Sabina Kristensen is one of the pioneers of creative retail in Baku. The Baku-born fashion entrepreneur was art director of Emporium, the city’s first, defining concept store on the shores of the Caspian Sea, which opened in 2005. In 2018 she opened Freedom, a new take on the theme that seeks to combine art, fashion and design in a modern setting. She speaks to Ella Johnson about how the youth fashion market is developing.
Baku: Concept stores like Freedom and Emporium have been central to the establishment of Azerbaijan’s fashion scene in the last decade. Why does this holistic approach to shopping appeal to consumers?
Sabina Kristensen: I think psychology plays a big role. Concept stores offer a more immersive and diverse experience for the shopper. The human brain likes to see a complete picture, so when you bring people into a space that fulfills all of their visual needs, they want to return to that space. Fashion, art and design all exist within the same realm: I don’t think you can have fashion with art, or design without fashion, and to me it would feel almost unnatural to isolate them.
Everyone knows the big luxury names in the industry. They don’t offer anything new. A concept store, [by contrast], showcases up-and-coming designers who are ahead of their time. It allows shoppers to explore new designers, trends, and find something they wouldn’t normally look for. Younger shoppers [especially] prefer to shop at concept stores, because they offer a wider range of ideas and styles. The youth fashion market is all about self-expression: young people don’t want to be bound to a single brand or to have an over saturation of logos, because these take away from their individuality.
Baku: How has Freedom evolved since its opening in 2018?
SK: The store has been evolving alongside myself as a person. When I joined [fashion retail company] Sinteks 20 years ago, they only had menswear, so I took on the women’s department and developed it. But I wanted to create something of my own to allow all my creative ideas to come to life. That’s when Freedom Concept Store was born. It is now a true embodiment of the 21st century woman: bold, beautiful, and knows how to make a statement. I’ve gained so much more confidence as a business owner in the past 3 years, and my ability to take risks has certainly helped.
Baku: What epitomises ‘Baku style’?
SK: Baku women have an ability to combine femininity with modernity. They always look elegant, yet with an edge. I think the most captivating thing about the Azerbaijani fashion scene right now is that women have become more fearless with their fashion choices and in the way that they define their own personal style. It is so exciting to see how a woman’s personality and nature shines through her style.
Baku: Which Azerbaijani fashion designers do you think the rest of the world should know about?
SK: Eastern influences have definitely been an inspiration for many fashion houses and designers [around the world]. I have to mention Narmeen Jewelry, who designs the most whimsical, dainty jewelry. I love to layer my jewellery and mix it up and I think her designs are so unique you can really find something that matches your personality and style. Another brand that I recently discovered is Garbage, now available at freedom. They make pieces that are so great in quality and design that they become a staple in your wardrobe.
One of my greatest dreams is to organise a fashion week in Baku that brings together young designers from around the world so that we can show them the work of our designers and they can show theirs. This would shine more light on Baku’s fashion.
Baku: Which trends are you excited about for 2022?
SK: I think brands will lean more towards the concept of sustainability and recycling, which I am very excited for. Vintage fashion is also a hot topic in the industry. My daughter has been raiding my wardrobe for the things I wore in the early 2000s and even the 90’s, and I love this idea of combining old and new: it brings a certain uniqueness to your style that cannot be replicated.
Virtual fashion is [also] a fun concept. I am excited to see how in the near future it will be incorporated into our daily lives. It is fascinating to see art, technology and economics all come together in this way. NFTs are truly innovative. I am personally looking into investing in the field and purchasing a few.
Baku: Which designers should Freedom shoppers look out for this Christmas?
SK: We are [currently] bringing in some designers from London and New York, such as Arch4, Ronny Kobo, Alo Yoga, and Dundas. Anything from GCDS is a great gift: it is loved by all our customers and one of my personal favorites. I also think a cashmere sweater or matching set from Allude is a great gift. I mean, who doesn’t love cashmere? And for the more extravagant girls, there is always Giuseppe di Morabito, with a perfect sparkly sexy moment.
Online Editor: Candice Tucker