Horse motifs, harnesses and carpet patterns from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan hit the international fashion circuit thanks to emerging German designer Leonie Mergen
Away from the dazzling big-name shows and presentations during London Fashion Week are a host of off-schedule events, where you’re likely to discover some of the brightest new stars. It was at one such event, in February this year, in an east London studio, that Leonie Mergen staged her autumn/winter 2017/2018 show to much acclaim – a collection inspired by the rich cultural traditions of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan.
The emerging German designer says she is often influenced by different cultures. She first encountered Azerbaijan while studying for her master’s degree at Berlin’s International University of Art and simultaneously working with the traditional tie manufacturer Edsor. “I worked on designing a collection of Karabakh-inspired scarves and prints,” Mergen says. “The prints were so beautiful that I wanted to bring them to a wider audience.”
So, she arranged a trip there in 2015 to research the traditional carpets and clothing of Karabakh, in the south-west of the country. “I didn’t only focus on the beautiful patterns, but also the history behind them and national symbols, such as the pomegranate and fire,” says Mergen. The same geometric patterns have been used for carpets since the mid-19th Century and, as the region is known for breeding the elegant and fast Karabakh horse, the everyday dress has a suitably equine appeal. It is this combination that Mergen has modernized and translated in her latest menswear and womenswear collection, which launched, before London, at Berlin Fashion Week at the beginning of the year.
Pieces take the form of a navy silk floor-length dress with embroidery on the chest, leather belts and harnesses crossed over tailored jackets, patterned turtlenecks for men, dresses with capes, black knee-high boots and even a take on the cylindrical papaq hat. In sum, it’s a collection which Mergen describes as, “elegant and wearable, but with a twist of ethnic influence”. The standout piece is a wool and silk cape jacket, with an elaborate pattern embroidered on the back and an elegant cut that evokes the wind streaming through a horse rider’s clothes. “This really was a labour of love,” says Mergen. “I redesigned the pattern about 15 times, until I was happy. I wanted to get my interpretation just right, and there were only three of us working on all the stitching and cutting.” Ninety hours later, a work of art was born. Bringing a centuries-old cultural tradition to a 2017 fashion audience surely isn’t easy, but Mergen pulled it off with style and flourish.
Photography by Christian Werner
Words by Francesca Peak
This story appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Baku magazine.