It’s hard being an immigrant in Greece. Nevertheless, thousands of people have made Athens their home in recent years, either as economic migrants or refugees fleeing war zones in Africa and Asia. A new visual project by young Athens-based fashion stylist Yiorgos Mesimeris called Hard.clo touches upon issues of migration, nationality and identity by mixing up cultural references in a series of plain white T-shirts emblazoned with vinyl-printed mottos. What makes the Hard.clo T-shirts unique though is that they carry English words transliterated in Cyrillic script. This writing system was invented in Bulgaria centuries ago, and is used today as the basis of many alphabets—more famously those of the Slavic languages like Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian and so on, but also for many non-Slavic languages such as Mongolian, Tatar, Kazakh, and even for early alphabets of Yupik, the language of Alaskan Eskimos.
For the project's first campaign last summer, Yiorgos Mesimeris collaborated with Athens-based photographer Ioanna Tzetzoumi to create a series of images shot in the streets. As a backdrop for this photo shoot the two artists chose an area close to Omonoia square, which is where a lot of immigrants live and local culture is mixing with many foreign elements. The result is one of cultural amalgamation and play, where the quirky Cyrillic-English words appear next to Bangladeshi and Chinese shop signs. The first limited-edition series of Hard.clo T-shirts features six different mottos, and are available only through Facebook and Instagram. In the following short interview, Yiorgos Mesimeris talks to und. Athens about the concept behind this project, and its evolution so far.
Text by Kiriakos Spirou
Photos by Ioanna Tzetzoumi for Hard.clo
What is your relationship with fashion? How would you describe your aesthetics in your work in general?
Fashion is familiar to me since the environment I grew up in was very close to it. For me fashion is passion and creation, it's an endless source of inspiration. As a lover of minimalism I couldn't but incorporate it into the style of my work. I believe it's crucial that every work has it's 'signature', not necessarily a name but a stylistic manner. And this is what I'm trying to cultivate through my work and the images I create with my team.
How did HARD begin and why did you choose this combination of fashion and art?
HARD was a creative way out of my main occupation, first as a vision and then in practice. This fusion is something I have always been interested in. The project’s intention was not just to get a fashion statement across, but also the concept of survival through six mottos/statements.
The main feature of this project is English words transcribed into the Cyrillic alphabet. How do you relate to Slavic culture and why did you choose this style?
I have many influences from Slavic culture, mainly from it's dynamism in fashion. This particular alphabet caught my eye due to its similarity to the Greek alphabet. It's like an eclectic way of writing.
Which phrases have you printed so far and what do they mean to you?
The phrases Hard, Feel, Fuck, Touch, Human and Borders are printed up to now—six words that seem like statements which have marked this year. These words express emotions that were born in the streets, they are raw and honest. Each word can be combined with another, creating different meanings but can also stand on their own.
Tell us a few words about the concept of the photoshoot you did with Ioanna Tzetzoumi?
Our concept was basically the same as the project’s, which is based on a harmony of contrasts and invites you to explore a world which seems so far away but is just a step away from Omonoia.
How is this project integrated into modern-day Athens? Is the city ready to express it's multiculturalism?
When a new project kicks off there is always a strong interest for it, but what's important is how it will be received by society in general. In the case of HARD, fear over what's 'foreign' is more intense than ever. The arrival of immigrants and their ghettoisation in the city centre is mostly seen as a problem. Although you can experience different cultures in the streets of Athens, in reality we blatantly ignore them. HARD seeks to express thoughts and feelings that are found in these situations; it listens to, records and reproduces their sounds. Trying to fight back ignorance and fear through fashion and pop culture is one of the main mechanisms we have in our hands to make a step forward.