Eastern Bloc Redux: The Kids Are Alright

by: Abigail Doan

October 2, 2012

Eastern European fashion

There was a great video posting in The Economist a few months ago about how it was time to scrap the tendency to lump Eastern European countries into a single category as a marginalized zone of economic and cultural inferiority. For anyone who has recently spent time in the former Eastern Bloc, it is quite evident that these dynamic and rapidly changing countries are broiling with creative energy, grassroots initiatives, and bold cultural diversity. Even more interesting is the regional vocabulary that seems to be cropping up in contemporary fashion, product design, and architectural/urban planning projects. Some of this might be attributable to the need to be resourceful due to a history of limited access to goods – but the message seems clear, the segregation of Western and Eastern Europe is an outdated phenomenon and an artificial construct at that. The current use of cutting edge design materials and methods as well as the rise of native craft strategies have penetrated decades of imitative fashion influenced by the West. Young Eastern European designers are putting down roots in cities like Belgrade, Budapest, Skopje, and Sofia – to name a few, to redefine fashion on the home front.

Field Zagreb urban renewal installation
Field Zagreb’s urban renewal installation

Sofia Design Week Handcrafted lighting installation
Handcrafted lighting installation at Sofia Design Week

Sofia-based label Sassa Bjorg
Sofia label, Sassa Bjorg, modeled by Yana Gerova with photography by Vasil Germanov

Given that I have been living in Sofia, Bulgaria, off and on for the past five years, I have experienced this very real transformation first hand and have also observed how Sofia-based photographers and stylists work seamlessly with local designers to continue to (re)define their ideas about the local aesthetic. Publications like 12 Mag, DesignEast.EU, Elle Bulgaria, and Harpers Bazaar Bulgaria, enlist some of the most talented individuals to document street style, luxury offerings, and indigenously inspired looks. Everyone knows each other’s creative work and the day-to-day challenges of staying afloat, but in lieu of a commercially competitive atmosphere, there seems to be a rather wild sensibility as the creative ante is upped with each new look book session and editorial project.

new metro station in Sofia, Bulgaria
Design for the new metro station in Sofia, Bulgaria, via Sofia Architecture Week

designer Yasya Minochkina
Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days’ designer Yasya Minochkina in Harpers Bazaar Ukraine

I now feel uncomfortable when some one asks me how it feels to be “disconnected” from the scene in London, NYC, Milan, or Paris – particularly when fashion week season is underway. To be honest, it feels like an insider’s secret to experience what is happening at the (alternative) fashion weeks in Ljubljana, Kiev, Prague, and Zagreb. It seems apparent that designers in these locales are so absorbed with generating collections for their regional audiences – that the days of longing and clamoring for the more cosmopolitan happenings elsewhere is definitely a thing of the past. In the spirit of cultural diversity and the advancement of a more sustainable fashion roadmap, it seems smart to craft a more diversified agenda for fashion and design weeks globally. The kids here are doing their thing here and succeeding in the process. Isn’t that what fashion is all about in the end? Style that works for the people and defies borders, trends, and the limitations of the past.

k e p p showroom Budapest
k e p p showroom in Budapest features regional style with a creative edge
Bulgarian knitwear EUGENIO Ceca Georgieva.
Bulgarian knitwear EUGENIO paired with recycled cord cuff is by textile artist, Ceca Georgieva, and “The Universe Necklace” by Gretchen Jones.


(EUGENIO AW12/13 images by Evgeni Petkov in Sofia, Bulgaria; photographer: Ivomir Peshev; model: Lyuba RK of Ivet Fashion; styling: Abigail Doan; hair & make up: Ginka Mateva).


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