BAFTA-award-winning Greek costume and stage designer Fotini Dimou lives and works in London – but the results of her efforts live around the globe as part of major cinema, television and theatrical productions

Fotini Dimou

"I believe in the psychology of clothing"

Text: Dimitra Kehagia
Fotini Dimou

She entered this world at a very young age, as her mother, Eleni Dimou, popularized the fabric-dyeing technique of batik in Greece in the 1960s by teaching it at Doxiadis School. Eleni also had a fashion store in the high-class neighborhood of Kolonaki.

But it was also Fotini’s endless travels with her parents that set her mind to studying costume design. On these journeys, they all attended the theatre together, and often. “The stimuli were there from a young age,” she explains.

She was born in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, where her parents had moved after studying in Germany. When Fotini was four, the family returned to Greece. Early on, she had decided her calling was in costume and set design, however, so she relocated to the UK, where she has lived for decades.

Fotini and her partner, actor Richard McCabe, split their time between their London apartment and Eastbourne cottage in the south of England.

She is keen to maintain ties with Greece, which she does mainly through a handful of key collaborations. She’s done costumes for several Greek productions. However, there were no fruitful invitations to collaborate for a while, until Mimi Denissi approached her about the film “Smyrna, My Beloved.” 

The costume designer explains that this film was how “I got back some of my country.” But it was more than country; the team became a new family to her. She talks about their outstanding synergy and collaboration, and the exceptional creativity and professionalism of the people she worked with. “It was one of my favorite teams I’ve worked with. All young people – they felt a little like children to me,” Fotini confides, adding that she would like to team up with them again.

She has a particular sensitivity to actors, identifying that both her own ideas and theirs need to come together to produce a good outcome. After all, her partner and most of her friends are all actors. They have “the most  formidable job in the business,” as she says. And knowing how they feel incentivizes and inspires her.

“I care about them. I observe and I listen a lot,” she notes. Working with actors, she tries to bring together disparate elements: their personality, their look, the characters they play, their physical build, what the clothes should communicate…

“Every actor who goes on stage or on screen, you should be able to tell what they are. You need to be able to identify the costume – it should tell you something, give off hints of the character. This you can only achieve with collaboration.”

A model professional – as well as a model human – in her opinion is Sir Anthony Hopkins, whom she has dressed twice. “You won’t find a more cooperative, kind- hearted, and gentle actor. For me, he is a model colleague. He knows what he wants. He’ll tell you the basics: how he sees his character. But he won’t dictate what he’s going to be wearing.”

For the role of a mad King Lear, in later acts, Hopkins said he would like to look like the homeless living under London’s bridges. Like someone who has been displaced.

She may have lived in London for decades but she makes an effort to avoid using English words as we chat, even though it may be easier – especially when discussing work. “Just what I needed! I can’t afford to forget my Greek. Language is one of the most important things we have,” she exclaims.

Despite her wealth of experience in theatre and cinema, Fotini says she is particularly shy and avoids speaking to an audience. One characteristic example was when she won the BAFTA award for her costumes for “The Dresser.” Ascending the stage to receive the award, she looked like a deer in the headlights. So much so that she forgot to take the award. “I never liked being in the spotlight. Not even back in school plays.”

She has a soft spot for period dramas, of which she has done plenty. Helping her excel in this demanding genre are both her studies – “we learned how to cut patterns from specialists” – and years of experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

There is no question that Fotini Dimiou loves clothes yet she does not believe in fashion. Instead, she asserts that what a person wears should express their character and also make them feel comfortable.

“I believe in the psychology of clothing,” she says. When she’s working, you’ll find her wearing denim, “like a workman,” because she needs to carry items, unload trucks and do a lot of things that call for comfort and efficiency. But in her social life, she puts thought into her looks, mixing different styles and combining current trends with retro pieces, for instance from the ‘70s.

Currently, you’ll find on Fotini Dimou’s desk the scripts for a contemporary American film, a period drama by a very prominent director set in Ireland, a British Canadian social drama series, and two period plays for the West End. Meanwhile, her costumes for Opera North’s production of Puccini’s Tosca in Leeds are already in the works.

Yet even more passionate than her work are Fotini’s calls for a collective social consciousness. She wishes for “social justice everywhere – peace, and let’s take care of the planet and the climate. Once these things start to work out, maybe the world will get better.”