When it comes to fashion, Chris Kontos is your man.
Kontos, the creative director of Adelaide Fashion Festival (AFF) , was first inspired by the world of fashion thanks to his family. “My Aunty Georgia was a dressmaker,” he says. “When I was young I used to watch her make outfits for everyone.” Kontos, who used to be the head designer at Australian Fashion Labels, started his fashion career “on the shop floor, like everyone in the fashion industry”.
“I worked at the coolest menswear store to ever exist, Axel Beers,” he says. “I was 15, and used to start my shift by cleaning the toilets, no joke!”
From Axel Beers, Kontos went on to hold court at the iconic Miss Gladys Sym Choon on Rundle Street. For any youngsters in Adelaide keen to talk fashion in a pre-Instagram world, Kontos was your contact.
Today he brings this enthusiasm to a new generation of designers building their businesses in Adelaide and taking on the world. “It’s incredible to see how far some of our designers have come, and to meet those who are at the beginning of their journey,” he says. “Adelaide’s a fantastic place to set up a small business and the creative community is really tight-knit here.”
If you’ve ever been to an AFF event you might have witnessed runway parades receiving standing ovations. This is very moving and not something you see in Paris Fashion Week. Locals show their appreciation because they understand the accomplishments they have witnessed – world-class fashion from our city making a mark.
“Our industry is tough, and it’s unforgiving, but when you have that moment of success it’s addictive and so gratifying,” he says. “We’ve seen how celebrity endorsements and profiles can sell hundreds of pieces for a [local] brand, such as Beyoncé wearing Acler or J.Lo [Jennifer Lopez] wearing Georgy Collection. But also hard work and steady growth can set up global domination, such as the BNKR brands from Australian Fashion Labels.”
Kontos began working with AFF in 2016 and has seen it develop into one of the country’s leading fashion events. “My strategy with the festival was to look beyond South Australia and work with the industry leaders in all areas. The reason I did this was to show the wider industry the amazing work and people we have in this state.”
For this year’s festival, Kontos is looking forward to SLOW Saturday, an event that will look at sustainability and the ethics of manufacturing with Anny Duff of Good Studios, Natalie Ivanov of Re-Swim Club and Emily Sheahan of The Commons.
In his role at AFF, Kontos contemplates what makes a brand stand the test of time, and mentors and pushes labels to consider all elements of their business operations. “We are in the age of social media, marketing and PR, so it’s hard to remember that you can’t just look amazing on Instagram nor have a celebrity wear your clothes, your product has to be amazing for your business to be successful.”
Kontos believes that the best attributes for success in fashion are to “be kind and honest”, not to mention “believe in what you are doing, stay forever relevant and never give up”
Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator