Feminine pieces that combine the past and the future characterise designer intent on reinventing himself, whose latest itineration is as a teacher finds NIKI CHARALAMBOUS

When it comes to household fashion names in Cyprus, Pantelis Panteli is undoubtedly among the top ten designers. Not only has he rubbed shoulders with international fashion designers and worked with famous singers and actors from Greece and Cyprus, staging theatrical runways with each new fashion collection, Panteli has also served as an inspirational fashion mentor to hundreds of students, helping them to acquire skills before entering the highly competitive fashion arena.

“There is an incredible energy and vibrancy that teaching provides, and the passing on of knowledge is something very special,” he said.

Panteli characterises his own unique works of fashion art as feminine timeless pieces, combining past and future in his designs “making my clothes both trendy and fashionable even ten years from now.”

For someone who has thrived on challenges and pushing the boundaries of fashion for nearly three decades, Panteli is a firm believer in always reinventing himself, while owing his success to his heritage and considerable experience in the world of fashion.

fashion2Born in London in the 1970s at a time of economic instability, unemployment, riots, and, of course, punk, Panteli recalls watching the Miss World beauty pageant for the first time and being mesmerised by the glamour of the competition. “I was fascinated by the dresses and costumes and felt an instant connection that made me realise that I wanted to be a part of that world,” he said.

“I was a youngster at the time, but I became obsessed with the fashion world, reading Vogue and other international magazines and marvelling at the artistry and creativity of the designers.”

But it was not until he was 12 that a family friend planted the seed that he could study fashion after high school, “and since then I could think of nothing else.”

At the time in London fashion designers were opening their first or flagship stores and setting the tone for future trends, but his parents opted to move back to Cyprus, although that did not impact his dream to study fashion. After finishing school and military service, Panteli returned to the UK where he studied fashion design at the London College of Fashion, before gaining a master’s degree in fashion.

“It was certainly one of the most defining moments in my life, knowing that I was equipped to step out into the international fashion circuit and establish my own brand and identity as a designer,” he said.

The first time he presented a collection was in October 1996, when he returned to Cyprus in pursuit of a job in fashion. “I started designing my first collection, and the manager of the bar I was working in offered me space to stage my show there, and although I was extremely nervous, I told myself, ‘You’ve got this,’ and went out and launched my first collection,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “The event was a huge success, attracting over 750 people who were stunned by my theatrics of including motorbikes and vintage cars on stage while the models moved around them.”

The success of his show inspired him to open his first studio, and the rest, as they say, is fashion history.

Looking back on his career in the industry, Panteli says every experience has been defining, catapulting him to the next phase of his life. Over the years, he has showcased his work at Cyprus Fashion Week, as well as in the UK, Paris, Greece and the US, and he has also had the “good fortune” to meet and work with a slew of reputable fashion icons, including Vivienne Westwood, Amanda Wakeley, John Rocha, Calvin Klein, and Paul Smith.

He has dressed many famous singers and actors from both Cyprus and Greece, and he was honoured for his service and dedication to his profession by former Cyprus president Glafcos Clerides and Larnaca municipality, but he remains low-key and humble.

fashion pantelis panteli

Pantelis Panteli

In 2013, Panteli was approached by the Alexander College in Larnaca to head up its new fashion department. “It was a huge steppingstone in my life, but without a doubt one of the greatest decisions I have made knowing that I can impart my knowledge and experiences to the next generation of Cypriot fashion designers,” he said.

“Teaching provides an amazing energy and vibrancy, and the passing on of knowledge is something very special. I frequently consider it a two-way street. As a teacher, you are in the unique position of not only sharing your fashion knowledge with your students, but you also learn a lot from them, and what motivates and inspires them to create their own unique style of fashion,” he explained.

fashion4Panteli said students are given professional work opportunities prior to graduating if their work is of good quality. “I strongly believe that the future of fashion in Cyprus is extremely challenging, and that there needs to be stronger fundamentals in the industry to enable young talent to have a future,” he said.

“The government must also recognise the importance of the fashion industry. We have some great designers in Cyprus, but there isn’t a strong enough platform to support them right now.”

Panteli thrives on encouraging all of his students to dream big. “It is so challenging for today’s young people to dream because they live in an ‘insta moment’, he said. “It’s really about teaching them how to reinvent themselves and the world around them.”

Almost three decades later, Panteli continues to dream his own dreams while reinventing himself for the next career move. “My Cypriot heritage is extremely important to me, and it has certainly laid the foundation for many things in my life, including the basis of my work,” he said. “I strongly believe that it is my responsibility to preserve and promote my culture in everything I do, and this is also something I teach my students to see their own identity through the fashion pieces they create.”