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Arab Fashion Week returns to Dubai with Armenian designs

May 17, 2018

It’s a little over a month since Arab Fashion Week was held for the first time in Saudi Arabia. Following on from that ground-breaking event, AFW returned to the UAE for the sixth time this week, from May 9 to May 12, with another host of top-drawer designers showcasing their work, often with collections specifically geared to regional consumers, focusing on ready-couture.

Armenian brand Harmony Yerevan’s debut UAE showing at Arab Fashion Week in Dubai features a highly innovative collection designed especially for the occasion.

Founder Lilith Tonakanyan explained to Arab News that the inspiration for the collection is the current craze for crypto currencies such as Bitcoin. Tonakanyan and her design partner, fellow Armenian Michael Danielyan, have used binary code to spell out the word ‘Harmony’ on the designs.

It’s a concept that offers a vivid snapshot of today — but the designs are also the fruit of years of hard work and creative endeavor. The brand is renowned for the detail of its beautifully handcrafted, one-off pieces, favoring natural materials, including leather and silk. Any woman wearing a Harmony Yerevan piece can be assured that no one else will be wearing the same garment.

When thinking of the perfect silhouette for women Tonakanyan said she turns to Christian Dior. She also cited Yamamoto, Vera Wang and Karl Lagerfeld as designers she admires. “Whether with Chanel, Fendi or his own brand, he has been inspirational,” she said of the latter.

It’s been a tale of two worlds for Tonakanyan: one of austerity as a young woman growing up in the Soviet era, and one of abundance in modern times.

As a child she would make clothes for her dolls and progressed to making her own dresses and designing for friends and relatives. Their feedback? “You should share your dream and give to others.”

She was 20 when Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Throughout that time, and in the early years after the restoration of independence, she had to make do with a “very limited range” of fabrics and materials to make the clothes that she so passionately wanted to create.

She majored in finance at university, but never gave up on her creative dream, finally setting up Yerevan fashion house in 2011, and joining up with Danielyan that same year to launch the Harmony Yerevan womenswear label.

Danielyan was just 15 when he enrolled at the Professional Technical Gymnasia in Armenia to study fashion design. He quickly gained national attention, and in 2006 his collection was featured in the opening ceremony of the ‘Year of Armenia in Russia’ at the Kremlin.

Yerevan came to the attention of Armenian fashion followers with its outstanding first collection in 2012. It proved very popular among wives of diplomats and quickly gained a following in Russia, Kuwait and the UAE.

Tonakanyan said she has great admiration for the style of Gulf women. “They admire handcrafted work and detail such as beading and embroidery. They appreciate stylish and feminine clothes that make them stand out,” she observed.

Tonakanyan believes that women — while rightly demanding equal rights with men — have no desire or need to be like them. Rather, she maintained, they wish to celebrate their feminine characteristics.

“Women can be progressive and feminine at the same time,” she said.

arabnews