Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
One of the key and brightest events in the fashion industry is the Fashion Week, where the world-class designers from New York, London, Milan and Paris represent their collections. Azerbaijan also wants to be on the trend of the industry. Over the past six years, Azerbaijan Fashion Week (AFW) has become part of the life of Baku and the fans of of the latest fashions. These six years were full of the most unpredictable events and trends in the industry. As part of the event, designers have a chance to present their collections twice a year to a wide range of viewers and to get their opinions. Preparations for this week-long event takes many months. The whole fashion industry from models to journalists ready to cover the event is involved in the process.
The lights go out, the audience freezes, eyes are fixed on the podium and the long-awaited minute sets in. Under the rhythms of music, slim models gracefully demonstrate clothing, which is a product of the imagination and work of fashion designers. Everyone, including metropolitan fashionistas, local and foreign buyers, will evaluate the show. An exciting and decisive moment for designers is a verdict.
Nijat Bakshaliyev, General Director of Azerbaijan Fashion Week, has been governing the fashion festival since 2014, and is proud of the achievements during this period. The idea of holding the event in Azerbaijan was a right choice, he notes. Indeed, in a short time, AFW has managed to increase the number of both the fans and designers. In our interview with Nijat Bakshaliyev, he shares the venues, the secret of success, history of creation, organisational nuances, difficulties and the cancelled summer season of 2020.
"Like all industries, the fashion industry has suffered in a pandemic, same as the Azerbaijan Fashion Week..."
"Indeed, the fashion industry throughout the world has incurred huge losses and suffered under current conditions. All world fashion weeks have been cancelled and rescheduled. Foreign fashion weeks switched to digital platforms. Why didn’t we follow the example of our colleagues? Unfortunately, it was difficult for us in Azerbaijan to switch to digital platforms, since most designers prefer when the viewers sees with their designs in real."
"What measures do you take to recover and help the industry stay afloat?"
"The fashion industry cannot survive without help. AFW was founded in order to promote designers and help their development. Therefore, despite the prevailing circumstances, we do not give up but continue to communicate with our designers and help them sell, promote their brands through local and foreign online portals. We are trying our best to recover also using our connections with foreign fashion weeks. We intend to overcome this crisis with minimum losses."
"The summer show was cancelled. What about the autumn-winter show, which is usually held in November?"
"It all depends on the decision of local authorities. It’s hard to forecast something now because we don’t know how the situation with the pandemic develops tomorrow. But we all hope that we will soon get out of this misfortune and return to usual life again."
"It is interesting to know about the origins of AFW. How did you come up with the idea to bring the world-famous weekly fashion festival to Baku?"
"Before the AFW project, I worked in the local office of the international magazine L’Officiel Azerbaijan. That’s where I met with the founder and CEO of Kazakhstan Fashion Week, Sayat Dosybaev, whose advice provoked us to create AFW. It was this acquaintance that contributed to the birth of the Azerbaijan Fashion Week. The bright and colourful fashion festival held in Azerbaijan soon become popular among the fashionistas and seasonal trends. The event is supported by the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan."
"As an experienced showman, how do you evaluate the work and creations of our designers?"
"There are many talented people in Azerbaijan, including designers. This number is increasing every year. This is a positive factor, as competition is increasing, and designers are trying to create quality and noteworthy things. The creations of our fashion designers are not just clothes, but clothes with meaning, which makes you enjoy and contemplate at the same time."
"How do you find a common language with such creative people, who are known to be the men of moods."
"(Smiles) This is an ambiguous moment and sometimes it’s not easy to agree with them indeed. But during this period we have established ourselves as a brand, and local designers trust our professionalism."
"Comparing the organisational aspects of Azerbaijan Fashion Week with other countries, many local designers emphasise that we are often one step ahead. What else should we focus on?"
"Certainly, there is always something to focus on. We do not intend to stop where we are. Six years of knowledge, searches, participation in world fashion weeks and the import of innovations to Azerbaijan were not in vain. Our goal is to always surprise the audience and provide designers with the opportunity to discover new horizons."
"What about the difficulties?"
"In general, organising an event of this magnitude is a hard work. But it brings an incredible sense of satisfaction, excitement and positive emotions. As to specific difficulties, we mainly have technical problems. After all, the venue of AFW is always different. Accordingly, the design of the hall and dressing rooms requires a lot of effort and time. But we try to devote sufficient time to this process and do everything at the proper level."
"What does motivate and inspire you in your work?"
“’Beauty will save the world’ is my slogan for life. I love art, fashion, and music. This is what makes me fully invest in my favourite business and get the desired results.”
"Nevertheless, if we consider the objectives of the event, what is a priority: the development of designers, raising the status of the city or attracting buyers?"
"All of the above are closely interconnected. This is a single mechanism, where one goal emerges from the other one. The main goal is to create and promote the Made in Azerbaijan brand and popularise it at the global level. Without attracting foreign buyers to Azerbaijan, it would be uninteresting to conduct shows. Of course, we also want to show the world how the fashion industry in Azerbaijan is developing."
"Which countries were represented at the Azerbaijan Fashion Week?"
"Since the inception of AFW, our stage has become a chance to show their skills and collections for designers from Kazakhstan, Georgia, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Italy and China."
"Why do they choose Azerbaijan?"
"For different reasons actually. Some of them have visited Azerbaijan before and still keep unforgettable memories about our country. Others have been our partners more than once, while for the rest Azerbaijan Fashion Week is a new opportunity to experience a new audience, to probe new ground. And, of course, this is a great chance to cooperate with local buyers, to sell in the local market. It is no secret that our women love to look great and try themselves in different ways."
"Then, perhaps, many world-class designers are wrong when they claim that fashion weeks have become obsolete, as people can watch performances online?"
"Yes, that's right, today we live in digital age, which affects literally everything. This is so true for glossy fashion magazines and the fashion industry in general. But what is the worth of digital performances if we cannot feel the fabric, textures and observe firsthand all the subtle details of the creations?"
“Have our designers been able to show their collections at prestigious foreign shows?”
“Yes. There is a section of the Paris Fashion Week, which is called Oriental Fashion Show (OFS). The OFS representatives once visited Azerbaijan to take part at one of the local shows and to get familiar with the works of our designers. They were impressed by somewhat provocative styles in their collections. Some of the designers were later invited to take part at the OFS shows.”
"Are there any special criteria for the selection of designers for AFW?"
"There are two blocks of performances during the Fashion Week. Collective performance is when the number of characters does not exceed fifteen. This is usually a non-stop catwalk appearance. In the second block a designer can show 25 characters on the catwalk. In this case, he or she can set the venue as they wish. We do not have special selection criteria for designers, but this does not mean that we accept absolutely everyone. We still have a selection policy."
"World fashion shows are often held in the most unusual places from the airfield to abandoned castles. Are there any ideas regarding the Azerbaijani Fashion Week in unusual locations?"
"As I noted above, in the past six years, we have chosen various places in the most unexpected locations of the city. For example, our venues were hotels, the Museum of Stone Annals, the Museum Centre, the German Church, the Old Town. We try to pay special attention to this moment, because the location is extremely important, and the opening of new sites for our designers and viewers is an integral part of our work."
"Who is primarily interested in fashion weeks: designers or fans who wish to get acquainted with new trends in order to buy new things right during the show?"
"First of all, the event is important for us as the organisers of the project. On the other hand, designers can have access to the international arena, get acquainted with innovations, each other's activities, communicate, choose high-quality fabrics and sell directly at the show."
"As your advice to designers: what does determine the success of the show, and is it possible to predict it in advance?"
"My answer will be short. I think that anyone who draws proper conclusions from my answer will achieve the desired result. Everything created by fashion designers is presented to the audience and is focused solely on the audience. A collection is created for potential buyers. It all depends on emotional background of the show, popularity of particular brands, touches and details of clothes. Therefore, attention should be paid not only to the creation of beautiful clothes, but also to the rich and proper staging of the show, which will affect the hearts of people, giving them necessary sensations. The audience should never be bored."
"What do you think of fashion forecasts in Azerbaijan? What are the prospects for Fashion Weeks?"
"Our mission is to create a Fashion Academy so that everyone who wants to get closer to the fashion industry can study. This will be a step towards expanding the world of fashion in our country."
"What do you wish fashion fans and our readers?"
"In this difficult time for everyone, I wish everyone patience, and most importantly, good health. Together, hand in hand, we will survive this controversial period. I wish everyone all the best!"