Where Shoes Become Art

Melissinos Art and Sandals in Athens by Marinela Potor

When my favorite pair of sandals broke on my vacation in Greece, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, although I definitely didn’t think so at the time. At the time, I was pretty mad at my sandals for just giving up on me like they did. I had counted on them; I had relied on them, only to be let down (literally, barefoot on the street!). What was I supposed to do? Well, I did what every woman in this situation would have done, I decided to shop for a new pair. Luckily, Greece is known for its high quality craft leather works, and it turned out to be a great place to look for leather sandals. After some research, I found a place in Athens called Melissinos Art and Sandals. The founder, Georgios Melissinos had combined two of his biggest passions, poetry and shoes, to create a very unique shop in the heart of Athens: Melissinos Art and Sandals opened in 1920. Melissinos was soon known as the “the poet sandal maker of Athens.” His son Stavros followed in his footsteps, and soon the unconventional sandal store started to attract celebrities, such as the Kennedys and the Beatles. Now, the store has been passed on to the third generation of sandalmaking poets and is run by Georgios’ grandson, Pantelis. Pantelis continues to create sandals and art, following his grandfather’s tradition. and continues to be a magnet for the rich and the famous. Luckily for the not-so-famous rest of us, the Melissinos never charged celebrity prices for their creations. Nowadays, a pair of their handmade sandals costs between 30 and 45 Euros. In other words, they are extremely affordable.  I was intrigued by the story and decided that this was the perfect place to buy a new pair of sandals.

The store is located in the bohemian neighborhood of Monastiraki. When I walked into the small workshop, it was buzzing with people from every country you could possibly imagine. Two employees were taking orders along with Pandelis Melissinos, explaining the models and helping customers in a calm and friendly way. I was handed a catalog with several models to choose from. I immediately fell in love with the Cleopatra model. The name probably had  something to do with it, I mean, who doesn’t want to feel like an empress walking down the street?! Once I decided on this model, the sandals were adjusted to my feet by hand to make sure they fit like a second skin. It’s a service Melissinos offers all of his customers, and part of his success. I started to feel like a celebrity myself, waiting for my very first custom-made footwear.

It takes about 30 minutes to re-strap the sandals to fit your measurements. While I waited, I had time to look around. There were literally thousands of sandals in all shapes and sizes in the workshop— on the shelves, on the floor, hanging from the ceiling. The walls were covered in framed newspaper clippings and photographs of both the elder and younger Melissinos: Melissinos with Sophia Loren, Melissinos next to Maria Callas, Melissinos with Leonard Cohen, Melissinos on the cover of Vogue Magazine, Melissinos featured in the New York Times. They must have one of the most impressive client portfolios, and even if you are not looking for a new pair of sandals, it is definitely worth taking a peek inside Melissinos’s store, just to take in the atmosphere. Be careful though! Once you come in, you will probably end up buying one of his beautiful creations. Melissinos offers models for men, women and children. All sandals are made out of a smooth, light leather that will darken over time to give your sandals a gorgeous mahogany look. Mine were still a light beige when Melissinos handed them to me, my brand new Cleopatra sandals. I was delighted!

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to wear them for 24 hours, to make sure the glue dried. It seemed like the longest 24 hours ever, and I kept looking at my beautiful sandals, counting down the hours. Finally, when I did wear them, it was a disaster. A little hint: even if it seems like a good idea at first, don’t EVER try to break in your new shoes (even if they are called Cleopatras) on a 4 hour hike on one of the hottest days of the year. Luckily, the Cleopatras were forgiving. After that rocky start, we hit it off. The Cleos and I are now sandal BFFs. They are durable, fit impeccably, and are probably the most comfortable sandals I’ve ever had. Not to mention that I truly feel like a Greek goddess every time I wear them.

And the moral of the story? When in Athens, buy Melissinos sandals!

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