The co-founder and designer of footwear brand Ancient Greek Sandals on working for Louis Vuitton, setting up her own label and a recurring work-related nightmare.
Born in Corfu, Christina Martini studied at London’s renowned footwear college Cordwainers before design stints at Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga in Paris. In 2011, after moving back to Greece to give birth to her first child, she teamed up with footwear factory owner Nikolas Minoglou to launch Ancient Greek Sandals, taking the creative reins. The brand now sells more than 80,000 sandals a year in 500 global stockists, including Barneys in America, Selfridges in the UK and online through Net-a-Porter. Wholesale prices for the spring 16 collection range from €50 (£35) for a flat sandal to €200 (£140) for a gladiator-style sandal.
How would you describe Ancient Greek Sandals to someone who has never heard of it?
Handmade sandals made out of good quality leather, inspired by Ancient Greek art and mythology.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
My job is to design and develop a collection each season. In addition, I personally handle all social media and I overlook the creation of press releases, look books and training books for our retailers. We’re a small company – we got big very fast, but we still think we’re small – so I also do the work of a product manager, sometimes quality control and a lot other things.
I always loved the Greek sandals that I used to buy at tourist shops around the Acropolis or on the Greek islands. I loved their aesthetic and I had the idea since I was a student to develop a line of Greek sandals using the same construction but making them in good-quality leather, developing further their design and shape.
Your sandals are handmade by local Greek craftsmen. Why is this important to you?
Ancient Greek Sandals spring 16
It’s in the brand’s DNA to use the traditional techniques of sandal-making that have existed for centuries in Greece.
You designed shoes for the likes of Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton before setting up your own brand. What did working for those big fashion houses teach you?
I learned from the best in every domain, from the factories and their craftsmen in Italy to the marketing team and, of course, I witnessed how two of the most important fashion designers of our times, Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière, work.
You’ve also added men’s and kids’ collections to the brand. What’s next?
I hope bags.
What is your design process?
The most difficult part for every designer, I think, is to get the concept of each collection. As soon as I find the era I am going to explore, I research, I visit museums or archaeological sites, I find relevant books or I browse the internet. When I feel that I have enough information, I sit down and I sketch. From there I do more detailed designs to send to my pattern-cutter and the first prototypes are born.
You recently collaborated with luxury London brand Peter Pilotto. Tell us about this.
With Peter Pilotto we share the same showroom, Rainbowwave, based in London. I was very familiar with the brand and always very fond of their prints and feminine shapes. For their resort collection [the designers] Peter and Christopher [De Vos] contacted me to develop a small capsule of sandals, which would be used for their look book.
Ancient Greek Sandals for Peter Pilotto
Where are your favourite places to wear your sandals?
Where they belong, while on holidays in the Greek islands. Having said that I must say that I only wear sandals when the weather is hot, even when travelling or visiting big cities.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
There have been many high points, such as working for all these amazing shows for Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga. Ancient Greek sandals can’t be compared to these luxury houses but it’s my own business so I think that the highest point of my career is right now. Seeing the sandals worn by women, selling in the best shops around the world and being in the most important publications, for me it is still a surreal dream.
What has been the lowest point of your career and how did you overcome it?
The lowest point was at Balenciaga when there was a show where we had these very complicated geometric platforms with sky-high thin heels. The shoes arrived and we realised that the girls couldn’t walk in them, so we had to cut all the heels the night before the show. I thought I would die from stress and I still have nightmares about it.
What is the best and worst thing about your job?
I think the best thing is that I can create something that makes people happy. I don’t like when I have to have my profile photograph shot.
Where are your favourite places to shop?
I usually shop from Net-a-Porter and I love Mouki Mou in London.
What are your current favourite fashion brands?
Right now I love Valentino and Gucci, and recently I’ve discovered Vita Kin.
What is the most expensive item in your wardrobe?
I guess my collection of Louis Vuitton shoes and bags from the shows. Some of them were never commercialised.
What one fashion trend do you wish would disappear?
Really chunky flatform shoes.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t rely on success; think long-term.
If you weren’t working in the fashion industry, what would you be doing?
What do you do to switch off from work?
Go play with my kids.
Who else in the fashion industry do you admire and why?
Miuccia Prada for her magnificent vision.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I am a chicken whisperer.