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...rising from the ashes, an emerging voice
While the fashion world continues to be dominated by metropolises such as Paris, New York and London, it is understandably easy, if not natural, to overlook the smaller countries grappling their way for a ticket into fashion’s elite group. So what makes Bulgaria’s fashion and style worthy of Western notice? How is this seemingly forgotten country emerging as a trailblazer of Eastern European fashion?
Bulgaria has had a long and varied relationship with fashion and dress. In the past 50 years this has been marred by political turbulence and economic instability. The Communist regime, which was in place between 1944 and 1989, was actually beneficial to the country’s textile and apparel industry, because it harshly restricted the Western clothing available on the market. However, Men and women were not free to wear what they pleased, and indeed faced severe punishments including jail time if they were caught breaking the dress code, wearing Western items or even having their hair in a ponytail; a difficult concept to comprehend in the 60s and 70s when most of Europe and America were enjoying the liberation in fashion, such as the introduction of the miniskirt.
Following the collapse of the regime, the country faced more difficulties, largely overshadowed by the transition to a free market economy, which left many Bulgarians in dire poverty. Even though the Western market was open and free to them, Western clothing, fashions and designer goods were out of the question as the country had reached its lowest point in 1997; inflation had risen 1000% and GNP had fallen by a third.
As Bulgaria came out of this hardship and moved into the new millennium, it seemed as though its style identity had another adversary to compete with, and this time it was an entirely internal phenomenon. For an outsider they are easy to spot, for some natives they are a way of life–women, and some men, who prefer to dress provocatively, in the latest flashy, glittery designer items, heeding no attention to fashion, style or individuality.
Given Bulgaria’s background, it may be easy to doubt the nation’s potential, but a growing handful of young creatives are proving that their fashion future needn’t be defined by their country’s past.
There is a new and dynamic group of Bulgarian designers already making waves on international territory. Designers such as Nikolay Bojilov, winner of 2010’s Triumph International Award (who’s winning piece was modelled by Helena Christenson and Lily Cole, and sold worldwide in Triumph stores), or Milko Boyaroy who, barely out of university, has already shown his jewellery designs at London Fashion Week and was a finalist in this year’s ITS contest. Others, such as Anna Stankova, the creative mastermind behind her own jewellery line Ash, have bravely tackled both the creative and business sides of running a fashion label singlehandedly, with extremely positive results. Petar Petrov, an established Bulgarian designer since the early ‘noughties’, has headed Raf Simons’ collections since 2004, and launched his own label in 2007.
Passion, drive and ambition certainly unite all of Bulgaria’s designers, both emerging and established. They might still be struggling financially, but they are ready to take matters into their own hands, employing social media, friends, contacts and a healthy dollop of creative thinking to move beyond the boundaries and let the world see their talent.
What truly makes Bulgaria a country united in its mission to cement its fashion voice is the way that this sentiment is reflected, not only by the designers at the heart of the industry, but also by the ordinary people on the street–those fighting against the stereotypes and popular chalga lifestyle.
As a result of an increased accessibility to foreign media, including magazines and blogs, as well as the chance to travel freely within Europe, Bulgarians have adopted an intriguing style, ultimately playing on the beauty and flair of their Eastern European routes, mixed with the eclecticism of transitional Western fashions.
Bulgarian women, upon whom the most criticism has been placed in the past, have evlovled stylistically. Professor Lyubomir Stoykov, one of Bulgaria’s best-known fashion critics and journalists, summarises this perfectly: “The young Bulgarian woman is informed and well-orientated within the huge variety of styles. Her growing financial independence, along with her inner flair for beauty makes her a modern woman with a growing self-confidence and a fearless attitude towards fashion.”