Sona Hakobyan

Spotlight on Armenia’s Fashion Industry

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By Gayane Ghazaryan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — Some may think of Armenian fashion as being fairly conservative, especially when they associate it with the traditional famous carpets. Ask a member of the older generation who lived under Soviet role and they would tell you about extraordinary Armenians they knew who expressed themselves creating outfits from scratch. Later, because of the limited market, every neighborhood in the newly-independent Armenia had its own little fleet of couturiers, the fans of the most popular fashion magazines of the time. Each magazine was virtually priceless and used to travel from fan to fan. The famous Vernissage market in the late 1990s carried some of those well-loved magazines. So what is happening in the local fashion industry today?

Three years ago, the very first concept store that was selling different clothing made by more than 50 Armenian designers in Yerevan opened. Now there are 3 main multi-brand designer shops, 5 Concept, Cocos Island and Made. The stores contain clothing lines, jewellery and accessories.  The biggest one of them is 5 Concept, which gives opportunities to cooperate and display their creations to every designer wishing to do so.

Another big step forward was in 2017 when the Fashion and Design Chamber of Armenia (FDC) was established, the very first organization aiming to develop the fashion industry and encourage designers to overcome the challenges they face. FDC is also trying to educate the new generation as much as possible by including a lot of assistance from international specialists. It started changing history with the birth of the annual fashion forum in Yerevan in June 2018, which gathered not only designers, but students, journalists and photographers.

Since we lack a proper fashion education in Armenia, it is the greatest chance for all the fashion figures to be involved in the forum and expand their horizons in the sphere. For the most part, the industry only exists in the capital; however, the FDC is working on spreading fashion in other cities, too. Recently, new little ateliers have popped out outside of the capital for clothes as well as jewelry. For example, in Vanadzor, there are two young women who carefully choose materials and fabrics to create pieces that mirror their inner worlds. However, it is a bit more challenging for them to put their works out there, since they do not have enough opportunities and products. But on the bright side, the FDC has already started gradually expanding the fashion industry both in and beyond Yerevan.

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One of the notable members of the FDC is Sona Hakobyan, who is known for her asymmetrical dresses, baggy pants and iconic Lego bags. She established herself with a powerful image of a woman in the Armenian fashion industry. She has been contributing to the industry since 2008 until now, with a little gap in between the years. Sona’s brand, Soncess, is as flamboyant and sunny as her own personality, which plays a great role by reflecting the sparkle inside herself. She sat down for an interview recently.

Interior of Cocos Island

Have you always been interested in design/art? How did your love and passion start?

Yes! I have always had a big enthusiasm and love towards the fashion world, but I have never thought that I can pursue my career in that specific sphere. Even the degree I possess has nothing to do with what I am doing now. Everything started with my grandmother, who was an incredible tailor. From a young age she would teach me how to sew and choose outfits that fit well together. We would spend a huge amount of time, designing, choosing different fabrics and sewing various pieces of clothing, but I never ever imagined that this will become my profession one day. However, later on it turned out that it just runs in my blood, you know. It is not something that you can learn or get with a degree, if you do not already have it as a part of your inner world.

What is the idea behind your brand name? What does Soncess mean to you?

Since my name is Sona, from a very young age everyone has been calling me (my sun). In Russian the sun is pronounced as “sonce,” which sounds very similar to my name that is why I got the nickname “Soncs.” When I was struggling with finding a proper name for my clothing brand, one of my close childhood friends actually came up with it randomly, and we thought that it lacks a vowel so we added the “e” and it became Soncess. I think it is the best possible option ever, since it perfectly describes my whole nature.

Soncess outfit

What is the main inspiration for the outfits you create?

Topics: Fashion

The major source of my inspiration is freedom. It has been always present in my soul. There was time when the freedom in my outfits was not very well accepted by others, because it was totally out of the norm, breaking all the stereotypes of what is considered normal. Thus, some years later it became a worldwide trend and that is when the time came for the creation of Soncess. I could finally portray the independence of my own style in my pieces of works. In a nutshell, I want to be able to present the strong image of a powerful woman. My inspirations usually vary from each other depending on the collections I produce, but the main idea that connects them all is the difficult solution that makes them stand out from the crowd.

How does it feel to be a fashion designer in Armenia? Do you think designers are properly treated by society?

I am afraid to tell you that my profession, and fashion itself is much underrated. It is not valued at all and is not receiving proper recognition. In my opinion the idea is a bit mixed up in our country, since, usually the demand creates the market, but in our case, it is the exact opposite. If you want to show off your specific style, you will not find a lot of clients wanting to buy what you have created. I am always trying to go against those stereotypes and keep my signature in every piece I make. That is why keeping the business becomes more and more difficult. But, I sincerely hope that one day the whole mentality will change and the people would break free from all their insecurities and will create their own individual styles.

Exterior of Made

Have your designs ever faced criticism? If so, did it affect you?

Honestly speaking, I have not received that much criticism; it does exist, but nobody has told me anything personally. For me it has much greater value when professionals from other countries give me their opposite opinions about my works. Once they even compared me with much bigger designers, showing that there is a potential to exist right next to them. I do not really pay any attention to the opinions I receive here, since, obviously, there will always be negative comments, however, it is important to take into consideration who you are getting judged by.

What three words would you use to describe your style?

Free, high quality, fearless.

What are the average prices?

The average pricing starts from $100 and can reach UP TO $600. The prices are quite high, since we struggle with the production of the materials and the textile, so everything is being imported from abroad. That is why the prices are high. The creation of a certain clothing or jewelry are done individually and not by a group of people, which also affects the prices.

Is it easy to source all the necessary materials? If no, what equivalent ways are there?

Finding the materials and the fabrics is a quite serious challenge in Armenia, and that is the reason why very often we are unable to demonstrate us internationally. Occasionally, we are even unable to accept a certain order, because at that moment we might not have or find the exact fabric that we used for the specific collection. Almost all the required fabrics, materials are being imported, since we do not produce them in here, and textiles are also quite expensive for us to get.  Nevertheless, if we fail to find the essential materials, that is when our imagination comes to the rescue: we investigate all the possibilities of forming new things that might fit well in the circumstances. This brings up a lot of creativity in us and makes the process of making the clothing much more captivating. For example, last year when we were in Paris, we witnessed how the designers were working there, effortlessly; having all the materials they need right in front of them. Meanwhile, we have to roam around different shops and markets to try to find some materials and transform them into the thing we had wanted initially. It is the same situation with the fabric. There are so many fabrics that I truly like and would like to use in my collections, however it takes a long time to get them. In these situations, we just have to rely on the dressmakers to get something out of an ordinary fabric piece.

Do you include Armenian traditional patterns or images in your works?

Personally, I am very fond of Armenian traditional patterns and ornaments, but I have never used them in any of my collections. The reason is that the traditional images have always been in trend and you could easily find them in a lot of places, both in clothing and jewellery. And in order to get something very fashionable and high quality out of them, I would need plenty of different materials with Armenian motives, which unfortunately I am unable to find. In fact, I am thinking of having a boho styled collection where I would allow myself to play around with some Armenian traditional patterns, since they are just unspeakably astonishing.

I have noticed. there are not any Armenian designers creating clothes for men. Is there a reason?

Honestly, I love male fashion more and I would love to create for them as well. But, in Armenia, fashion is more required and popular amongst females and they like to take care of themselves much more than men. Men’s fashion pieces are also more complicated to make and cost even more.

Is there a message at all that you want to deliver through your designs?

My main goal is to make people more confident and self-aware. I am certainly looking for people who are brave enough to show their unique character and individuality through the outfits I create.

How close do you think we are with the fashion in the world in general?

The fashion industry in Armenia has a huge potential, because we have quite a few gifted designers and jewellers that can earn their own place in the world’s fashion industry. It just requires a little bit more time and practice to achieve the set target. As an example, our neighboring country Georgia, is very well known in the fashion world as “Georgian designers,” meaning that they have their own unique style that is specific only to them. I think as a small country, we should aim the same. We should gather all together and think of an element particularly personal to us and occupy the fashion world with it.

Armenian designers have already managed to steal the spotlight in the multiform gigantic world of fashion. They were spotted a couple of times by the world’s leading fashion magazines such as Vogue and Marie Claire. This gives us an immense belief that we will continue climbing up the challenging, yet the most successful ladder of international fashion industry, and why not, be placed on the list of the leaders someday.

 

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