Using Cyprus as his inspiration, one designer is putting the island on the map by turning plastic bottles into in demand scarves finds NIKI CHARALAMBOUS

Although Michalis Pantelidis has been living abroad for almost a decade, he is tremendously proud of his Cypriot lineage, which has surely impacted his exquisite creations. Using Cyprus and its people as sources of inspiration, one of his sustainable fashion designs even graced the red carpet at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, sending a clear statement that local creativity is a force to be reckoned with.

fashion michalis pantelidis

Michalis Pantelidis

Textiles designer Pantelidis was born and raised in Nicosia at the turn of the millennium and is now residing in Puglia, Italy, creating embroideries for fashion brands such as Chanel, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana.

In a short period of time after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in fashion textiles at the University of the West of England, he gained work experience through significant internship collaborations.

“I feel very privileged to have worked in the French luxury fashion house Balmain in Paris, as well as with many renowned Dutch fashion designers such as Iris van Herpen, Ronald van der Kemp, Dutch Igloo and Karim Adduchi,” he said.

He worked on Iris van Herpen’s 2019 Fashion Paris Week couture collection called Sensory Seas, which was worn by Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Kate Moss, among others.

Pantelidis’ career path towards sustainable fashion began when he was given the opportunity to work with Ronald van der Kemp, who is credited with being the first to inspire a movement for sustainable change.

“I learned a lot about the importance of reusing materials, and my mindset began to lean towards sustainable practices in fashion, ultimately leading to my future scarf creations made from plastic water bottles,” Pantelidis said.

fashion4“I was so impressed by how Ronald van der Kemp was able to turn unwanted materials into couture garments that celebrities like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Celine Dion were wearing on the red carpet.”

Michalis was also introduced to the skill of hand painting on fabrics at van der Kemp’s atelier, where he witnessed organza scrap fabric pieces being converted into hand-painted butterflies, which ended up being worn by Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

“I have a lot of respect for this incredible designer because he taught me to believe in myself as a designer and to constantly strive to learn new skills, bearing in mind that there are no mistakes in fashion, only new skills and techniques to learn.”

He then progressed to the next level of his internship collaborating with Dutch Igloo, an artist duo based in Amsterdam. “There, I experimented with photography, digital editing and intricate handwork, all of which I now use in my work, and it was there that I was encouraged to start my own brand, which I established in 2021,” he explained. “And I have never looked back.”

Pantelidis also contributed to the creation of internationally-known fashion designer Karim Adduchi’s Freedom dress concept, which aimed to create a single dress made up of three garments representing three religions.

fashion taking part in the revive exhibiton

Taking part in the Revive exhibiton

“This project also included conversations between the three young designers, who were from three different religious backgrounds, uniting everyone as one,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “This dress symbolised unity, and it was an honour to have been a part of such a monumental project.”

His own first personal project after launching his own eponymous brand was called The Land of Decomposition, which was meant to emphasise the perspective on how life is viewed.

“I took photos of wastelands in Nicosia and used digital art to create various designs, which are then transferred onto chiffon scarves made from plastic water bottles, creating a fashion item that is not only fun and beautiful, but also sustainable,” he said.

The scarf initiative sought to inform people on how waste can be recycled into wearable art, “something that should also reflect in our lives when it comes to detoxifying our inner selves. We live in a culture that dictates how we should or should not be, and I wanted to convey through my work that as individuals, we have the ability to choose our own path”.

His path to sustainability became the focus of attention at the Cannes Film Festival, where acclaimed American actress Sabrina Culver wore one of his pieces inspired by Cyprus. “It was a custom made caftan using 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles and art influenced by the turquoise hues of the Akamas, one of my favourite places in Cyprus,” he explained.

As new avenues open, Pantelidis works to support numerous issues through his work.

“In addition to promoting my Cypriot heritage and raising awareness of the importance of respecting and protecting nature, I hope to be the voice of the LGBTQIA+ community, raising awareness of domestic homophobia.”

But when it comes to his fashion, and particularly his scarves, Michalis glows with satisfaction when he realises how popular and well-received his work has been. “I sell my scarves online through my website, and I collaborate with stores and hotels both in Cyprus and abroad.”

Pantelidis is not your typical fashion designer. He is an individual on a quest to have a positive environmental influence on the fashion industry by drawing inspiration from his cultural heritage and bringing pertinent issues to light.