Greek Gilded Fashion – A World History Set in Gold – Ilias LALAoUNIS

Athens is a very rich city, not in GDP terms, but in priceless treasures for which there is no money in the world to buy. And among such irreplaceable treasures scattered all over the Greek capital one is harboured very close to the Acropolis – another treasure and a unique piece of monumental jewelry – in the former workshop of a famous goldsmith. This gilded treasure is the @ Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum.

It was opened in 1994 and dedicated to the Greek and world history and art. It exhibits over 4,500 pieces of jewelry, decorative items and micro sculptures (which are part of 50 collections) designed by Ilias Lalaounis between 1957-2002. According to the artist himself, this museum was his fifth child (he has four daughters, all following in their father’s footsteps), being the first museum of its kind in Greece and the third in the world and also an international centre for the research and promotion of decorative and traditional crafts, with a particular focus on jewelry, organizing over 70 temporary exhibitions in Greece and abroad (Romania being lucky enough to host one in 2008), running 1,200 specialised programs reaching, according to their own data, 80,000 children and 60,000 adults.

Ilias Lalaounis was born (1920 – 2013) in the mythical land of Delphi and was sent to school to become an economist or a lawyer, but the Greek gods had something else in store for him, a more glittering and fascinating job: to create beauty and to make women happy. And happy he made not only generations of women worldwide, but also the most famous of them all.

He created jewels for Maria Callas, Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin (‘’Marilyn Malraux’’), Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Streisand, Empress Farah of Iran, Barbara Hutton, Doris Duke, Gloria Guinness, Wendy Vanderbilt, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and even for some of the divas of the day such as Jennifer Aniston and Kate Moss.

The story goes that the Greek shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, commissioned Lalaounis to design a piece of jewelry for his wife’s 40th birthday to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing. The jewelry maker created a pair of earrings in which one could see the moon with tiny ruby craters which later developed into the Space collection.

Another mind-blowing collection was BLOW UP to be first presented in Paris and creating such a stir that it changed the way jewelry was viewed and exhibited ever since. His “Giant Jewels” were a structure covering the body from head to toe like a dress draping on a human silhouette and it was inspired by the Minoan civilization.

His work was fit for royals. In 1976, Her Majesty Empress Farah of Iran, commissioned Lalaounis to create a collection of jewelry and objects inspired by the Persian art which was displayed at the Imperial Palace in Tehran.

Later on, in 1992, he had another extremely important commission for the Olympic torch, which he designed for the games in Barcelona.

But his jewelry was affordable to low budgets as well because he wanted his creations to reach and please the common people too. When he opened his first international shop in the heart of Paris on Rue Saint-Honoré, the prices of his jewelry were considered by his competitors to be impossibly low.

He wanted to make himself understood, to fully communicate the message put into his golden creations and quite early he started making short films about his collections which accompanied his exhibitions. Even today, his museum in Athens runs testimonial films about his work.

He opened stores across Europe, in New York City, London, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong and his work was exhibited at several national museums of the world.

Before Lalaounis, Greek jewelry makers designed generic jewelry like any other goldsmiths in Europe and Ilias Lalaounis business took no exception. However, his meeting with two American ladies in search of genuinely Greek jewelry was providential for him and made a mark on the future course of his creative life. Soon after he started studying thoroughly the entire Greek heritage and then moved backwards to the very beginnings travelling in time to the Neolithic and the Palaeolithic, the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, the Hellenistic and Classical periods and, of course, the Byzantine era.

He did not settle only for the prestigious periods of history above, but he went for inspiration to the most surprising areas of interest, recreating in his preferred 18ct & 22ct yellow gold whole worlds, from the microcellular ones (Biosymbols) to the limitless sky above (Space, Rosetta Nebula) exhibiting nature and history in its most exquisite examples, telling stories about constellations, microcells, ‘’the navel of the Earth’’ (Omphalos of Delphi), necklaces worn by the solders of Darius (From Luristan to Persepolis), flowers, insects and birds (Wild Flowers of Greece, Butterflies, Serpents, Double Spiral, Flower Petals), moves and patterns of dance (Choreographism), old civilisations of the world (Celtic, Cyprus, Nubia, Mesopotamia, Scythian, Pastorale, Amerindian, Arabesques, Pre-Columbian) great figures of world history and mythology (Tudor, Suleiman the Magnificent, Vikings, Hercules, Attalos, Theodora, Aphaea, Aurelia), Paris (Place Vendôme), virtually leaving no major idea of the history of art ungilded and turning so many stories into pure gold.

His was not just a series of collections of jewelry, but nearly an ‘everything everywhere all at once’ kind of universe, to quote a famous movie title today, put into more than 18,000 pieces of jewelry and decorative items.

Lalaounis also brought back to life old techniques to recreate contemporary pieces linking them to a forgotten past: filigree, granulation, hand weaving, hand hammering, and repoussé, all requiring a great deal of knowledge, skill, effort and time.

Literally, the Lalaounis museum is an encyclopaedic place where hundreds of stories are told by a very imaginative storyteller and entire worlds are displayed in gold and gemstones as if born full grown jewels out of Lalaounis’s head like once upon a time Athens who sprung from Zeus’s forehead with the help of an artful Hephaestus.

Ilias Lalaounis once said that ‘’every piece of jewelry has a story to tell. It’s a jewel with a soul” and if we consider his extensive research for his creations and the emotion he put into it all, we can safely say that he breathed life into his jewelry and gave his pieces the depth of genuine objects of art.

For his revolutionary work in the field of beauty and his huge contribution to jewelry design, Ilias Lalaounis was the only goldsmith admitted in 1990 to the famous Académie des Beaux-Arts et des Lettres.

Ilias Lalaounis’s work is an outstanding experience and I highly recommend you enjoy this golden ride if you ever land in Athens and remember that here at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum all that glitters IS truly gold, gold of the finest cut and artistry which is also the character of a most beautiful story as only a Greek can tell.

Place Vendôme Collection

My very own IL souvenir

For further details on the work of Ilias Lalaounis, you can visit the website of the brand at http://@ and the museum at http://@

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