High-end style visionary. Success story. Female entrepreneur. Marie Zacharaki’s approach to swimwear made her mark on the Greek fashion scene – and the future remains bright.
Salt Water was founded in 1995, when Marie Zacharaki identified a gap in the domestic market. Her iconic company brings some of the most premium fashion brands to Greece, from Camilla to Orlebar Brown and MC2 St Barth to Melisa Odabash. Salt Water’s mono-brand and multi-brand boutiques feature luxury footwear and accessories by Cult Gaia, uplifting clothing by Camilla, the posh toiletries of The English Soap Company, glamorous swimsuits by Pin-Up Stars, coveted pieces by Balmain, stylish Stella McCartney creations, and ethereal resortwear by Temptation Positano – among others. In fact, her company’s retail and wholesale network reaches 1 in 5 locals and visitors. Self-made, she worked with determination and decisiveness to eventually direct a company that boasts three monobrand stores (Orlebar Brown in Mykonos, MC2 Santorini and MC2 Astir Palace Beach (Vouliagmeni)), four multibrand stores (three in Attica and one in Paros) and two multibrand corners in Athens. We met in her stunning boutique inside the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, in Vouliagmeni. Talking with Marie revealed a magical world of fashion, inspiration and resolve.
How does a career woman combine success and family life?
I set the bar high. Had plenty of experiences but I was in it for the long term. My years living abroad matured me and gave me a vision, but I never lost sight of my goal: building a beautiful, close-knit family and experiencing the serenity that can only come from creating something of your own and then sharing it with the people you love.
What motivated you in your professional path?
I wanted to travel the world. I had a vision and an affinity for creating. I also wanted to be independent. Growing up, I traveled a lot with my parents because my father was a pilot with Olympic Airways. This opened my horizons and fueled my ambition.
I brought Pin-Up Stars to Greece. I did everything to get them on the market, even put leaflets through people’s doors
Back then, it was difficult for a Greek woman to move abroad. How was it for you?
I was incredibly enthusiastic. Afraid of nothing and taking nothing for granted. I wanted to finish school, move on, discover, experiment! But I also worked hard. I chose to study in Italy – which was fortunate because I met lots of illustrious people in fashion. I worked for Fiorucci, who collaborated with Jean Paul Gaultier. Gaultier was a huge name at the time – we made clothes for Madonna. This was my introduction to high quality in fashion design. And it gave me an unwavering vision and standards.
Did you visit Greece in the six years of your absence?
Often, even on weekends. We took our vacations in Mykonos, at a very authentic era. My friends and I would rent locals’ houses, ride vespas, swim, dive… Authentic fun in a still virgin landscape.
You had a unique, key influence on the swimwear scene in Greece. How did you get this idea?
In our country summer lasts several months. Back in the day, swimsuits only lived in lingerie stores and were utilitarian, not beautiful! Same in Italy. So, I got the idea to design swimsuits. I was studying marketing and business of fashion at Domus Academy, but there were also fashion design courses available which I followed, and among the instructors was the iconic designer Ferré. There was a swimwear shop in Kalogera, Pan, which agreed to stock our pieces. We made amazing swimwear featuring gems, colors, beautiful double-sided Lycra textiles. They said, “Girls, come sell them yourselves!” And we took a leap of faith, heading there to work! And we discovered Mykonos behind the scenes. Louisa, Vanda Katoutsi and I – the bohemian, the iconic women and I, with a more relaxed attitude. Three strong personalities, so different. But we were so enthusiastic. Others would go to Caprice; we would work. Because we were incredibly passionate about swimwear. We toiled, stayed up all night, fell ill, but rose to the occasion. It taught us so much: responsibility, tiredness, teamwork, limits… It was Vanda’s first-time wearing shoes decorated with Swarovski crystals.
Others would go to caprice; we would work. Because we were incredibly passionate about swimwear. We toiled, stayed up all night, fell ill, but rose to the occasion.
How do you see yourself today, looking back?
It was no laughing matter. I fought every day. I’m so proud when I think about it. I learned self-confidence. I found my footing. I had no qualms. I was creating my collection, and that was important to me. I was on a mission.
How did Ralph Lauren come into the picture?
After Italy, I was invited to the US – a tempting offer that nevertheless did not tempt me. I’d made up my mind. I had built a strong network and wanted to return to Greece. I missed my friends. Today, I might have chosen differently. So, my sister calls me and says Ralph Lauren are looking for someone for their Kolonaki store – the first one. I was hired within a day. In Italy, at Gaultier, I learned about design and pattern. We would follow his mood board and do the test drive. At Ralph Lauren, I learned about retail. VIP customers, amenities, luxury. At 24 years old, I was managing seven people.
And what about your passion for swimwear?
I never stopped marketing swimwear but I was pressed for time. I managed three floors at Ralph Lauren, for three-four years. I would return home at 11. But it had run its course and I wanted to move on. I started my own swimsuit business. As I was looking for a store, Alexandros Manos approached me with a new concept in marketing and media. I joined him for two years. But I would still sell my swimsuits to friends – at Poros, at the water ski centers. I’d never stopped traveling and searching for amazing swimwear all around the world. So, I brought Pin-Up Stars to Greece. I did everything to get them on the market, even put leaflets through people’s doors.
Where do you think your secret to success lies?
It’s essential that you do what you love. It’s important to travel to find stimuli. To see things. I think out of the box. Once, for a winter collection, I hired Dionysos restaurant near the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and flooded it with Styrofoam snow. It was a modern, revolutionary show in a classical setting with an incredible view. The media saw I was unique and supported me. My network and friends helped – and vice versa, as people fell in love with the products. They sold out right away.
I was lucky enough to choose brands that took off.
When did you feel you made your dream a reality?
With the Astir Beach concept store – Salt Water Boutique. When I traveled with my parents in Miami, New York, Paris, Caribbean, where there are a lot of resorts, I observed what people wore. I saw how they dressed and didn’t like how commercial and boring the stores were. I was determined to do things differently if I had the chance. I was lucky enough to choose brands that took off. I introduced new names such as Camilla, Agua Bendita, MC2 St Barth. I also brought to the market no brand companies that grew alongside myself – such as Melissa Odabash who now has incredible brand awareness This was where all my ideas took form. I created a relaxed store. I wanted a different experience – to have it be part of the customers’ vacations. When my Salt Water multibrand store opened at the Four Seasons, it was a dream come true: a slow-living resort boutique. It had a sitting area, spacious fitting rooms, large till area that gives you a sense of comfort, like being at home. It was a success!
What do you feel is your reward?
When I see that the realization of my dream brings smiles to other people’s faces.
What’s next for you?
To keep evolving my company and bring freshness and innovation to the local fashion industry, and why not, take my retail concept abroad. I have always been careful and conservative in my ventures. I continue to dream but my children and my family take priority. They give me balance and make me feel alive and happy.