Clare Nuttall in Almaty -
The surprise hit at this autumn's Kazakhstan Fashion Week was the debut collection from SofiAnn. The design duo are currently operating on a shoestring budget from their Almaty studio, but hope to raise funds to start operating on the mass market.
Anna Ayulova and Sofia Rahimova first met as students in 2002, but after graduating Ayulova started a family while Rahimova went to work in the banking sector and later moved to Bulgaria. In the meantime, they stayed in contact over Skype. "Last year, I said to Anna - let's do it. I returned to Almaty and we set up our atelier in April 2009," says Rahimova.
Some 18 months later, their collection at the spring-summer 2011 fashion week got the kind of attention usually reserved for more established local designers such as Kuralai and Salta, both of whom have been showing for several years. "The reaction to our collection was a shock," Rahimova tells bne, adding that their yellow organza prom dress and a black mini-dress with a spider's web design was particularly popular among the many potential buyers who visited their studio immediately after the show.
SofiAnn also showed a more quirky menswear collection, getting an acrobat onto the catwalk in a yellow playsuit. Suits were accessorised with pink silk codpieces and swimsuit-style trimmings somewhat suggestive of the "mankini" worn by Borat. Rahimova denies any links to the Borat film, which caused outrage in Kazakhstan. "I didn't watch the film," she says, but adds that the showman element was definitely there in the menswear collection.
"We were inspired by sportsmen and costumes we have seen in films. I don't think men in Kazakhstan will wear these clothes - they are afraid to look different," Rahimova says. "However, women in Kazakhstan are interested in our glamorous clothes for parties. There is a specific style here - women like a lot of glitter. But we are always getting closer to Europe, because European designers dictate international fashion."
Ayulova and Rahimova launched the business with their own money and start-up capital from their parents, but say they are now looking for investment. "We don't yet have sponsors, but we plan to open a shop in future and target the mass market," Ayulova says.
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