Lux before art at Kazakhstan fashion week

By bne IntelliNews June 10, 2009

Clare Nuttall in Almaty -

Fashion in Kazakhstan is no longer just about sporting head-to-toe Armani or D&G. Local designers have gained a loyal following among the country's fashion-conscious elite.

The better-known designers, including Kuralai, Saltanat Baymukhamedova and Aigul Kassymova, have established themselves over the last decade. Kuralai, who has been at the centre of the fashion scene for the last 15 years, stole the show at Kazakhstan Fashion Week in May with her flowing silk print dresses topped with twig and newspaper headdresses. She plans to open a boutique in London in the near future.

Almaty is sufficiently off the beaten track for none of the big names to venture here, but 25 designers from Kazakhstan, the Caucasus, Western Europe, the Middle East and China put on shows. Kazakhstan Fashion Week's general producer, Sayat Dossybayev, points out the relatively insignificant costs of showing here - around $20,000 per designer, which includes light and sound, backstage space, accommodation and publicity.

Dutch designer Iris van Noten is showing in Almaty for the first time. "I was curious because I didn't know anything about Kazakhstan," she admits, observing that Kazakhstan Fashion Week is very different from the European events. "It's much more about selling." While we are talking backstage, several people come over to examine her collection and inquire about prices.

"It's a different way of looking at fashion," van Noten goes on. "It's less about art than London, Paris or Milan, and more about luxury. I see a lot of fur here, for example."


Even women on low budgets spend a staggering proportion of their income on clothes and grooming. The richer end of the spectrum shop at Armani, Moschino and other top-end designer boutiques, as well making regular shopping trips abroad. As in other Eastern bloc countries, the emphasis has been on well known labels. However, recently things have changed. "Now people are willing to experiment with less well known designers," says local designer Kassymova.

Dossybayev agrees. "We can divide the market into several different classes. First, there are the people who wear cheap clothes from Turkey and China. Second, there is the mass market, with cheap but good clothes from Mango, Zara and Benneton. Then there are the expensive clothes from designers like Giorgio Armani," he explains. "However, some people are now starting to mix different styles - for example, rather than being in head-to-toe D&G, they might wear D&G jeans with a Kuralai top. Our designers aren't much cheaper than the international designers, but they are original."

The crisis has, of course, had some effect, though local fashionistas were out in force at the Hotel Kazakhstan. "Our designers have lost a few of their clients. They are also finding ways to make their clothes more cheaply, for example using cheaper materials, but their style is still the same," says Dossybayev.

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Lux before art at Kazakhstan fashion week

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