TOTEM x Stratos Efstanthiou: The Art of Turning Ugliness Into Prints

About two months ago we came across a semi-underground electronic party held in the southern tip of Hong Kong island. An area where old abandoned industrial warehouses have been taken over by galleries, organic restaurants and outlets of fashion retailers in the city. What struck me was the immense mapped projection of a vibrant color Mao image on the 20 stories parking lot across the terrace, with his eyes shooting out red lasers marked Electronic Museum at the bottom.

Electronic Museum Light Installation. The Special "Mao" Series Design by Stratos Efstanthiou

Electronic Museum Light Installation. The Special "Mao" Series Design by Stratos Efstanthiou

A dark-haired guy with nicely trimmed ruffle beard wearing a baseball cap and a floral shirt you would never forget stood in front of the print. His shorts, socks and sneakers were almost like a clash of prints and colors that seemed not so abrupt and somewhat making sense. The strays of a sort of positive aura, not only exploding from his way of dress, but also his friendly smile and warm personality, proudly looking at the impressive projection across made me realize that it must have been a work of his.

Stratos Efstanthiou

Stratos Efstanthiou


After getting to know him, this young and talented Greek South African Art Director for Ogilvy & Mather who also does a little fun things every now and then for his own artistic satisfaction, always seems to make everyone around him feel happy and loved. From his latest projects using the newly launched Adobe Capture, we found an incredible synergy with TOTEM COLLECTIVE, and collaborated for him to create his own special TOTEM design. 


“Turning ugliness into mystical beauty” has been the theme surrounding this special collaboration. The series he created, all from his little visit to the dentist this week, have been something slightly disturbing yet stunning. Putting patterns at the core of his recent vision (or the core of his entire wardrobe) and added a bright and fun touch to the TOTEM COLLECTIVE universe of contemporary creativity.

"The Dentist Series" curated by Stratos Efstathiou exclusively for TOTEM COLLECTIVE

We spoke with Stratos about his obessions with patterns, Mao, his style, aesthetics, and how its like being a Greek South African living in Hong Kong.

1. Prints and Patterns seem to be an important factor that inspire you. Could you tell us more about this obsession?

 It started with a wardrobe shift. I started seeing some small African shops in Cape Town selling traditional prints that were often used to make traditional clothes. I bought my first print which was a fabric from Lesotho and got a pair of pants made, tailored from the man who ran the shop. From here, I’ve always been on the look out for prints, traditional or not, and just wanted to wear them.

2. You mentioned you get inspired by things people don’t really pay attention to and love to give them a separate twist. What were some of the most random and unexpected things you worked with and turned into a design?

 Just running off of what I said before, taking a print that was maybe only seen as suitable for a particular garment, could now be worn causally with a five-panel hat and sneakers. A traditional peony print was the next thing that caught by eye when I first got here to HK. It’s fun every time I wear it. One person said that her gran had cushions like that another lady stopped me in the street to asked me where I got this from and told me I just made her day, that she loved it.

Sometimes I see random, mundane objects that I’ll snap and then make a pattern using a simple phone app (Adobe Capture is an incredibly addictive little app). Taking something ugly or trivial and turning it into something beautiful.

"The Dentist Series" curated by Stratos Efstathiou exclusively for TOTEM COLLECTIVE

3. Could you tell us about your Mao Project? And why?

I first wanted to work something onto his portrait because I thought the shape of his hair and chubby little face reminded me of a panda. I bought a poster of him and just painted over it in black paint. Then from here I just made a whole list of things I want to create on him from Mao with lazer beam eyes to Mao with an afro, bald Mao, Mohawk Mao, Oh Mao God, to a Fear and Loathing Mao. The list just goes on. It kind’ve reminds me of when I was younger drawing over magazine covers, giving girls moustaches. Just random shit. We’ve all probably done something similar it’s stupid and it’s fun.

4. To you, what is the cultural identity of being South African?

This is a complicated question cause I grew up in a Greek South African home. I have very South African ways but also grew up with a very strong Greek culture and influence. I think my social lifestyle, friends and schooling were very South African and my values and upbringing very Greek. South Africa is very diverse, so I think if anything, it taught me to try be inclusive. Not only about race but about sexual orientation, gender, social class and anything else where a minority might be disfavoured.

5. What are you currently obsessed with?

The Adobe Capture app. My IG feed is slowly being taken over by this.

6. How do you think about the TOTEM COLLECTIVE project?

I think it’s a great idea. It’s adaptable and it’s taken a tote bag and put it in a different space. It’s more than just a boring tote. It can be art, it can be random, it’s flexible, it’s unique.

Additional Print Series Curated by Stratos Efstathiou Exclusively for TOTEM COLLECTIVE