Our first visit this spring to Belgrade, Serbia was a revelation in more ways than one. The vibrant capital city certainly lived up to its reputation as the city that “never sleeps” with its energetic nightlife. And it was full of surprises, namely its highly creative and imaginative fashion week – the main purpose of our visit. Launched in 1996, Belgrade Fashion Week, the oldest Fashion Week in Eastern Europe, just wrapped up its 45th edition. This is not a fashion event well known outside of Eastern Europe mainly because it features only local designers whose collections don’t generally have international distribution.
Before attending this month’s Belgrade Fashion Week, the only Serbian designer with a major international presence that I was aware of was London-based Roksanda Ilincic. But BFW is an impressive event that should be on every fashion editor’s radar. The high production values on the catwalk, the range of designers and quality of the fabrics and the workmanship behind the designs were all top notch. The quality of BFW in general, from the designs to the production, was higher than I expected, especially as Serbian designers have greater challenges in terms of lower budgets and in sourcing materials and manufacturing the garments than British or American designers have.
The opening catwalk at Belgrade Fashion Week was a touching tribute to Milena Dravic, a very popular Serbian film and TV actress, who passed away last year. The actress had a long and prestigious career in Serbia despite having her films banned in the 1990s due to her stance against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Eighteen Serbian designers created striking designs to pay homage to the actress, including Aleksandra Lalic and Svetlana Jacovic, and vintage designs owned by late actress were also featured against a backdrop of film clips featuring Ms Dravic. The designs on the catwalk were expertly linked to the film clips so a non-Serbian speaker unfamiliar with her films could easily follow the presentation. Some of the designers, including Aleksandra Lalic, Budislava Kekovic and Jasmina Vujovic, also presented their new collections during solo catwalk shows.
Many of theSerbian designers at this fashion week could easily hold their own on international catwalks like New York and London, in particular Vesna Kracanovic, Budislava Kekovic, Aleksandra Lalic, Jasmina Vujovic, SestreS, Gala Borovic, Teodora Pasalic, Ana Ljubinkovic and Sonja Jocic. Some of these designers also have their own shops in the Belgrade Design Destrict, the Belgrade Design Hub or in Belgrade Fashion Week’s pop-up store in the slick new Rajiceva shopping centre, a complex that wouldn’t be out of place in any capital city in Europe or North America.
Serbian designers are gradually receiving attention from outside the country with the help of organisations like London’s Fashion Scout, a champion of new designers. Gala Borovic’s colorful, playful ready-to-wear designs won her the Fashion Scout South East Europe’s competition for emerging designers. This award allows her to be included in Fashion Scout’s Ones To Watch show during London Fashion Week in September 2019.
Ana Ljubinkovic’s designs, which we viewed on the catwalk and in her own shop, are influenced by her fine arts background, with references to Renaissance and Medieval art as well as to Serbian folk art. It’s clear when looking at any of her pieces, from the colorful bomber jackets with hand-drawn designs based on vintage sailor tattoos, to the more elaborate dresses with ruffles, that while her designs are ready to wear, they’re also very strong conceptually with a lot of thought behind each item. She describes them as “urban high fashion” so it’s no surprise that Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith and Miley Cyrus are fans. Like many of the Serbian designers we met, Ana’s designs are made on demand in quite limited editions with everything being produced locally. Ana and her sister Iva also design leather brogues under the brand ABO shoes. While online purchases are possible via their website, as of this spring, Ana Ljubinkovic and ABO shoes will be also sold in the UK by Wolf & Badger, a well known retailer of independent fashion brands.
And taking visual art meets fashion even further at Belgrade Fashion Week was an extremely conceptual show by artist Ivan Divan, another finalist in Fashion Scout South East Europe’scompetition for emerging designers. Ivan Divan is actually an artist rather than fashion designer and his show entitled “The Butcher” featuring transparent plexiglass skirts and trousers wowed the audience.
Getup by Jasmina Vujovic is a new shop selling clothes and jewellery in Belgrade Design Hub. Jasmina also showed her very wearable monochrome separates in a catwalk show. Her gender neutral collection has a gothic edge with a romantic feel to it.
Aleksandra Lalic, winner of the Elle Style award for 2018, showed a strong collection that included a confident mixing of fabrics, textures and styles. She uses only natural fabrics, from silk and cotton to corduroy, with each piece carefully crafted and well thought out. All of Aleksandra’s designs, often with romantic ruffles and pockets, are custom made and in limited editions of up to five pieces.
Sister design duo SestreS was one of the more established brands showing at Belgrade Fashion Week and also finalists in the Fashion Scout SEE competition. They’ve been working in fashion since 2000 and founded their brand in 2006. Their new collection featured often asymetrical skirts, tops and dresses in a color palette of grey, white and black, all beautifully shown on the catwalk accompanied by music by French classical composer Erik Satie.
Teodora Pasalic is highly creative in her use of high tech materials, including wetsuit type fabric. She’s produced a range of sporty menswear and womenswear in neon colours that stood out on the catwalk. A full length white coat with a zipper and a hood was one of the highlights in her new collection.
Vesna Kracanovic’s collection was another highlight. Unlike the monochrome palette of many of the other collections, Vesna is bold with her use of color, especially orange which she uses liberally in patterns and solids throughout the range of tops, scarves, dresses and coats. Vesna has also created a joint brand, Modle, with Aleksandra Lalic, which they’ve been successfully selling since 2010 in the popular Belgrade Design District.
Speaking from the perspective of a somewhat jaded fashion writer who has seen a lot of designers and catwalks, some of the designs at BFW were quite different from what you’d see on other international catwalks. Certain designers created pieces with what I imagined to be a “Balkan flavor” – for example, Budislava Kekovic’s unusual gauzy designs in a blue and black palette and Bulka’s highly patterned and textured kaftans.
Sonja Jocic’s catwalk was one of the loveliest, with a collection featuring an ethereal mix of romantic, floaty white, pink and black skirts, tops and dresses in gauze, silks and satins. The influence of Sonja’s former careers in contemporary dance and theatre costume design are evident here. With dozens of excellent Serbian designers like Sonja Jocic to discover, Belgrade Fashion Week will no doubt continue to grow in importance internationally.