Shervin Najafpour was over the moon when she had a chance to celebrate for the first time her favourite holiday, Novruz, in her historical homeland, Azerbaijan, particularly in the village of Jojug Marjanli, which was liberated from Armenian occupation in April 2016. This was truly a special moment with symbolic meaning for her.
Two weeks ago, the famous Norwegian designer of Azerbaijani descent, Shervin Najafpour, presented her new collection ”I'm a Star” during Antalya Fashion Week held in Turkey under the motto 'I want to go back home to Karabakh!' A video clip showing the names of Azerbaijani cities, including the ones occupied by Armenia, accompanied the presentation. The show generated a huge stir in the media and social networks, to the extent that the designer’s social media accounts was blocked repeatedly due to complaints from Armenian users.
For Shervin, this was a victory. "It means my social message reached the audience that I was targeting" she says. We interviewed Shervin just before her departure to Jojug Marjanli, which has become a herald of the great return of Azerbaijanis to their native lands. Shervin also wanted to show the world the true meaning of her motto 'I want to go back home to Karabakh!', as she did get to travel to the liberated area of Karabakh.
"We will have time to talk about your sensational show. But first we would like to know you better..."
"My name is Shervin Najafpour, although in Azerbaijan my name is pronounced mistakenly as Sharvin. Few people know that the name Shervin is of Azerbaijani descent, and origins from Shirvan. It means eternal spirit, hero and lion—the elements are to be find on my brands emblem. Ethnically I am from South Azerbaijan, but I was born and raised in Norway. I received my degree in International Marketing Leadership in Norway, and studied in the U.S during High School. Besides working with fashion, I’m employed by the state. I'm also the first elected Azerbaijani Turkish female representative of Oslo City Hall, Council for immigrant organizations.
"Tell us about your career in fashion industry."
"As long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and a business woman since my childhood. I still keep my drawings that I made when I was five years old. When I was fifteen I took part in a fashion competition for young designer talents. I showcased my first handmade design to a jury board of famous fashion designers in Norway and received a lot of awareness and offers. However, I was going to study in the U.S so after my graduation, I landed my first job at one of the famous Norwegian fashion designers. This year marks my tenth year in the industry.”
"Is that true that you have designed clothes for the Norwegian royal family?"
"I find it strange that, I am often called a fashion designer for the royal family. Actually, that's not entirely true. When I was working for one of the famous fashion designers, who had the members of the royal family among his clients. That's where I had the chance to meet and create multiple designs for the royal family members and later when I established my own brand I had the chance of working with many big names. It is one of my biggest success stories. I am not a fan of showing off, so I try to keep silent about the people I work with.”
"Can you name the Norwegian celebrities then?"
"Without mentioning names I can say I have dressed popular TV hosts and models. And I think it’s clear to everyone that I designed the gown of Miss Norway Finalist back in 2013 as well."
"In one of your interviews, you mentioned that Coco Chanel is one of your inspirations and idols. Why Chanel?"
"My dad used to say that any person, whether a man or a woman, should be able to stand on their own feet. He would always tell me stories from inspirational strong women who has made a big impact in history, all from international heroines to the ones with Turkic and Azerbaijani origins, so I would be inspired to become a string independent women myself and maybe a role model for others. I am grateful for the values he has given me from my uprising, these are the values who has formed me as a human being.
Because of our mutual love of fashion he would buy me books by Gabrielle Chanel, her revolutionary story inspired me a lot. After all, it was Chanel’s courage that broke taboos and made it possible for women to wear trousers and black dresses today. She left an indelible mark in the history of world fashion."
"You said that you dreamed of becoming a business woman but you are also a public servant..."
"I am a strong believer of the term nothing is impossible, even the word itself says I am possible. You can be successful in several areas at once. For me it means combining fashion with politics or causes I am passionate about, since I also engage in local politics and organization work. At the same time, I am running a business, which promotes my own fashion brand and helps me send social messages raising awareness about my homeland, Azerbaijan, and the Turkic world in general."
"By the way, social messages... Your show in Antalya made a lot of buzz."
"Antalya is a popular tourist spot in Turkey, and Antalya Fashion Week is a platform attracting large audiences. When I received the invitation, I first thought that it would be a real chance for me to deliver a message about the 27th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide. As you probably know, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian presented Karabakh as a territory of Armenia during his visit to Iran. It made me angry and I had to react to it somehow. So why not combine the two things I am passionate about, fashion & politics. So I used this platform to deliver a strong message by reaching the world community."
"It was a bold move indeed. Do you think your efforts are enough to spread the truth about Karabakh to the world?"
"I am also the chairman of an organisation established by Norwegian Azerbaijanis which is called CAN. As a tribute to mark the 100th year of the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, CAN organization got established in Oslo, Norway. Our mission is to build bridges between Azerbaijan & Norway. Promote Azerbaijani-Turkish cultural heritage, history, relevant current topics to Norwegians and other ethnic groups in Norway and Norwegian cultural heritage, history, relevant current topics to Azerbaijani-Turkish people. Our intention is to fight against anti-Azerbaijani campaigns in Norway. In addition, I am one of the coordinator of the Coordination Council of Scandinavian Azerbaijanis which was a initiative by the State Committee on Work with Diaspora of the Republic of Azerbaijan. I believe we do a lot of work, but this is not enough. I’m going to be honest. During our events, why do we speak in Azerbaijani? Our foreigner guest do not understand us! The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev makes so much effort to help us spread the truth about Azerbaijan throughout the world. Instead, we talk and listen to ourselves. I find this completely absurd! We must use innovative methods to spread the word to a bigger audience then ourselves. I asked myself: "Imagine that you have a large international platform to speak out from. What should you do? Send a social message to the world!" But how could I do that? If I wrote my motto in Azerbaijani, no one would understand me. That's why I wrote 'I want to go back home to Karabakh!' in English. When people watch photos or videos from the show, they can see models in my dresses on the stage, and my motto in English on a huge screen behind the catwalk. Our work must comply and appeal the mind-set of societies we work in. For instant, people in Finland do not want to see blood, do not show it to them. There are many ways to reach out, we have great visual videos about The Khojaly Genocide in English made by the Baku Media Centre or the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Why don’t we show them instead?"
"Any plans for the future?"
"Currently, we are preparing for the a beauty pageant called Miss and Mister National Azerbaijan which will be held in Baku. I have already signed a contract with the organisers of this state-supported event to make a special collection. Since I was born and raised in Norway, I want to make my collection based on Thor Heyerdahl's famous theory about the related roots of Norwegians and Azerbaijanis. The show will take place in June."
"How would you describe the tastes and preferences of Azerbaijanis in terms of dressing?"
"Frankly, I haven't had a chance to walk around the city a lot to see what locals wear. My group of friends are high profiled personalities, and each time I visit Azerbaijan I attend various meetings and events. In general, I can say that Azerbaijani people are well dressed, the females give a lot of attention to their appearance. The same goes for the men as well. I like that they prefer suits, personally I enjoy well-dressed men, especially when they use tailor fitted suits. I enjoy that fashion trends are followed and that people in general are well dressed. For me it is a breath of fresh air, I am not so found of the messy sporty trends that Europeans are using. One may prefer a sporty style, but it should look like nice and tidy as well. Azerbaijanis are good at making sorty stylish as well."