The Mentis ribbon weaving company is located at 6 Polyfimou Street, not far from the Benaki museum in Pireos Street. The manufacture that was donated to the Benaki museum by the Mentis family in 2011 is run as a living museum and allows the public an insight into the traditional production methods of ribbon weaving.
When the Mentis family was forced to close down their trimmings manufacture in Athens in 2011, Spyros, Marina and Othon Mentis donated their company, including warehouse, machinery and their knowledge of over four generations, to the Benaki museum. In a museal context the manufacture is kept alive and allows visitors an insight into the traditional fabrication methods of ribbon weaving at the place of production. The company represents a long history of Greek silk production. Already around 550 after Christ, silkworm breeding and silk thread production were known in the Byzantine Empire and formed a prospering economic sector that had its heyday in the 19th century.
Spyros Mentis, the previous owner of the company, welcomes us in his former workshop. He passionately tells us his family history. Until 2011 they were the oldest family business in the field of ribbon weaving. Originally limited to silk production, his great-grandfather founded the business over 200 years ago in the region of Tripoli and moved the manufacture to Nafplion in 1820. The port city Nafplion had at that time been chosen capital of the newly founded Greek kingdom.
King Otto’s court of nobility, civil servants and mercantile bourgeoisie were generous clients that demanded representative attire and opulent home decoration. The Mentis business was flourishing. The family tradition of silk production slowly turned into a manufacture of trimmings, fringes, laces, cords, braids, tassels and galloons. “My great-grandfather made the first tassels and fringes for the famous uniforms of the Evzones”, Spyros Mentis tells us proudly. When the residency moved to Athens so did the Mentis manufacture and expanded their operations with new inventions of looms and braiding machines. On Ermou Street, vis-à-vis the small Byzantine church on Kapnikareas Square, the Mentis shop and workshop were located for decades.
“Today’s workshop is only a small part of what Mentis used to be” Spyros Mentis tells us. Directed by Dimitris Eliopoulos the manufacture is run as a two-men business within the Benaki museum. It is a unique opportunity for the trained textile engineer to lead the production of the Mentis manufacture. Working on a loom he checks the thread tension to make a large trimming. The machine creates meters of faulty product. With patience and calm Dimitris Eliopoulos adjusts the machine until it finds its rhythm. He is happy about the existence of a place like Mentis. “As a textile engineer you only work with the computer nowadays”, he says. He appreciates the direct interaction with machines and production. Day after day he is fascinated to manually operate the machines, to adjust them, to develop a feel for them.
The combination of craft and machine is especially important for the communications programme of the Benaki museum. School classes or visitors that come to the living museum Tuesdays to Saturdays between 10 am and 3 pm Dimitris is always willing to explain and demonstrate every detail of the production. The looms and braiding machines rattle in the background while producing meters of ribbons and cords. The rewinding machine reels colourfully shimmering threads on bobbins. This vivid setting has the magical touch of a past time and is at the same time present. How lucky the workshop can persist in its original form at this place.
In the shop one can find an exceptional selection of old and new trimmings.