Gyunel Rustamova: a Study in Azerbaijani Fashion

The two gargoyles perched by the door of designer Gyunel Rustamova's studio mirror her creations perfectly; eerie, mysterious and indubitably crazy. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Gyunel was a successful artist before she moved to London to study fashion and create her eponymous brand. SUITCASE met with the designer to find out where it all began.

What was it like growing up in Baku?
It was quite interesting because it’s a multicultural city and in comparison to our neighbouring countries, it’s the most welcoming. We’re famous for hospitality, that’s what I’ve grown up with. It’s surrounded by art, culture, woven carpets; anything our ancestors would pass on. It’s traditional but cosmopolitan, that’s the diverse thing about Baku.
You were a successful artist before a designer – what inspired you to paint?
My mother paints a lot and she passed it onto me. My grandmother is a librarian but her hobby is weaving carpets; she would spend eight, nine hours a day just weaving so she had a lot of back problems. I’ve just grown up with women who would suffer for art. I think it’s in my DNA, has been genetically passed on.
Why did you choose London to study fashion?
In comparison to all the big cities (New York, Milan, Paris), I still think London is the best because the most creative ideas start from here, even though they’re not very commercial. At Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, the lecturers would agree that the creative ideas come from London, the public sees it, the public isn’t ready for it, and other cities, like Paris and Milan, tweak it two years later, make it more commercial, and then people actually buy it.
Which three words best describe your designs?
Most people say it’s dark, gothic and mysterious.
Is your Azerbaijani culture important when designing clothes?
Yes, because the thing that makes us unique is our memories, because anything else I come up with, somebody else has already done it. It’s quite firmly about Azerbaijan, otherwise I can’t offer anything that’s new.
Who are your favourite designer inspirations?
Ann Demeulemeester is one of my current ones, but we are so different in style. I admire her because she’s minimalistically stylish which I can’t be, I’m quite dramatic in my styling. McQueen, of course, is also a big inspiration. Elsa Schiaparelli is an inspiration because I love surreal things, in art and design, you see one thing and it’s actually another thing, that kind of idea always excites me.
What has been your favourite item from past collections?
From the first collection, I designed a dress with a chastity belt on it; we called it The Paradox Dress. Another paradox dress was the sand clock dress, and it’s about how women are supposed to look a certain way; you have to be skinny but not look like a boy, you have to have curves in the right places. That one was a loose dress as well, to show the paradox of it. Sometimes I do a social message even if nobody sees it; we have a lot of girls on the team, we talk about how we’re perceived by society, how we’re supposed to look.
Where is your favourite spot in Baku?
The statue of Aliagha Vahid, the poet, it’s in the old city. I spend hours just circling it, like a crazy person.
Do you think Baku has the potential to become an alternative fashion city?
It does have potential. I lectured in Azerbaijan at the Academy of Arts, and I saw so many talented designers who are strong technically and creatively and I wish that the industry would grow there.
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