The fact that I saw Alexander McQueen shouldering his way through the mob scene outside Sophia Kokosalaki’s show on February 20, 2002 is a testament to her impact as the indie Greek girl who carved out a new wave female point of view in fashion. After word of her death at the tragically early age of 47 today, I found myself re-reading all the things I have written about Sophia. And there it is, documented on Vogue Runway, proof of just how much she was respected and borne up by the hardest of hardcore audiences—by London students, her peers, and by McQueen himself, who was already a star at Givenchy and by that stage hardly ever seen out in public.
Sophia Kokosalaki was—as McQueen must have sensed—at the leading edge of a different London generation. She was the first designer to emerge from Central Saint Martins who fused a European heritage—classical drapery, Hellenic folk craft—with a minimalist sense of how that could be worn on the street or in a club. In the beginning, her collections were very much in step with Helmut Lang and Nicolas Ghesquière’s early work at Balenciaga while also marching to her own music, the industrial beat of Kraftwerk and Joy Division. Her determination to start up on her own sparked firecrackers of ambition in younger minds. “Watching what Sophia did was mind-blowing to me as a student,” says Kim Jones. “That incredible, elegant warrior-woman thing she did.”
When I first met Sophia, she had just graduated from Central Saint Martin MA course in 1998. She was the first of the army of individualists from everywhere that Professor Louise Wilson was destined to send out to reshape the reputation of London as a credible fashion capital. But Sophia, who was born in 1972, had arrived from Greece already 100 percent certain of who she was and what she wanted to do. “I was ready to abandon my home, my country, my lifestyle, my everything, to get in,” she once told me. “I thought my life would end if I didn’t get in. It was either you take me, or I shoot myself!”
The first time she applied, she was 16 and she turned up with three garments and no portfolio and was sent away. “Louise and I thought she was intriguing, had something, but she was far too young. We had to send her away,” says Fabio Piras, who is now the course professor, and remembers her coming in front of the admissions panel. “We told her to come back when she was 18. And then, you knew. She was one of those students who is totally focused on doing their own thing, launching their label.”