Fashion flourishes in Belgrade

BELGRADE – In this city resting on the Danube where a few scattered skeletons of buildings are still reminders of a city under NATO siege in the spring of 1999, fashion has frequently been a soothing companion. Already in its 12th year of operation, the Belgrade Fashion Week’s latest edition took place from April 16 to 24, uniting local talent and foreign guests. Sitting in the front row was Lichtenstein royalty, as well as local celebrities and stars – a rumor that Kalomira, the Greek-American pop star and this year’s Eurovision hopeful for Greece, was attending one of the shows failed to materialize. Besides creating local buzz and hype, however, the fashion week had much more to offer. The new dynamic in Serbian fashion matters has much to do with a number of designers currently making their creative mark abroad. Designers such as Dragana Ognjenovic, for instance, who has shown her collections during fashion week in New York and owns three boutiques in Belgrade, Aleksandar Protic, a graduate of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts and a resident of Lisbon, Portugal, since 1999 as well as fellow Antwerp Royal Academy graduate, and rising star Slobodan Mihajlovic, who spent a year at Roberto Cavalli before developing his own, namesake brand in Florence, Italy. Besides individual designers, the country boasts a long tradition in the textile industry. Heavily interrupted by the war, the industry’s development has picked up again, thanks to a tradition of high-skilled labor and competitive wages with exports reaching 200 million euros last year. In the past, France, Italy and Germany have been major clients – brands like Zara, Mango, Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss have been produced in Serbia. Some are now coming back. The man behind Belgrade Fashion Week is Nenad Radujevic. It all started when a French professor on a visit to Belgrade inspired Radujevic, an extremely youthful 40-something and the general manager of Click fashion studio and modeling agency, to come up with a similar event to those in fashion capitals. «I believe in our creativity and potential,» said Radujevic to Kathimerini English Edition. «Twelve years on, we have well-known young designers with foreign journalists having a good reaction. We are building a market in Serbia.» In the late 1990s, times were not favorable for fashion, yet the fashion week project kept local companies going. According to Radujevic, many local brands «survived» thanks to the event. Things are quite different today and Serbia has now joined the era of the celebrities. Has local fashion become hip? «Many VIPs like to buy custom-made clothes – something unique, created exclusively for them, instead of global brands,» said Radujevic. Besides famous folk, the new fashion situation in the city goes something like this: Emerging designers whose collections stand between ready-to-wear and couture, are setting up their own shops. «This is a forming market,» said designer Svetlana Prokovic. Her own label JSP (developed with her sister, Jelena) caters to an 18- to 60-year-old clientele. The siblings run a boutique in Belgrade and do business in other places, such as Ljubljana, Slovenia. «I exist in the market for 10 years,» said Bata Spasojevic, a hip local designer with a following in Slovenia, Croatia and France. «When you enjoy what you do, nothing is difficult.» Covering plenty of style ground, the fashion week included Serbian designers, local apparel brands as well as established international fashion brands, such as Roberto Cavalli (with the Class collection) and Puma, among others. There was also exciting input from rising global talent, such as a catwalk collection by Austrian Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, the London-based designers behind the Peter Pilotto label. In the last two years, organizers have invited the foreign press to check things out. «They are the ones giving the general picture and buyers will follow,» said Radujevic. There was plenty to see – though with some confusion. Some designers showed summer and others winter wear, largely due to the difficulties of the trade, in terms of production. Local Zekstra apparel label presented pleasant ready-to-wear outfits, while the Ivkovic knitwear brand offered a colorful, flowery collection of separates in a girly mood. The house of Balasevic was on the chic side: a denim catsuit and satin for the evening. Leather specialist Mona came up with leather jackets, trousers and waistcoats mingled with peasant plaid. Aleksandar Protic showed a strong autumn/winter collection. Throwing black, brown and turquoise together, the collection was based on an intriguing fabric used in surfer kits. Also on the designer’s palette «fishnet» leather and layered looks with a warrior-like touch. Central Saint Martins graduate Tamara Radivojevic showed a spring/summer collection in sweet colors like salmon, a silk satin above-the-knee salopette, plenty of fluidity and precise ruffles. Humor defined the «This Looks Like a Job for Superman» show, where cape-like dresses, cardigans, boleros, men’s T-shirts and dungarees came with Batman, Catwoman and Superman, among others. It was summertime at Element, with jersey numbers, ruffled and printed skirts and little «amazon» numbers. One noticeable accessory here were knee-high leather sandals. At M.ART things were wearable, with shiny fabrics, such as shantung, frills for the cocktail hour – a collection reflecting the needs of today’s Belgrade society. Peda Neric also had things to wear, mid-calf trousers and tops playing with volumes, shantung, prints, and a rose-printed gray-to-black motif. Bata Spasojevic opened with flamenco-type frills in short and long dresses before throwing in shimmering fabrics in hot pants, skinny black trousers and fuchsia shirts with wasp-nests. Ending the show was a glamorous silver and gold theme in shiny fabrics. Besides the clothes, the fashion week offered food for thought in terms of fashion decentralization. For Radujevic, the whole of Southeastern Europe is important as a region. «As for Belgrade,» he said, «it was important and should be important again.»