in) he’ll happily work full-time as a civil servant, and give up Etherial. “The latest rescue we did was two days ago, when we rescued Syrian immigrants from a sinking boat,” Marcus tells me. “I’m on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, for the Rescue Services. So – when was it? – last Friday I was at the military camp in Kokkinotrimithia, it’s called Pournara, it’s the camp for the refugees, and basically I set up the camp, I made the registrations of everybody coming in, I made sure everyone was safe [and] had food to eat”. He’s also rescued people and animals from forest fires – “Nothing dies on my shift,” he declares dramatically – adding that “I’ve always had this urge to make sure everybody’s all right”. Look! exclaims Marcus, showing me his arm: it makes his hairs stand on end just to talk about this stuff.
I pause, trying to take it all in. Custom-designing skull rings for Johnny Depp is impressive enough – but it turns out he’s also saved lives, and done all these good deeds. He was in the special forces, has a black belt in karate, modelled for Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana (we really will get to that eventually). Yet he’s also twice-divorced and now lives alone, with a dog called Kal-El for company. Why, with so much going for him, do the long-term relationships not seem to work out?
“I don’t know,” he replies, nodding sadly in acknowledgment. “I’m a free spirit, Theo,” he adds earnestly. “I’m a free spirit… I have so many things to do in this short life, that perhaps I don’t have time to devote myself to what a woman will really need – which is basically love, warmth, and to be there, and love, and cuddle, and wake up together and do things together. Me, I’m always on the go. I might get a call at two or three in the morning – I’ll just get up, put on my uniform and go.”
But surely a mature woman can accept all that?
“Yeah,” he agrees rather dubiously. “I mean, love for me is – I don’t think I can love. I really don’t think I can love. I can give attention, I can protect.” He shakes his head ruefully: “That’s my limit.”
In the end, like a lot of high achievers, it may be that his strongest motivation isn’t love but competitiveness, and a compulsion to prove himself. “What I’m going to tell you now is an insight to my character, who I am and what I’m willing to do,” he declares – then tells me the story (at last!) of his male-modelling days, which began inauspiciously when he answered an ad in the paper as a pimply, chubby 15-year-old. The ad, calling for models, turned out to be a scam, tricking him into paying for photos which turned out to be useless – so, brimming with resentment, teenage Marcus resolved “to become a supermodel, just to show them”. He started dieting and going to the gym – and “about a year later, I literally had the body of a model… One thing led to another, and within six years I had worked for Dolce & Gabbana in Milan, I had worked for Roberto Cavalli. I won Most Photogenic Male Model in the world, in India in 2002 [at] the Mr. International pageant for male models”. A clip from that may be found on YouTube (search for ‘XRayAthens’, the user who uploaded it), with a fresh-faced Marcus fielding generic questions. “All the young girls will be rooting for these men – they’ve been breaking their hearts!” chirps the (female) presenter.
It was all a façade, of course, the empty panorama of men as slabs of marbled beef for young girls to swoon over. In fact, he says now, the world of male models was a dangerous one, full of perils and predators – “drugs, fake promises, homosexuals, you name it” – where gullible young guys said yes to anything in order to get jobs, and sold their souls in the process. “So many lost souls. So many,” muses Marcus, thinking back to his old friends in the industry – and shows me the hairs on his arm again, once again standing to attention at the memory.
Marcus Platrides seems at peace nowadays; maybe he has nothing left to prove, or maybe – after two careers, two marriages and rescuing refugees in his downtime – he’s decided to keep things simple. He lives healthy, wakes up at six every morning and keeps his focus on work: “I don’t owe anybody money. I pay my taxes. I’m straightforward. I sleep at night, and I sleep like a baby”. He doesn’t really plan to remarry, nor does he plan to be designing jewellery for the likes of Johnny Depp forever; a job in the Civil Defence then, 20 years down the line, a quiet retirement to a house in the mountains suits him fine, he claims. “I’m not pretentious,” he insists, despite the celebrity clients and sporadic mentions in glossy magazines. “I’m a very misunderstood character. I don’t know why.”
How does he cope when things go wrong? How does he keep his equilibrium? “I go to the gym, I lift weights,” he replies. “I go play football, I score goals – and I sweat! And when I go home, I go under the shower and I let all the bad toxins go down the drain. Then my dog comes next to me, I pat him. And that’s it.” I shake his hand, feeling oddly exhilarated – whether because he’s so positive, or because I’m just one degree of separation from Johnny Depp.