With the blossoming emergence of Greek designers who honour their country’s classical designs as much as modern visions via their creations, ancient-style sandals have by now become a global trend. Whether you buy your pair online or during a visit to Greece, there are many fantastic options for this style of footwear, with prices ranging from 15 euros into the hundreds for the super designer stuff. But there is one brand that has been rocking it in the ancient sandal-making galaxy for nearly 100 years; the Melissinos store with a steady reputation was built by three generations of cobblers, George, Stavros, and Pantelis.
I first heard of the creative and charismatic father-son duo Stavros and Pantelis Melissinos in 2004, when my filmmaker friend Angelike Contis was making the documentary Olympic Diaries in which she showed three characters and how their lives were affected by the Olympic Games. I was one of the three, then presenting the one-hour morning news programme at Athens International Radio (AIR FM), a multilingual station created by then-Mayor of Athens Dora Bakoyiannis; the other two characters were the poet Stavros Melissinos, whose sandal store was already well known since the 1960’s and became an ultra-busy hub during the games, and finally her own father Vassilios Contis, who came to Greece all the way from Vermont to work as an Olympics volunteer.
Ever since, I have closely followed the impressive, ongoing success of the Melissinos store, created by grandfather George in 1920 as a leather shoe shop that even catered to the Greek Royal Family. When Stavros took it over after his father’s death around the period of WWII, an order for six pairs of ancient Greek sandals by a British choreographer gave him the idea to bring this style of shoe back into fashion.
His hand-crafted, tailor-made designs soon became a craze amongst the American and British wives of soldiers stationed in Athens. Later, Melissinos found himself making sandals and creating special custom designs for a whole, ongoing stream of celebrities and VIPs – amongst them Aristotle Onassis, Jackie O’, Elizabeth Taylor, Rudolph Nureyev, John Lennon, Sophia Loren, Kate Moss, Jeremy Irons, Sarah Jessica Parker, Leonard Cohen, and Maria Callas.
Today the store is run by his son Pantelis, as Stavros is in his mid-‘90s, but continues to write poetry. Pantelis, also a poet, artist and musician who studied at New York’s Parson’s School of Design, continues to create the classic sandals first made by his father, but has also added a new line of ‘Fancy Sandals’ with different metallic or bold colours, patterns and flowers, and accessories such as leather bags and backpacks. “I feel I have to provide my customers with the best footwear they can have,” he says, “sandals that will make them feel like ancient Greek gods or goddesses.”
Since it was first opened in 1920, the Melissinos store was always to be found in the Monastiraki area (it has moved a few times over the decades). As of November 2019, it will be located in an equally busy and tourist-friendly area, Makriyianni. The new address: 16 Tzireon & Athanassiou Diakou St, near the Acropolis Museum.