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F + 14 : The Making of a Celebrity Island - Mykonos

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

A Vogue Campaign Shot on Mykonos - Luxury Fashion blends with simple lifestyle

Am going to write about Mykonos, our destination for today. Have not been here since 1973 when my hair was as long as Jimmy Page’s (photo at the bottom). Wonder how Mykonos changed over the years. In the 1970s, the island was the – not so secret - dream destination for my generation. It took time to get there though: first by train through Italy, then taking the ferry to Patras, again a train to Athens, finally the ferry from Piraeus to Mykonos. But the island was affordable and definitely the place to be.

Sleeping on the Beach was romantic but rest assured it was also very uncomfortable

In 1973, I did not know that it also was a celebrity island. Vogue and other fashion magazines were of no interest to me. Learned only years later that Mykonos was Jackie Onassis’ favourite Greek island and that she often stayed there. There is still a shop devoted to her in the old Mykonos village.

Jackie Onassis arriving from her private Yacht at the Harbour of Mykonos

Grace Kelly and Brigit Bardot also loved holidaying here - the world's glitterati met in Mykonos. It was quite a crowd - small and exclusive. We youngsters barely noticed. Their's was a different world. Would not have been able to afford one meal at the restaurants they went to. More obvious – our hippyish dress code was out of place. The beautiful and glamorous came to this island in style - they were a living fashion show.

Young Grace Kelly loved Mykonos and was one of the

Fashion Ambassadors here

The island was lovely though. It had long and unspoiled beaches, getting a room with a private family was easy and every dinner at a Taverna was an adventure. It was the first time in my life that I had to point out in a restaurant's kitchen what I wanted to eat. There were no menus in German or English. And I spoke no Greek. But sign language helped.

Life was uncomplicated - you did not even need a Swim Suit in Mykonos

It was its unspoiled state that gave Mykonos a head start with tourism in the 1950s. Since the 1930s, the island was known for the excavations in Delos, the neighbouring Holy Island where Apollo and Artemis were born. But during the Great Depression, nobody had the money to travel. And then came World War II and all borders closed. Greece was virtually cut off from the rest of world.

Occupation Zones during World War II - Mykonos was

occupied by a small Italian Garrison

Mykonos was never wealthy. People lived from fishing and a bit of agriculture. The 105 square kilometres large, barren and rocky island offered few opportunities. For generations, people had to emigrate. There is a large diaspora of Mykonians in the Balkans, Americas and Australia. When Germany occupied Greece in 1941, it confiscated most of the country’s food reserve, all fossil fuels and truck & ship engines. Greece's industry was integrated with the German war economy. Greeks on the islands were of low priority to Nazi Germany.

Fishermen in Mykonos' Harbour in 1937

The consequences were devastating for Mykonos. From one day to the next, its fishing fleet was confiscated. Ferries and merchant ships did not arrive any more. Within a few weeks, general starvation set in. The island depended on food from the mainland. Unsuccessfully I tried to find out the number of people who perished in 1941 and 1942. Only found files on a large support operation led by the ICRC and the Turkish Red Cross. We supplied people on the Cyclades with food and other goods of daily need. Most islanders had to survive on a bite of fish, some olive oil and a slice of bread per day.

The main Bay of Mykonos in 1960 - the Landscape has changed considerably since

The tough times did not get better with the end of the war in May 1945. The civil war between Nationalist and Communists lasted for another 4 years. Greece was a place to avoid. The fighting did not directly affect Mykonos. But ferries to the mainland were infrequent. The central government had no money. Winning the civil war was more important. Mykonos was frozen – in the 1950s it looked like in 1910 – poor but beautiful and unspoiled.

Mykonos today - View from South to North - There are far more Buildings today

A few international people noticed the island's beauty though. Documentaries were made and shown on TV. National Geographic wrote about it. Newspaper started to cover the island. Not surprisingly, the beauty and powerful in America and Europe were the first to catch on. The first jet airliners, the Boeing 707 and the DC-8, allowed them to jet around the world and discov new destinations. The Jet Set was born. The revival of the Cote d’Azur and the development of Mykonos happened at the same time. A decade later, Saint-Barthélémy followed.

Despite all the Development, Mykonos managed to key much of its original Charakter

Getting to Mykonos remained challenging as I can testify. The airport only opened in 1971. Being friends with Aristotle Onassis, the shipping magnate and husband to Jackie, helped. He would take you with his private yacht Christina O to the island. Have to smile about the royal reception these celebrities got. But it was smart marketing by the tourist authorities. The celebrities' presence caught the eyes of the paparazzi who published their photos in the tabloids. Mykonos, the beautiful and idyllic island, was put on the map of international travellers. It also caught the eye of the international gay community who love to come here.

There is enough High-End Housing that Celebrities still come to the Mykonos

Can’t remember how I learnt about the island – I read neither tabloids nor fashion magazines. But I loved documentaries on TV and had a geography professor who treated us to slide shows on his travels every semester. But I guess it was just through grapevine - every body talked about Mykonos. It was the place to be.

Mykonos is now known for its Party Places where you can Swim, Eat, Dance and be Merry

The opening of the airport, built by Onassis in 1971, was a game changer. Until the mid 1990, flights from Europe were expensive. This changed with deregulation, new airlines and the Boeing 737. The number of visitors climbed steadily. YouTube and Instagram do their best to put Mykonos' sunset on everybody's Bucket List.

New resorts continue to open, the number of night clubs increases, day clubs like Nikki Beach open their doors, the cruise ships discovered the island. The large number of visitors now poses a new challenge for the islanders. Will Mykonos be a place of mass tourism or stay exclusive for the celebrities? Time will tell. Have not seen restrictions to new openings like in St Barth yet. But in many places Mykonos starts to get crowded.

Multilayered and Crowded Beach Clubs have become common on the island

With the number of visitors climbing to more than a million, the Mykonos marketing people do their best to maintain the image of the magic, unspoiled island. Thanks to some very exclusive hotels, villas, restaurants and yachts, celebrities continue to visit and the island can have its cake and eat it. But for many visitors the experience is now not much different from going to the Balearic Islands.

Our Entertainment at the time was a bit more modest - no loudspeakers, no DJs :-))

Crossing from Icaria to Mykonos was fun. The Meltemi blew with the expected 20 knots and the waves were about 1 meter high. With sails up and the help of the engine we crossed the strait in a good three hours. It was a bit choppy at time - we got wet from spray. Yey!

The photo from 1973

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