Ru Az

Immersed In Style

In the world of fashion, certain individuals effortlessly stand out due to their incredible talent, unique style, and undeniable influence. One such person is Liliya Rakh, the most influential woman in the fashion industry in Kazakhstan. During her visit to Baku, we explored how she challenges fashion and discussed her perspective on the future of the fashion scene in our interview.

How has the free spirit of the Kazakhstan steppe shaped your character and overall personality?
What a wonderful question. I have a deep love for Kazakhstan – the mountains, the sea, the steppe, the scent of our land. There's something extraordinary, a powerful attraction, like threads pulling me towards the steppe. When I stand on Kazakhstan's soil, it feels like currents from within me penetrate the earth. There's no other life for me – it's been that way since my childhood. I used to love running to the mountains in my village in the Semipalatinsk region, collecting snowdrops in the spring. Perhaps it was then that I formed a strong connection with the nature of Kazakhstan, with the land always calling me. Interestingly, I've always wanted to be alone with the nature of Kazakhstan. I appreciate the colours of our land; they're special and hold a unique charm. I believe that since childhood, I've been deeply influenced by it. If there's power within me, it's from this land. I now realise that the land has given me energy and strength of spirit.

Could you specify the three pillars of contemporary fashion?
This era embodies a sense of understated luxury, where people express themselves through intellect, ambition, ego, and most importantly, individuality. In the absence of noise and the relentless pursuit of everything, a person finds their unique style – the cornerstone upon which everything else rests. Timeless fashion is achieved when one has defined their style, making it the foremost attribute for any individual. Following this, one can then select current trends within their budget while maintaining that sense of understated luxury. To me, the paramount element is personal style. It goes beyond merely adopting what's trending – it's about choosing what resonates with you, ensuring comfort and confidence. Whether it aligns with the current trends becomes secondary. Your personal style becomes a second skin, reflecting success, fame, promotion, and most importantly, you in your element. That's the essence of personal authentic style.

How does it start?
Personal style extends beyond clothing; it encompasses the coffee you choose in the morning, the way your table is set, and the distinctive gestures that define you. While we all possess it, many tend to conceal their individuality, particularly individuals from the post- Soviet region who might fear expressing themselves. My encouragement is for everyone not to hide behind a facade but to reveal themselves as they truly are. Remarkably, for the past 33 years, I have been advocating for this, unconsciously guiding people toward embracing and showcasing their true selves.

How has your personal style evolved?
Since my childhood, thanks to my mum, I've had my unique style. Despite her having only two grades of education, both she and I always showcased our distinct individuality in the village. We dressed and presented ourselves quite differently. Every morning, my mum would rise, put on a beautiful dress, and regardless of her tasks or workplace, she always adorned herself elegantly. Whenever parcels arrived in the village, she'd buy everything, whether it fit her size or not. It's as if having that innate sense of style is a part of you, something you're born with, your destiny. My mum embodied this, and she instilled it in me. I unconsciously followed it. The key is to grasp it, nurture it, refrain from suppressing or concealing it, and most importantly, not to fear being true to yourself.

When we encounter someone, we begin to script their personal story

Are you identifying yourself as a buyer or a stylist?
For 33 years, I've been curating collections – surprisingly, for 8-9 of those years, I confidently labelled myself as a buyer. At that time, I was navigating my way toward this profession, unsure of how to define myself when asked. Fast forward to the present, and yes, now I proudly proclaim myself as a buyer. The shift to calling myself a stylist happened just five years ago. In the vast realm of styles worldwide, where Liliya Rakh is a buyer, we carved out our unique identity – the Sauvage by Liliya Rakh brand. Individuals who embrace this style are now easily recognised, and today, I can confidently say, yes, I am a stylist.

Being a stylist means creating your own narrative, your unique masterpiece, against the backdrop of what others have done.
It's about inventing something truly original. When we encounter someone, we begin to script their personal story. We tailor an individual style for each person, unveiling their personality, and it's a genuinely exhilarating experience for us. This, to us, is art.

Many assert that fashion is an art. Yet, when envisioning fashion shows and presentations, it's a celebration, an extravaganza filled with positive emotions. So, why do we often witness tears, grief, and sadness in other forms of art? Where exactly does this intersection point lie?
The journey of any artist is fraught with challenges. Alexander McQueen's shows
, too, evoked tears, akin to crafting a narrative through his runway spectacles. Understanding what a designer works on is crucial – they need a theme. With exceptional designers, it's an artistic endeavour. These brilliant minds share their life stories through shows and collections. My aspiration was always to comprehend the message a designer wished to convey. It became evident to me that fashion is indeed an art form, prompting me to move away from purely profit-driven motives. Instead, I immersed myself in the works of the greats: Gianfranco Ferre, Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent. I was lucky to work with such brilliant people. To me, fashion was an art – a designer's way of penning a book, revealing their experiences, thoughts, and childhood memories each season. It encapsulates the drama, the lows, and the highs – a cinematic portrayal of a person's life in fragments.

What are modern designers lacking?
Do you see what's different about emerging designers now? A flaw in the post-Soviet space is that designers replicate existing creations. They borrow details from one another, attempting to fashion something new from already-seen elements. Yet, what's lacking is the essence of a story, the absence of a cinematic quality that I yearn for. That's why I'm always "The dissatisfied Liliya Rakh." Contrast this with Ulyana Sergeenko, who, by crafting a narrative about a Soviet woman from the 60s and 70s, produced a captivating story. Denis Simachev's portrayal of the working man resonated immediately, possessing both quality and a distinct DNA. Ulyana Sergeenko shared a chapter of her life and her country's history. In Kazakhstan, I always emphasise, "Don't just label yourselves as designers; approach it thoughtfully." My advice to aspiring designers is to define their DNA, create their unique style, their individual mould. It's about discovering your secrets, much like Alexander McQueen – irreplicable.

What do you think of Baku Fashion Week? Share your impressions.
Baku Fashion Week embodies professionalism in every aspect – it's not characterised by amateurism or speculation. It represents a standard, a declaration that "we treat our business seriously, acknowledging the importance of our role." The adoption of established rules for organising a fashion show eliminates the need for invention; it's a framework already in place that you have aptly embraced. The next crucial step involves working with designers, and although everything is in its initial stages, there's much ahead of us. I appreciate the inaugural start of Baku Fashion Week, noting its professional execution. I see how people have turned to professionals to ask for advice – it's very important.

My advice to aspiring designers is to define their DNA, create their unique style, their individual mould

What elements from the old days of the fashion industry do you find yourself nostalgic for?
I often wonder, what will become of us when Yamamoto (
he is recognised as a master in ultramodern tailoring) and Armani are no longer with us? These are individuals who articulate their life stories through their shows. When I step into a showroom, I seek solitude with the collection. It takes me just 5 minutes to grasp the essence of what the designer wanted to convey, to understand their life narrative. I vividly recall an encounter with McQueen just before his passing. His Plato's Atlantis collection seemed like a prophecy of the future. It struck me immediately – had he glimpsed into space? He depicted a connection to the underworld, the cosmos, foreseeing a world teetering on the brink of madness. His collection eerily predicted the future of our world. Shortly thereafter, we received the news of his passing.

Is fashion a means of experiencing reality or an opportunity to escape from it?
Both. Alexander McQueen, in his creations, sought an escape from reality. Conversely, Gianfranco Ferre presented reality as he envisioned it. Yves Saint Laurent masterfully encapsulated both approaches. Valentino conveyed his perception of reality, while Giorgio Armani depicted the present reality. During the recent pandemic, Armani declared, "I want to leave a mark as Giorgio Armani, not just as a trendy designer for the season." For individuals, being true to oneself is an art. Many find it challenging and escape from it because the relentless pursuit of money within this reality can be suffocating – a vicious circle.

How do you celebrate your successes?
When I see the successful culmination of my efforts, a dual emotion sweeps over me – joy for the achievement and a tinge of melancholy as it concludes. There's an innate desire for it all to unfold once more, to have a new challenge that requires my attention, evoking both joy and that familiar bittersweet feeling at its completion. I crave these events that propel us towards a meaningful outcome.

For individuals, being true to oneself is an art