The Balkan new wave – Balkan Fashion Week and ASVOFF9 in Sofia

The Bulgarian textile industry is often associated with loom woven fabrics, carpets decorated with roses and traditional Balkan clothing, a heritage of traditions and textile craftsmanship that still exists untouched. At the opposite end of the spectrum there is Balkan Fashion Week, now in its second edition, which illustrates a contemporary side of the country, one that wants to break with the past and set itself apart.


Photo by Alejandro Otero


In early June, more than 30 Bulgarian companies – and a variety of designers from Greece, Croatia and a range of Eastern European countries  presented their collections to international buyers and press. The event is significant as it not only fills an important void on the country’s fashion landscape, it also tackles the prejudice surrounding its burgeoning fashion industry by demonstrating that creativity can also mean culture and business.

“We want to create a new generation of talents and change people's’ mentality in a good way, because at this moment we have many creative upcoming designers but they don't know how to move forward and how to go abroad with the right strategy,” Maria Koleva, CEO and co-founder of Balkan Fashion Week, explains. “Most of the people from Bulgaria still don’t believe that the fashion industry can actually be a great opportunity for our country. Bulgaria has many production companies for established international fashion labels, people know how to work creatively, but they don't have the right marketing and management strategy to take the next steps. So the idea is to attract more guests – from the press to fashion buyers – over the next few seasons so we can create the right synergy between new talents and people with more experience.”

A momentous leap forwards, thanks to a growing economy which is starting to embrace the free market. After having gained economic independence with the fall of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia has become a European city ready to claim its place within the international fashion system, and focus on emerging talents.
Most notably, the students of both the New Bulgarian University and the National Academy of Art can be credited for pushing the envelope when it comes to creativity and original concepts. Right now, the influence of post-soviet subcultures is revolutionizing the international fashion system, challenging and reversing aesthetics and creating new codes and languages.


Photo by Alejandro Otero


“With designers like Demna Gvasalia and Gosha Rubchinskiy being the most obvious influences in Eastern European fashion today we can see the impact they have on others,” Diane Pernet, renowned industry insider and championer of new talent, reflects. “Fashion Bulgaria is for a young market. However Balkan Fashion Week has its eye on educating people and exposing them to both foreign and local brands.”

The iconic founder of the ASVOFF fashion film festival has – rather fittingly –decided to present the 9th edition of the acclaimed festival in Sofia, where the Nu Boyana studios – some of the largest studios in Eastern Europe – became the set for the shows and screenings. Previous editions of the festival have stood out for the quality of the films presented, and their inclusion of some of the great names and talents in fashion, as well as photography, cinema and contemporary art.

This year the Grand Prize was assigned to “Snowbird” by Sean Baker for Kenzo. The prize, offered by Nu Boyana studios, was €50,000 of services at the Nu Boyana Film Studios plus €5,000 in cash. “In an industry where many of the great fashion houses produce in Bulgaria, it can be easy for anyone interested in investing in fashion to make the right decisions,” Yariv Lerner, CEO of Nu Boyana Film Studios, asserts. “For me it is very interesting to discover new talents from any industry, not only cinema, because in the end fashion is closely related to all these fields. I think it is very important to support the synergy that I was talking about.”

Diane Pernet brought an international panel with her to Sofia, selected from the world of fashion and costume, including president Eric Daman, costume designer and celebrity stylist, Marc Happel, costume director of the NYC Ballet, the French artist Orlan and the model and chef, Cuba Tornado Scott. To champion such an important festival that focuses on research between fashion, photography and contemporary art, was a very courageous move to make by those involved in the organization of Balkan Fashion Week – whose aim is to nurture and educate the next generation of Bulgarian creatives. There is still much to do, but this is a momentous, enthusiastic first step.


Photo by Alejandro Otero