By Marina Douni/ Ginaika Magazine
Issue 3 - Athens August 2008
Pantelis Melissinos, when combining art with functional daily life objects, operates more or less as an alchemist, and that is what makes his handcrafted sandals unique.
When you visit the store of Pantelis Melissinos, at Aghias Theklas St., in the Psirri area of Athens, you will seat and try sandals in a former coffee-shop chair that has been transformed into an art piece, by the artist. In the mean time, he will either be crafting a new pair of sandals, at his bench –all the sandals go through his hands- or he will be taking the exact measurements of a customer’s feet for a special order.
While studying Art, at Parsons School of Design, in New York, he also wrote theatrical plays, which he put on stage with his fellow students. Upon his return to Greece he started participating in art shows. He has also written the text and music of his comedy ‘Bacchus’, which he staged, using sets and costumes also designed by him. “The play takes a bite at the vile nerds of this life” he says. He path though led him to this trade, in 2004. “It all started in 1920, when my grandfather Gheorghios Melissinos, set up store, on Pandrossou St, selling top-quality shoes and hiking boots for men, which were also purchased by the royal family of Greece. In 1954 my father took over, and a stroke of luck, in the early 60s changed everything. An English lady choreographer order sandals for a performance” .
Stavros Melissinos put on display some of the extra pairs of sandals he had made. That was it. In the midst of Pandrossou St. with all those colorful village rugs, knittings and the Greek traditional red, up-curved shoes with the black pompon, called ‘tsarouchia’ the touristss would stumble upon those ancient looking sandals. It was the footloose era of the easygoing, hippy revolution. The Beatles, Jackie Onassis and numerous other celebrities walked through the doors of the little shop. Today, find the store mentioned as a ‘must visit, while in Athens’ in all the tourist guide books, even the one published by the chic ‘Louis Vuitton’ travel guide to Athens. Pantelis’ father was named ‘The Poet Sandalmaker’, because he used to hand out his poems along with the sandals.
Today Pantelis’ comedy ‘Bacchus’ is available at the store and a group of Pace University students asked him if they could stage it in New York. He and his assistants keep handcrafting sandals out of calf leather, using traditional glue and nails instead of high pressure gluing. “The only difference is that today we add an anti-slippery rubber sole” he comments. Some of the sandals though bear his hand painted motifs and on the sole you might find the phrase: “Steps of Love", a concise travel tip as he says.