“THE MUSIC OF MANOS HATZIDAKIS REFLECTS SUCH AN ELEGANT, ROMANTIC FACE OF GREECE THAT MAKES YOU TRAVEL ... THIS IS HOW GREECE SHOULD BE."
A soft spoken gentleman with a fancy for simpler days when less was more, Aris Sotiriou introduces us to the world of Neanikon, one that delights visitors with pure cuisine and handcrafted creations of a bygone era.
When Portes Magazine editor Anthe Mitrakos visits Sotiriou in his flat in the quaint neighborhood of Koukaki, it seems as though she has stepped into a real life vintage Greece travel ad poster. Surrounded by the dynamic complimentary hues of orange and blue, colors of choice in what he’s made both his home and creative space, Sotiriou reaches for a vinyl record that sets the tone with happy bouzouki. Naturally, it’s a compilation of songs by Manos Hatzidakis.
Melina Mercouri’s voice begins to echo from the living room as Sotiriou serves pomegranate juice and a freshly made carob, cacao and honey sweet. Never on a Sunday is the first topic to come up. "This beautiful movie of the 60s and the music of Manos Hatzidakis reflect such an elegant, romantic face of Greece that makes you travel," Sotiriou says. "This is how Greece should be."
"Never on a Sunday changed tourism in Greece with its huge success," he says, recalling the scene where Mercouri runs through the port taking her clothes off to jump into the water and is followed by local men who join in on the fun. "In this amazing movie, you can see a Greek lifestyle, filled with carefree happiness," he says.
Just like the black and white romantic comedy film, the setting at Sotiriou’s home invokes the nostalgia of simpler times. Creating a cocktail mix of the vintage and the modern, Sotiriou took the word "νεανικός" (youthful) and added the suffix "ον" (an archaic linguistic formality used in Athenian shop names of the past) to create his brand "Νεανικόν."
Neanikon’s vintage aesthetic, filtered through a modern lens, brings out a whimsical nostalgia for handmade goods and recipes crafted with meraki. Inspired by the 20s to the 60s, Sotiriou was captivated by "the facades of old buildings, the clothes, the packaging, the colors and the style" of the era, since he was a child. "These things are such a great and endless source of inspiration for me," he says.
For Sotiriou, discovering his passion meant going against the status quo. "When I was younger, nobody told me I should be what I wanted to be," he recalls. "Everyone suggested I should follow the market trends, be an IT programmer and all that...I graduated from the best school in Athens... but I can erase all that."
For a man so inspired by the past, Sotiriou loves technology, especially social media. "The internet actually helped me become the person I want to be because I realized I am not alone in feeling this way. I discovered that people all over the world are actually doing something they enjoy, building small brands, sharing their creativity and knowledge with others."
Part of achieving happiness, the Neanikon founder says, is making the time and space for things that fulfill you. "Make a simple life," he says. "...don’t demand things that don’t really matter to you... when you create, it’s not even only the things you make, but the process itself makes you feel better."
As a brand, Neanikon reflects the lifestyle that is the designer's world. Sotiriou crafts all products himself using antique equipment he has sourced from vintage markets. His paper creations are made with a 100-year-old printing press. Garments, on the other hand, are crafted with a traditional, foot-operated sewing machine. "These tools were rescued," he says. "They have a second chance, a second life. I started created from scratch from almost nothing, from things that were neglected."
Sotiriou uses hand-carved rubber stamps to create the jolly shapes he decorates greeting cards and notebooks with. "I have to print every color separately," he explains, as he adds a blue ink to his machine rollers. Once the stamp is inked, it transfers to the paper with one movement - the pulling of a lever. Sotiriou then adds finishing touches with a vintage photo trimmer characteristically used on old black and white photos. "This finish protects the paper," he says. "I bought this for 10 euros and it works perfectly...I cut all my cards with this."
In the kitchen, Sotiriou bakes and cooks using organic whole grains, dried nuts, honey, natural flavors, local products, and seasonal fruits. While in the beginning he found using organic ingredients to obtain the right taste and consistency for certain recipes challenging, a bit of troubleshooting has resulted in a collection of delicious, healthy recipes.
With a passion for everything he creates, it’s difficult to select something he adores making the most. "I love all my children the same," he says. "Stationary products make me happy because they have this feel-good vibe, but making clothes the way I like them to be was one of my biggest dreams ever. No matter how much I love the digital world and how grateful I am for what it offers the art community, nothing can beat the feeling of creating something physical. It's pure magic!"
No matter what he creates, Sotiriou does so with the same philosophy: using simple ingredients and raw materials to make things that spark joy. When he’s not designing new cards or whipping up recipes, Sotiriou enjoys strolling around Athens center, going for a swim, and spending time with the people he loves. The Athenian landscape continues to be a source of inspiration and wonder he enjoys sharing with newcomers.
"Athens has an energy and charm that motivates me every day to be creative and alive," he says. "I would suggest a visiting group of friends to take a detailed look of old Athenian architecture, especially interwar buildings that belong to the modern movement of the 30s. Unlike the austere Bauhaus style we come across in Europe, these buildings combine the modern lines with a Mediterranean feel."
It is a sunny afternoon in Athens. He and his guest take their discussion to the balcony. The imposing light of the Greek sun creates a lovely contrast against the surrounding neoclassical buildings. In the background, the music continues to play softly as if it were the perfect addition to this moment in time. "If you study the music, you can understand how Greece should be again...a Greece where we combine the beauties of the past with the present," he says. "The future of Greece is her past."
_____________________________ WORDS: Portes Magazine PHOTOS: Aris Sotiriou