Today we live in the world shaped by an expansive mix of cultures. Our cities are thriving melting pots of different languages, traditions, and viewpoints, aided by the ease with which we can travel. Contemporary digitalized culture knows no borders, and the hottest looks of the moment can be found on Instagram rather than at mainstream fashion weeks.
At the same time, in the era of Trump and with the rise of nativist far-right groups, there are global political movements that want to turn us away from diversity and put us back into silos defined by race, heritage, language, or religion. Today like never before we need projects to tell us unheard stories, to help us see the world through a different lens. Step forward Paris-based label Pressure, which represents the new generation of Mediterranean youth.
“I could describe Pressure as a Mediterranean street brand with a political message,” says founder Théodoros Gennitsakis. Having run the Pressure creative agency since 2012, adding Pressure magazine to his portfolio shortly afterward, Gennitsakis occasionally produced some merch, but the decision to properly start making clothes was triggered by political events.
“It happened after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015,” Gennitsakis remembers. “I was talking to a friend of mine who comes from an Arabic background, and he said, ‘I feel so much pressure in Paris because I’m an Arab. Everyone is kind of afraid of me.’ So I decided to make a T-shirt with ‘Pressure’ written in Arabic and send it to all my friends in Paris to wear and show that there is nothing in this culture to be afraid of.”
The multicultural side of Paris is something Gennitsakis grew up with. His parents moved to the city from Greece shortly before he was born and settled in its 10th arrondissement. “I grew up in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, which is the most famous street in Europe for a number of different ethnicities,” he explains. “This street has 111 ethnicities. They call this street little Greece, little Turkey, little Africa, little Albania. I grew up like a Parisian guy, but surrounded by people from Mediterranean countries.”
An item that perfectly sums up Pressure’s ethos is a white hoodie with blue text on the back reading “Soul from the sea / MEDITERANNEANS.” Beneath is a list of cities written in French: Algiers, Athens, Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca, Damascus, Gaza City, Istanbul, Valletta, Ljubljana, Madrid, Monaco, Nicosia, Paris, Podgorica, Rome, Sarajevo, Tel Aviv, Tirana, Tripoli, and Tunis.
This might seem like a sloppy understanding of Mediterranean geography (Sarajevo is in the center of all-but landlocked Bosnia and Herzegovina and Paris is nearly 500 miles away from France’s south coast), but grouped together, these places send a powerful message of shared identity. To be Mediterranean in the north of Europe is a state of mind. It expresses pride and solidarity with those whose families came from Europe’s south and the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. It’s about a shared Mediterranean spirit.
“I wanted to show that the Mediterranean is not only summer and holidays,” says Gennitsakis. “There are really interesting things happening culturally and the vibe is super positive. Most of the countries are in crisis, but I love the way how they have a thousand problems, you go there, and everyone is super positive. With Pressure, I’m trying to show that you can live with problems even if you’re anxious.”
Pressure’s designs certainly come with attitude and a fair share of underdog energy. That comes both from the idea of the south as a cultural periphery and the mentality found in ethnically diverse immigrant areas. For Gennitsakis, both are a source of creativity and the foundation for his idea of a street brand.
“Street is not only rap, skating, and beautiful cool clothes,” he says. “There are people who really don’t care about clothes but they are real street people. A big part of my brand is for these people, actually. Yes, it’s a streetwear brand. I make T-shirts, hoodies, tracksuits. But I’m trying to make it cheap and super-luxury at the same time. The tracksuits I produced for the London pop-up shop were made in Paris and they’re super-good quality. But I mix in very cheap material sometimes. I want it to be available, to give something back.”
With his background in graphic design, Gennitsakis is skilled at mixing different references to create a new Mediterranean myth. He admits that when he started out in fashion, he was ashamed of his background before fully embracing it. Now he frequently works with emerging Greek creatives, such as hip-hop collective ATH Kids, label O.W.H.H.R.M, and artists Hope Gigantopolis and Jannis Varelas.
The list of his collaborators also includes cult Greek photographer Spyros Staveris, whose shot of a couple kissing passionately with Arabic lettering above is one of the brand’s signatures. Other recognizable designs are hoodies with the word ΧΑΟΣ (“chaos” in Greek) and the “Athenes La Nuit” T-shirt in the style of an ’80s gangster film poster. The visuals are ironic, but somehow also sincere.
A large part of Pressure’s ethos is its hybrid identity and the feeling of being caught between two cultures. “I was born six months after my parents moved to Paris,” says Gennitsakis. “The first four, five years of my life, I was surrounded by the Greek community and immigrants, and I was only speaking Greek. All my life, in Paris I feel Greek, and in Greece I feel French — it’s like I never found my real place.”
Somehow Gennitsakis has turned this alienation into a creative strength while also absorbing the diverse cultures around him in Paris. His use of Arabic script in Pressure’s designs could lead to accusations of cultural appropriation, but it comes from his connection to France’s Arabic community and a conscious desire to make a positive statement.
Gennitsakis admits that three years ago, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, the T-shirts with Arabic text didn’t sell well, but he pushed them for their political message. Today they sell roughly the same as his designs that employ Greek script.
“Some people react negatively to Arabic writing, but I receive more positive messages than negative,” he says. “I don’t use Arabic type for hype, but more for politics, so I pay attention to what I say. Most of them are peaceful messages and some of them are words used a lot by people from Arabic cultures in their everyday language.
“For example, I did one T-shirt which says ‘zebi,’ which means ‘dick’ in Arabic, but they use this word in their everyday language, like ‘damn’ or ‘fuck.’ With this design, I wanted to show that Pressure is a brand not using Arabic words for hype, but more channeling real life.”
Pressure is currently sold in 13 countries, including at influential retailers such as London’s LN-CC, Paris’ Galeries Lafayette, and Barcelona’s Wer-Haus. Last month, Gennitsakis also presented the brand’s SS19 collection, which offered T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, and tracksuits — all done up with the usual dose of witty design, streetwise swag, and some much-needed optimism.