Tajik designers go west

Artisan: In the workshop of Mukharama Kayumova

In early October Paris Fashion Week will occupy some of the fashion industry’s biggest players, but for Tajik designers another event in the city takes precedence. From September 1-4 two Tajik design companies will be part of a UN-backed delegation flying to Paris to attend the Ethical Fashion Show, which will showcase artisan-made and ecologically sound clothes from around the globe.

They will be taken to the show at the Carrousel du Louvre by the International Trade Centre, which is running a four-year project to mentor Tajik textile and fashion companies and guide them towards international markets.

As her needle of gold thread darts in and out of a new velvet coat for Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Tajik fashion designer Mukharama Kayumova explains which designs she plans to show western buyers in Paris next month.

“When I last went to Paris our hats, shoes and traditional chapan coats, like the ones worn by Karzai, sold well but I am going to watch and learn to see what designs westerners like,” says Kayumova, owner of the Haft Baikhair artisanal fashion company.

The geometrical ikat weaving used by traditional clothmakers in central Asia has graced western catwalks and designer homeware stores in recent seasons, appearing in Sass and Bide’s spring/summer collection and on Vera Wang’s tableware. However, a western vogue for traditional Tajik and Uzbek weaving has done little to put local designers and artisans on the international map.

Tajikistan, a Persian-speaking country that shares a border with Afghanistan, was riven by a civil war in the early 1990s and is one of the poorest of the former Soviet states. Although cotton-growing forms the mainstay of its economy, there is little processing or clothes making in the country itself.

“Sourcing the accessories needed to make clothes, from buttons to zips, can be very difficult. Everything has to be imported from overseas and it’s all expensive because the country is landlocked and remote,” says Rustam Shodibekov, the ITC consultant on the textile and clothing trade promotion programme in Tajikistan.

But traditional embroidery skills are still practiced in most Tajik homes and from beadwork and appliqué to the most delicate embroidery, Tajkistan has a bank of national talent that is second to none, says Kayumova, who employs 5,000 women to do piecework on her heavily decorated and sumptuous clothes.

Kayumova uses traditional beading and embroidery to enliven long tailored coats, in jewel colours such as turquoise, emerald and topaz.

The geometric patterns used in Tajik folk design, which draw on the country’s Zoroastrian and Persian heritage, look surprisingly contemporary and are far more appealing than the traditional dress worn by Tajik women in the street: a pair of loose-fitting pyjama bottoms teamed with a long shapeless dress that looks like a nightdress or a mu-mu.

Mavluda Khamraeva, a petite 37-year-old who runs the M.Stile fashion boutique and her own eponymous fashion label in the downtown Opera area of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, says drab local fashion, Soviet rule and the civil war kicked the stuffing out of Tajik style but a revival of the country’s fashion heritage, with a modern twist, is now afoot.

“European and imported style started to prevail among fashionable Tajiks so we have to reapply our traditional skills to combine modern style with Tajik folklaw,” she says.

One of Khamraeva’s notable successes has been the new uniforms for Tajikistan’s national airline, Somon Air, which are neatly tailored blue and red suits with embroidered red and blue disks that represent the sun and are commonly seen on central Asian textiles.

To keep her design business going she imports western fashions from Turkey and Italy for Tajik customers and uses the proceeds to subsidise her own label, which includes designs worn by national pop stars such as Jurabek Murodov and Tajikistan’s answer to the Beatles, the pop group Shams, as well as wives of local politicians.

The mayor of Dushanbe has recently signed up to a plan to hold a annual Tajik fashion week in a new hall that will be completed for the country’s 20th anniversary of independence on September 9.

Laying out a slightly eye-watering lime-green leather suit, inset with embroidered panels in black, yellow and hot pink, Khamraeva says that she’s saving her current designs to show on the catwalk during the upcoming independence celebrations and she is looking forward to getting a national fashion week off the ground in the next year. “It would inspire people and bring together other designers. I think it would be a dream come true,” she says.

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