Accidental Style Icon: Yanni
The Greek composer is more than a musician—he's a titan.
Before there were gods there were titans. Hyperion. Cronus. Phoebe. They were the children of Gaia, Mother Earth, of Uranus, the Father who built the heavens and the sky. History tells us there were twelve of them: six girls, six boys. But history was wrong. There is one more titan. One who still walks among us. Like the rest of them, he comes from Greece, or some primordial version of Greece. He has long hair and a huge forehead. A mustache. Beautiful eyes that look like pools of water in an ancient cave. His name is Yanni.
Yanni Chryssomallis is the titan of adult contemporary and orchestral-music-with-synthesizers who has performed all over the world, like at the Taj Mahal in India, the Kremlin in Russia, and China’s Forbidden City. I have heard the concerts were inspiring. I have streamed Yanni’s records on Spotify; at first blush they’re kind of boring and a little ridiculous, but the more I’ve listened to them the more I’m inclined to believe otherwise. As of late, I've found Yanni’s music to be delightfully campy, the kind of music that an old woman who sells jars of jam at a farmer’s market would be into, the kind of music you’d want to hear on the goddamn beach. One of his most famous records, Live at the Acropolis, was released in 1994. For a time, there was a large billboard depicting the album’s art in front of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. While I have never seen the billboard before because this all happened before I was born, I can imagine that it was very beautiful. Like Yanni. A beautiful man.
On the cover of Live at the Acropolis, Yanni’s beautiful black mane flaps in the breeze. His mustache looks particularly luscious. He wears a simple outfit: a crisp black blazer and a gray T-shirt. It’s totally effortless, the kind of thing you could wear out on a first date at a quiet neighborhood bar, or perhaps conduct a large concert in Greece. Unlike his music, Yanni’s sartorial sense is minimalistic. He looks approachable, like a man wandering around an airport convenience store or a mild mannered European tourist asking for directions to the 9/11 Museum. He downplays how good-looking he is. He wants you to feel like you can relax and just chill out to his music.
Yanni is almost always featured prominently on his album covers. Take 1990’s Reflections of Passion as one such offering. Here, the titan of adult contemporary sits in the sand in a loosely fitted black suit and a white T-shirt. He’s not wearing any shoes, probably because he doesn’t want to get any sand in his socks, which is a very annoying thing to happen to a person. His head is turned from the camera, like he is caught in a moment of reverie. Maybe he is thinking about you, the listener, and how awesome you’re going to feel when you listen to his music. Meanwhile, on Yanni’s Port of Mystery, it’s all about cowboy vibes. He’s wearing an all denim outfit, which makes him look like the kind of guy you could get a beer with. Crucially, he’s wearing some shoes—a serious departure from Reflections of Passion, where he’s not wearing shoes. My favorite Yanni album cover has to be Tribute, where Yanni is wearing one of his classic slouchy suit jackets and spices things up a little bit with a red tee. On Tribute, Yanni’s flair for international travel is front and center. We see him superimposed onto a smoldering yellow and orange backdrop where we see the Taj Mahal and the Forbidden City, hovering above some clouds. He looks at ease in his sky palace, welcoming his listener to his wonderful world of smooth jazz and funky strings.
I asked several close confidants to tell me what they love about Yanni, specifically when it comes to his fashion sense. When I asked my father, who used to pass the Yanni billboard in the Queens–Midtown Tunnel on his way to work said, “I would stare at that billboard when I was stuck waiting to get on [sic] Midtown tunnel.” Vogue’s Liana Satenstein referred to Yanni as “Tender slender Greek god w/ [sic] a dictator mustache and a Fabio mane,” while fellow Vogue staffer (and former GARAGE editor) Emma Specter said, “I thought you meant Raffi.” (Ed Note: Raffi is a children’s musician). When I took to Twitter, everyone had love for Yanni. The writer Joshua Minsoo Kim told me that Yanni has “several good songs.” There you have it: everyone loves Yanni. He’s stylish. Mysterious. And most of all, a titan.