Boarding a flight for Minsk I checked in two conflicting sets of expectations. Country’s geopolitical brand “Last Dictatorship In Europe” is a byproduct of serious info-wars and many of my international colleagues equated this trip to a study of North Korean or Iranian fashion industries: an oxymoronic endeavor with a thrilling hint of danger. I knew better than to fall for headlines. On the other hand, those who actually have been there spoke about Minsk as “a hidden gem of East Euro street style.” I could not detect degree of irony in that statement. In its fifth season, Belarus Fashion Week is a nascent fashion event in a nation best known for its linen textiles rather than design. I was intrigued to experience BFW which comes at the very end of the season’s global fashion calendar. DEPESHA reviews top 10 runway presentations of designers from Belarus, in order of appearance at BFW Spring/Summer 2013:
LUDMILA TARAKANOVA opened the week with thunder and lightning. Inspired by the grand visuals of storms rolling over mid-Volga plains and landscape masters like Ivan Shishkin, designer presented BFW’s only full menswear collection which at once wowed and wooed with its anti-urban appeal. Exhibiting self-assured romanticism without succumbing to all things saccharine and clandestine is a rare feat. Kudos!
SVETLANA TODORSKAYA unveiled her Sahara collection to a full house crowd with the requisite who-is-who front row. All looks consisted of one-of-a-kind garments handmade in her atelier, a presentation as close to haute couture spirit as was plausible to expect. Less a stated study in desert color schemes, it was more of a whirlwind excursion through all things exotic to a designer’s eye tracing a line of influences from Maghreb to Scheherazade to Shanghai.
HISTORIA NATURALIS is a young brand steeped in contemporary mix of environmentally conscious ethics and aesthetics: spiritual manifesto, organic materials, auteur prints. Correlation of sound and color championed by Kandinsky provided inspiration for the sea foam, blades of grass and Milky Way in flux hand-printed silkscreens against vanilla & lime backgrounds. It made the collection readily spottable anywhere in the world.
FUR GARDEN by JULIA GILEVICH is one the most established brands in Belarus. Flowing lines, subtle layering, amorphous melted glass: this charm-infused collection was inspired by the popular practice of visualization wherein one’s aspirations are given space and chance to materialize via collection of related images. Designer attributed season’s “no black” color policy to the desire to break through the monochrome and the mundane. An apt illustration to an age old bit of folk wisdom: careful what you wish for.
RADA STYLE heavily publicized its use of handcrafted lace by Sophie Hallette & Richers Marescot listing the latter’s clientele from Armani to Versace in a move to contextualize the brand firmly within the luxury segment. The lace was indeed nonpareil even if most silk gown looks appeared uninspired against promo slogans such as “only Cote D’Azur, only red carpet, no compromise” aimed at the newly moneyed class which still drives tastes and sales in the post-Soviet fashion realm.
NATALIA GAIDARGY is a two part Belarus fashion marvel: a national linen ambassador who uses exclusively domestically sourced linen in her work and one of very few designers to cater to the Plus-Size market. The endearingly matching woman-girl outfits in the ambitiously titled collection “What women want” invigorated an otherwise uneven showcase of the limits and potential of linen. However, many of the brighter looks heralded good news for the fashion-forward buyers in this oft overlooked and underserved niche.
FELICITY by IVAN AIPLATOV was by far the most attended and best produced show of the week. Already a designer with avid local following, he debuted another premium label with a collection inspired by the iconic Birkin-Gainsbourg love affair. Smartly tailored, any dress-code friendly, with cleverly designed prints, this timely offering lands north of Zara, south of Guess by Marciano, which should serve as trend savvy affirmation of budding consumer confidence in Belarus fashion industry.
NATASHA TSU RAN without a doubt claims the enfant terrible laurels amongst Belarus designer pool otherwise characterized by risk aversion. Set to epic soundscape by arena rockers Muse, this edgier buyer-oriented collection explored the battle between good and evil within each individual. Sigh. And it did so by the book: facemasks, crosses, anatomical mimicry, epaulets. Had there been skulls, it’d qualify as a tame Alexander McQueen tribute.
OLGA KUCHERENKO went “upstream” with an eponymously titled collection. Charged with the task of clothing an individual at odds with the determinist will of the masses, designer (non)surprisingly exhibited a preference for the safety of grey shades over color statements, indiscriminate see-through and cutouts over effective tailoring, which provoked dissonance as to cross-justifiability of conceptual ends and stylistic means. Non-conformism is dead, long live non-conformism.
IRINA BOITSIK personifies a traditional designer route to professional success from seamstress apprentice to runway headliner. Her collection provided a fitting closure to a week’s diverse line up. Classic couture silhouettes, midi to maxi lengths, gamble-proof color palette of beige, amber, emerald, and concise functionality of accessories by partner brand Panaskin… This was perhaps the most mass market ready outing, distilled in its everyday sophistication, well versed in the challenging art of tasteful wellbeing.
Run with zeal by a small team of diehard enthusiasts, Belarus Fashion Week by Marco, underwritten by one of Europe’s largest mass market shoe manufacturers, is a momentous testament to the rapid evolution of global fashion scene. In her recent talk at Aurora Fashion Week, world’s premier fashion theorist Dr. Valerie Steele advocated on behalf of “fashion periphery” fashion weeks highlighting their role as greenhouses for new talent, hubs for industry development, and test labs for trend endurance.
In Minsk today, Gautier-to-Prada influences echo and ricochet throughout while authentic creative powerhouses like Ludmila Tarakanova await their due discoveries. Meanwhile season-to-season sponsorship deals, attendance numbers, coverage rate and show production value continue to steadily rise. Most importantly, a new generation of professionals (such as winner of BFW New Names contests designer Natalia Kostroma-Andreyuk and blogger Olga Burdina) is being cultivated on fertile home turf. In short,Belarus fashion kids are alright. No irony. And that makes for a good headline.