Vienoula: The history of the legendary weaver of Mykonos
Through testimonies and narrations in the documentary "Vienoulas English Spoken", directed by Antonis Kioukas, the story of a great weaver from Mykonos comes to the surface, who changed the situation on the island and brought the revolution to the textile industry. This was Vienoula.
31.10.2021 Anni Tzavella
The known to all – Mykonians and tourists who were lucky enough to travel to Mykonos in the 50’s and 60’s – Vienoula was probably the most warmhearted, kind and active woman on the island. Her textile works have left a history and to this day are an integral part of the Mykonian tradition.
Through the documentary “Vienoulas English Spoken” by director Antonis Kioukas we collect all the information about the life and work of the unforgettable weaver of Mykonos. Let us take things from the beginning.
“I made the film about Vianoula, a person who made the Myconian weaving known all over the world, because she was a personality who in her way marked the history of the island forever”. -Antonis Kioukas
Vienoula Kousathana was born in Mykonos in January 1907. Her father was Nikolos Kambouris and her mother was Annousso. Both of them were villagers from Lazaros. After finishing primary school, Vienoula, at the age of 12, traveled with her godmother, who took her under her protection, to faraway Manchester, England. She stayed there for about five years, during which she learned English perfectly. She went to school and, in fact, was an extremely sociable figure. Her parents, especially her mother, were very happy for her daughter, who had the opportunity to learn English so well and speak a language completely foreign to her. Vienoula, of course, replied “Why should I learn English? Who am I going to talk to in English here?”. What she did not know then, however, was the fact that English would be a significant privilege from the moment Mykonos entered dynamically in the tourist map – that is, from the 1950s onwards.
In 1925 she returned to her place and almost immediately began to deal with her mother’s loom. She learned to weave and now this was her favorite pastime. It was then that she met the four years younger, Dimitris Kousathanas, to whom she gave the nickname “baby boy”. In 1933 they got married and had five children, Annousso, Panagiotis, Anezo, Amalia and Nikolos. Then the war came, with Vienoula proving to be extremely helpful – since she knew English and could send messages by radio from the Monastery of Ano Mera.
Upon the end of the war the landing of the first tourists on the island of winds has began. Vienoula at that time was probably the only English-speaking local person. When the photographer Florance Henri visited the island met Vienoula and gave her the idea to stop working for others and to open her own shop in 1950, with exclusively her own creations. This is how a small shop was created with a distinctive sign on the outside saying “English Spoken”. Every foreigner who made the decision to visit Mykonos entered this small shop. The space inside was full of shelves and everywhere you could see handmade fabrics, jackets, cardigans, skirts, hats, ties, between carpets, tablecloths and blankets. And in all this a loom and a woman with bright black eyes and well-styled gray hair ready to welcome you with a wide smile and a warm hug.
“I decided to do a little bit about the people of my island, but not necessarily the famous people and public figures. Instead, I preferred to highlight the life and work of everyday people who, in a ‘secret’ way I would say, have left their mark on this place over the past century.” -Antonis Kioukas
Countless artists and even celebrities from all over the world passed through Mykonos. Poets, writers, architects, dancers, fashion designers, musicians and painters visited Mykonos to get to know its culture, civilization and her famous life. With some of them, in fact, she made friendships for life. All of them always made a stop at the small shop in Vienna to get to know her up close.
As the years went by, Vienoula got to the point of having 50 weavers working for her. She had created a huge business as regards the island’s standards – and not only – in her otherwise small shop. However, the 50 weavers were still not enough to meet the demand that her textile works have back then. She was a woman full of confidence and appetite for work, as a result of which she somehow brought the revolution to the Mykonian textile. She changed the way she knitted, using bright colors and combinations that others would not dare, while at the same time she dyed the wool with herbs that she collected herself – exactly as her mother had taught her. She dared to do what others did not dare and really surprised everyone.
In October 1984, her husband passed away and two months later, on December 20, Vienna followed him. This open-minded person, the loving wife, mother and grandmother, the open-hearted personality had now passed away, leaving behind a great legacy. Her story has remained indelible in the mind of anyone who was lucky enough to hear, see or meet her.
The Mykonos Post contacted the director Antonis Kioukas, who shared some of his thoughts on the creation and implementation of the documentary that was released in 2015.