For all the live-streamed fabulous optimism, the fashion industry has been struggling to cope with the adverse impact of the global pandemic. From supply chain disruptions to anxious consumer confidence, the latest McKinsey Global Fashion Index forecasts “an uneven recovery” following a 20% market loss over the last two years. While luxury conglomerates may weather uncertainty better, smaller players and newcomers need extra support and attention. This is particularly true for emerging markets. That’s why the latest edition of Visa Fashion Week Almaty was a successful case study in how local governments can engage transnational capital to boost its creative community’s needs during these challenging times. Since Kazakhstan hosted World EXPO and I reported on it as “an emerging fashion destination for global travelers”, designers have benefited from Almaty, the former Kazakh capital, stepping up its role as the center for traditional and modern expression of Central Asian cultures. What does it take to organize an event of this scale in these times?
Kazakhstan, a country of 19 million people, had reported nearly a million COVID cases since the start of the pandemic. With 47% of the population vaccinated, the strict restrictions on travel and public gatherings are in effect. While the event was held in adherence to all preventive measures, its capacity and scope were limited as many international power players are wary of travel beyond the industry bubbles of Paris or London. Bauyrzhan Shadibekov, CEO of Visa Fashion Week Almaty, noted that the team still favors the in-person format over virtual-only option, because personal connections are important for any creative business endeavors. In fact, smaller audiences allowed for greater interaction between the audience, press, and talent.
Among the notable guests were photographer Andrew Barber whose work appeared in most major fashion publications, Anastasia Fedoseeva, founder of Street Pie, a trendsetting boutique and agency in Moscow, and Nino Sichinava, contributing editor at London-based Schon Magazine. As exposure and access to international media, buyers and direct customers is critical for building a nation’s style brand, all runway shows were livestreamed on the #VFWAlmaty social media platforms.
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Among the domestic highlights was a cruise collection by Saken Zhaksybaev. His label ZhSaken focused on monochrome dresses accented with yellow as an exploration of Spanish and Portuguese heritage in the royal histories of Europe. “Black, as the deepest color, awakens feminine beauty and in itself is a powerful chord, and when it is presented in a fabric such as velvet, it gives the image even more mystery,” says the designer.
Kazakh alumna of Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Tatyana Yan dove into the treasure trove of fairytales. “The older we get, the more we notice the tale doesn’t go anywhere: good conquers evil, after darkness comes light, actions are louder than words. Only its characters change over time, but now we need them more than ever,” remarked Yan. Designer Ainur Turisbek experimented with a new approach to co-branding collections. “ALMA: Powered by Jusan Invest” is a reference to both her mother and the nurturing history of generosity from the likes of the Medici family “sponsoring” the Renaissance.
A historical crossroads between the mythical East and West, Kazakhstan continued to master fashion diplomacy by inviting leading Ukrainian, Georgian and Uzbek designers. This was a powerful and welcome gesture of good will towards each country navigating a geopolitical standoff with Russia. Designer Lilia Litkovskaya and her “daring clothes worthy of a city shaman” have become one of Ukraine’s most recognizable style calling cards. Inspired by Keith Haring and blooming poppy fields, her optimistic vision for the future is defiantly triumphant.
Georgia’s Datuna Sulikashvili is an in-demand ambassador of the new Georgian sense of style. Working in silk and cashmere, he is building a stellar brand reputation across multiple international platforms. Uzbekistan was represented by nation’s two best-selling brands.
Couturier Lali Fazylova envisioned contemporary youth of the ancient megacities like Tashkent and Samarkand. Her beautiful collection highlighted the use of adras, traditional Uzbek hand-dyed textiles, and alo-bakhmal, a royal velvet weaving technique.
Since 2007, Dildora Kasimova has been releasing successful prêt-à-porter collections to a growing audience of loyal customers and fans. Her philosophy of fashion being a holistic lifestyle and not just a profession, she is one of the most followed style influencers in Central Asia capturing the modern Silk Road zeitgeist.
Looking and moving forward, Bauyrzhan Shadibekov, CEO of Visa Fashion Week Almaty, has utmost confidence in the platform as he cites a few of his long-term project partners like Kaz Tour, Citix, and Dyson, and its benefits for the participating designers and national fashion industries in the region. Starting next year, a partnership with the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana will grant a season-winning designer an opportunity to present at a special showcase during Milan Fashion Week. An example of international fashion industry solidarity, it signals a willingness to make economic recovery less “uneven” prioritizing the future of emerging talent.