Friday, 29 January 2010

Athens Portraits: Recession-proof in Kolonaki?

"Crisis? What crisis?" you might be forgiven for thinking if you strayed into the fashionable streets around Athens' swanky Kolonaki Square. The prestige brand name stores, shoals of sleek limos, ranks of thick-wheeled 4x4s that will never see a speck of mud, and fashionistas flitting from salon to cafe hardly scream 'recession'.

This is where the city's beautiful people come to shop, sup and - perhaps most importantly - be noticed. They're there to seal multi-million Euro deals, plot the next political coup, or simply to see and be seen.

Business moguls and stock market speculators preen themselves like peacocks amid a flock of sparrows as they puff on expensive cigars and bathe in the glow of their own success (or perhaps that should read 'excess'?). They've built their fortunes through hard work, vision, good luck, sheer guts and more than a dash of ruthlessness, and they suffer no false modesty about their influence.

Parliament is just down the road, so the kafeneion corners are filled with politicians talking shop. And where there are politicians, high profile journalists are never far away, hoping for their latest scoop - or at least an off-the-record hint or overheard remark - as they down their caffeine-packed espressos.

Kolonaki is also home to some of Athens' top modelling and showbiz agencies, discreetly located above the designer stores (the ones where if you need to ask the price, you have no business coming through the door). That's why you can see flocks of bored-looking but beautiful models, actors and wannabes sipping mineral water or black coffee and smoking elegant French cigarettes as they wait to be discovered. They're the ones hidden in clear view behind their giant Jackie O shades, as they check their reflections in the expensive store windows.

Next to them in the fancy cafe might be an exquisitely turned-out society matron, taking a break from a hard day's shopping, witnessed by the designer bags flocked around her elegant stiletto heels.

The Kolonaki crowd is expensively dressed and immaculately turned out (no Boho Chic here, thank you very much!), and there is strict face control at many of the Square's cafes and restaurants to make sure it stays that way.

They seem recession-proof. The smell of expensive leather, fancy eateries, scribbled signatures on Platinum credit card receipts, multiple mobile phones, and the comfortable aura of wealth and priviledge all signal personal credit ratings way better than the one enjoyed by the country they live in. But who knows? Even they may have to trade in their Prada bags or Louis Vuitton luggage one of these days...

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