Kazakhstan’s Fashion Week came to Astana for only the second time on Oct. 23 and 24, with 20 designers showing their spring 2015 collections on a catwalk in the capital’s Soluxe Astana Beijing Palace Hotel. This year is the 10th anniversary of Kazakhstan Fashion Week (KFW), but the first year designers have shown in the country’s growing capital.
The shows are intense, General Producer and Director Sayat Dosybayev said, but he likes them that way. “I like it, because for Astana, it’s a big project now. They’ve never seen so many designers at one time,” he said.
Presenting collections over two days were 16 designers from Kazakhstan: Aida KaumeNOVA, Ainur Turisbek, Alex Chzhen, Anthena Clothing for Brosh, Argentum Kozhageldina, Atelier L’Artisan, Aya Bapani, Bibotta, Endofin, Kamila Kurbani, LaRiya, Mandarin Narbayeva, Molto Molto by Aigul Kassymova, Tamara Lamanukaeva, T.Tsoy and Yerlan Zholdasbek. Five designers from Georgia also participated in the show: Akananita, Avtandil for Merali, Datuna Sulikashvili for Merali, Gizi and Salle de Mode.
The wildly diverse designs parading Astana’s runway ranged from the floaty, embroidered gowns of Aya Bapani, which drew from traditional Kazakh clothing, to the cheeky, hand-painted, street-influenced collection from Mandarin Narbayeva. From Ainur Turisbek came sleek leather looks inspired by boxing; from Kamila Kurbani, the audience got neoprene jackets and dresses printed with iconic buildings and monuments from Almaty and Astana. Between came color-blocked urban looks, printed silks, teddy bears, girly ruffles, menswear and other design points of view.
Almaty may provide the foundation for Kazakhstan’s fashion scene, with its luxury shops and high end global brand outposts, but the new capital is a breath of fresh air – and a promising market – said Dosybayev. “My dream – I wanted to start the first show in Astana. Because it’s the capital, it’s new, its energetic, it’s a very fresh city for people who want to know about fashion,” he said. Astana doesn’t yet have the same rapacious appetite for fashion as Almaty does, he said, but the desire is growing. After the first KFW shows in Astana in April came without showrooms, he said, clients requested them, and before and after the October shows in Astana, potential buyers paced the aisles between designers’ stands, trying on outfits and fingering fabrics.
KFW has come a long way from the three or four designers who presented looks in 2004, the year the show first started. Ten years ago, Dosybayev said, KFW “was like a show for people,” and watchers were almost as interested in the models as they were the clothes. Some couples who met through the catwalk have since gotten married, he laughed.
But now, fashion is a sustainable business in Kazakhstan. This year, Almaty’s show had 28 designers, plus some 15 who did not show new collections, but set up showrooms with items for sale. “Step by step, every season we changed the minds of the public. … All the designers that we showed on the catwalk [in Astana], they’re good designers. They have small businesses, they’re employed.”
Kazakhstan is fashionable, absolutely, Dosybayev said. The country is so fashion conscious that the initial struggle with KFW was to get clients to take local designers seriously – they were already so heavily invested in their international favorites. “In 2004, when we started, all the clients were into, you know, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana. They were like, ‘Sayat, please, are you joking? I will not wear some Kazakh designer. Excuse me, it’s Dolce & Gabbana.’ And I was like, ‘OK, dear. We’ll see you later.’ And now, they can see a total look from Kazakh designers. And it’s not as prestigious as Dior, OK, but the clients, they’re mixing: jeans from Dolce & Gabbana and a top from a Kazakh designer, a Georgian designer. We need this. And we’re seeing it.”
Dosybayev is a big supporter of the business of fashion, and recently organized a Eurasia Fashion Forum, which met for the first time in Almaty last season.
“We invited organizations like Kazakhstan Fashion Week from Ukraine, Russia, Georgia; one publisher from Azerbaijan, from Poland,” he said. Forum participants presented the market possibilities in each country and discussed the situation in fashion and the possibilities of trading finished work as well as processing and production duties.
“A collection, it’s very hard to do and very hard afterward to sell. You have to know how to sell it before it is produced. Before, it’s production, and afterward, it’s marketing and merchandising. If you don’t know how it all works separately, you can’t do it,” he said.
As the runways show, in Kazakhstan, more and more designers are learning the balance of art and commerce that is fashion, and more and more of their countrymen are beginning to appreciate them.