Culture Embassy 45
Estonia wins International Fashion Showcase
Not just horseplay
Elizabeth Stewart went on a global couture tour at the International Fashion Showcase to discover why a dark horse ran away with fashion diplomacy’s top prize
Recently horses have been making news for all the wrong reasons but during London Fashion Week it was Estonia’s bold ‘horse couture’ that was feted as it clinched the Emerging Talent Award at this year’s International Fashion Showcase.
Set in the Horse Hospital, a progressive arts venue in Bloomsbury, the highly original exhibition from the small Baltic nation beat a very strong field of 124 international emerging fashion designers brought together by the British Council and the British Fashion Council in collaboration with 27 embassies, high commissions and cultural institutes.
Creative designer, Nguyen Kong Tri, Vietnam
photo: Tang Tang
Passport to fashion
Now in its second year, the International Fashion Showcase has grown markedly. Showrooms were dotted across London and spanned all four corners of the globe: Scandinavian cool from the northern hemisphere; landscape-inspired Argentine designs from the south; ethereal, organic creations from Vietnam in the east; vibrant textiles from Bolivia’s ancient Andes in the west and a molten-hot shot of zany Tanzanian Afro-chic in the middle of it all.
Fashionistas armed with fashion passports could visit all 25 projects (visa-free!) and six stamps in the passport qualified the bearer for entry into a prize draw to win VIP tickets to London Fashion Weekend in September.
The awards ceremony at the end of Fashion Week was a high-octane cocktail of creative types from around the globe, swapping ideas and jostling for the attention of buyers and fashion editors.
Over the centuries Estonia has had layer upon layer of foreign invaders and underneath it all we have had to fight for our individuality.
The Panamanian Ambassador, Ana Delgado, who is a champion for the Panamanian fashion industry, praised the initiative. “It took a lot of hard work to pull this off, but our young designers have learned so much this week about the fashion industry and they are going back to Panama with full order books.”
Fashion as cultural force
Choosing a winner was never going to be easy. The shortlist included Argentina, Austria, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Tanzania but in the end judges picked Estonia.
In presenting the award, Sarah Mower, the British Fashion Council’s Ambassador for Emerging Talent, said fashion was a “cultural force”. In choosing the winning entry, judges praised the “heart and soul” of the Estonian installation, which showcased the “talents, handicrafts and history” of Estonia.
With the ironic title ‘The Ministry of Creative Affairs’, the exhibition played up the contrast between a rigid and formal exterior which, when peeled away, reveals a subversive, dream-like interior.
“We are a small, weird country, but weird in a good way,” explained the Estonian curator Helen Sirp, who came up with the concept. “Estonia is like a village so it is a great place for collaboration. It’s like working in a big, creative bubble.”
Capturing the Estonian spirit
The display could be interpreted as a metaphor for the Estonian creative spirit, Sirp told Embassy. “Over the centuries Estonia has had layer upon layer of foreign invaders and underneath it all we have had to fight for our individuality.”
It took a lot of hard work to pull this off, but our young designers have learned so much this week about the fashion industry and they are going back to Panama with full order books
Though the styles of the four designers are radically different, there is a common thread in the installations which all use traditional Estonian handicraft and natural materials like wool, leather and wood in clever and surprising ways.
The detailed leather work by Kadri Kruus is both modern, yet reminiscent of medieval Tallinn; hingeless wooden spectacles by Karl Annus use traditional materials in an innovative way; Kristina Viirpalu’s tailored knitwear and embroidery harks back to the 19th century Haapsalu shawl of western Estonia, while Kristian Steinberg’s menswear range, with its trendy chunky woollen jumpers would no doubt have had have discerning fashion buyers with an eye for profit reaching for their order books.
Which proves that the soft power of fashion can also be turned into hard cash and that is a good thing too.