Vahan Khachatryan: “If I had the opportunity to make a choice again, I would most probably stay in Italy”

19:19, December 18

Fashion designer Vahan Khachatryan and his partners recently opened a clothing store called Privé Boutique in Yerevan. Generally speaking, Vahan has participated in many fashion events in Yerevan, including presentations of fashion stores, as well as fashion shows…One of the most significant events was the opening of the Fashion and Design Chamber of Armenia. On the sidelines of this event, famous foreign experts participated in interesting seminars and conferences in Yerevan. As for Armenia’s fashion designers, they had opportunities to participate in specialized expos across Europe. In an interview with STYLE, Vahan admitted that he hadn’t assumed that the establishment of the Chamber would be so satiated and interesting. STYLE: I know you have lived in Italy for a long time. How did you come up with the idea of establishing the Chamber?

Vahan Khachatryan: I came to Yerevan to attend my brother’s wedding in August 2018 and remained unemployed for over a month. I got bored and decided to think of something that would be helpful and interesting…I gathered 10 Armenian fashion designers, and since I used to travel to Kiev to participate in the Fashion Week event every season, I decided to write a letter to the organizers of that event and propose a new format. Basically, this time, I left with all the fashion designers. The event in Kiev was spectacular. This was perhaps our first success as a team. When we returned to Yerevan, I left for Italy. We kept in touch, but I felt that we needed to continue. I talked to Elen Manukyan (one of the founders of the Loom trademark-ed.), and we decided to establish the Fashion and Design Chamber of Armenia non-governmental organization. I was elected president…It was then that one of the EU representations in Yerevan announced a tender for a grant. We wrote the plan in a short amount of time, but we didn’t really have high hopes since there were applicants with great projects. Suddenly, we were told that we had won. I hadn’t planned on returning from Italy, but I was compelled to drastically change my plans. STYLE: The grant project will draw to an end in February 2019…What’s going to happen next?

Vahan Khachatryan: I will return to Italy sooner…However, the Chamber will remain and exist as a platform for others, and it might be a platform for projects of a smaller scale. I showed, told and introduced whatever I could. Now it is up to the designers to pave their way on their own. They know what to do and how to do it. Of course, it is hard to make a living in Armenia, and it is impossible and not right to rely only on grants. It is necessary to take into consideration the issue of competition as well, the so-called natural selection through which only the best remain. STYLE: What was it that made that project of a particular scale?

Vahan Khachatryan: For the most part, we were very lucky. By “we” I mean not only specific fashion designers, but also all local fashion designers and even the country. The Chamber held lectures, seminars and conferences and invited foreign experts for a year. We organized a fashion conference, and representatives of famous trademarks attended lectures delivered by 10 guest fashion experts throughout the day. It was truly a significant event for those who are involved in the field of fashion, and this is extremely important in the sense that, for instance, representatives of famous trademarks in Yerevan also invite foreign experts, but as they say, they do it exclusively for internal use, that is, for the staff. I don’t think this is right. When those experts come, they have to share their knowledge and experiences with everyone. However, it is right that we have held lectures for a limited amount of people (maximum 20 people). We were forced to make a choice and gave preference to those for whom the lectures were truly necessary and to those who were members of our organization. So, we didn’t avoid making a selection.

After the conference, Armenian fashion designers participated in the Pitti expo in Milan. It is a great honor to participate in such an expo as a participant and work with “buyers”. Fashion designers around the world, stretching from Japan to the United States, try to attend this expo for years and don’t always succeed since there is an enormous line.

Besides that, there is a high fee to pay, but our fashion designers received a big discount. What also helped us were my contacts, past experience and the fact that I had lived in Italy for a while. Our platform was called “Focus on Armenian Talent”. To make it clear, I must say that the expo’s organizers select only 100 trademarks that spark their interest. Besides our platform, there was also Georgia’s Mercedes Benz Tbilisi, which has rather strong positions in the fashion industry. STYLE: Why is everything in the fashion industry better in Georgia than in Armenia?

Vahan Khachatryan: Armenians have different tastes, different aesthetics and different views on that which is beautiful. Georgians look towards Europe, while Armenians look towards the East, and we see this more in the style of clothing, hairstyles, world views and other “details”. We Armenians have a sort of pathological aspiration towards Muslims. However, I must say that, for instance, many Georgians literally copy European fashion designers. There is nothing bad about copying, especially if you do it skillfully and delicately. If it is viewed as trendy and in-style, it doesn’t matter to the consumer whether it is a copy or not… STYLE: Can fashion designers not copy?

Vahan Khachatryan: Of course, there is no sense in reinventing the wheel. Everything has been invented before us, and if we search long and hard, we can always find a precedent. You can also duplicate without analyzing and in a short amount of time, but that’s a different story…There are few genius fashion designers who have created something new and, most importantly, something that people can wear. Whereas Alexander McQueen created a shoe that made you go crazy when you saw it on the podium, in life, the most you can see is Lady Gaga wearing those shoes. Iris Van Herpen creates unfathomable 3D clothes, and when you look at them, you become speechless, but those dresses are works of art and you can’t just wear them and go out. As far as the Georgians are concerned, they have managed to have their fashion week event become one of the most famous events in the world, gathering the presses and the fashion elite. Finally, the Georgians have a fashion designer like Demna Gvasalia, who has entered the global market and become the creative director of Balenciaga. This has also put the spotlight on Georgia. As a matter of fact, fashion is closely linked to politics. For instance, in regard to the political processes in Ukraine, there was a time when circles of fashion designers were focused on Ukrainian designers. Kiev’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week was created at the right time… STYLE: It is clear that Italy is an endless source of inspiration, but what gives you the energy to come up with ideas? Perhaps it is music or architecture…

Vahan Khachatryan: I have been in the fashion industry for 20 years now. Taste is a living and growing organism. In my younger years, Oriental fashion also attracted me, but over time, I lost interest. Europe strongly reevaluated values. Tastes changed, and so did world views. I have had collections with Armenian motives, but I admit that I have always been inspired by the arts, that is, Italian classicism and…religion. It is no secret that religion plays a tremendous role in the arts. STYLE: Do you remember the first clothing that you designed?

Vahan Khachatryan: I can’t remember the first clothing that I designed, but the first time I completed a major task was when I was 15. At the time, Nadezhda Sargsyan had a group called “Little Armenians”, and Nadezhda’s daughter, Emmy was also singing in that group. We were neighbors. The group was going to participate in the “Утреняя звезда” contest, and it was decided that I had to design the girls’ clothes. The concert aired on OPT (ORT in Russian), and the broadcast was from the Kremlin. You can already imagine that this meant to me and what a stimulus it was for me. This is how it all started… STYLE: Who is your most appropriate client? Is he or she the person who silently accepts all your comments and suggestions?

Vahan Khachatryan: I will tell you who the most inappropriate client is. It is the person who has a lot of money and has heard that having Vahan Khachatryan design clothes is honorable. That person gives orders to me, without understanding what he or she is going to wear. In other words, he or she doesn’t even go into details and doesn’t care whether the clothing suits him or her or not. He or she doesn’t need a specialist. He or she has to show off in public and tell acquaintances that if they wear clothes designed by Vahan, then he or she also has to wear them… STYLE: Isn’t it hard to come to Armenia after Italy? In any case, the reality there is different, and it is probably more convenient to create and grow there.

Vahan Khachatryan: It’s hard to answer this question in such a way that I don’t offend anyone…I went to Italy in 2008, but I have been visiting Armenia from time to time. My business has always been here. No matter how strongly attached I am to Italy, Yerevan is very close to my heart. Besides that, I have always a small factory here. The main market is also in Armenia. After all, I consider my trademark Armenian.

In terms of business, it is harder to do business in Armenia. I have spent a lot of time, effort and money to expand and promote my trademark. If I had done all this in Italy, the outcome would have been much better. Moreover, I don’t consider myself a guru and don’t think returning was a wrong decision, but if I had the opportunity to make a choice again, I would most probably stay in Italy…

In 2013, I came to Armenia and created my trademark, but instead of progressing, I regressed. It was probably because of the economy…I don’t know…I put an end to couture. I was tired. I would go to Italy and get inspired and would return with many programs, but I would be broken. There are serious problems with creating something valuable, including problems with export, import of materials and customs clearance.

I would get frustrated and lose a tremendous amount of money every time I brought pieces of clothing to Yerevan. As if they weren’t expensive enough, I would also pay taxes here…I realized that I didn’t want to work like that. I dreamed of doing things at ease. This is why I created the Biayni trademark (daily clothes, prêt-à-porter). At first, everything was going well. Later, I finally decided that I had to leave. Biayni was recently closed as well… STYLE: Hasn’t it become easy to work with customs authorities after the events that took place in Armenia in April 2018?

Vahan Khachatryan: Yes, customs clearance has become more simplified after the events. Don’t get me wrong, but the situation in the country has become worse. The reasons were expected and objective. Moreover, I was one of the first people who went out to the street with a poster and not as a fashion designer, but as a citizen and a human being. I want things to be good for everyone, even if my business and the businesses of many people have to suffer, and the target of those businesses are wealthy people. Those who understand this business know that you have to wait for 10 years or perhaps 5 years for a new social layer to be formed, a layer of people who have gotten rich with sincerity and can allow themselves to purchase clothes from Armenian fashion designers. The only thing is that I can’t wait that long…

Anna Satyan

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