Portrait: Mitja Bokun
Meta Megušar Bizjan, the award curator:
Neli Miteva is a fashion designer, a conceptual artist, a curator, a costume designer, a fashion journalist, a lecturer and a founder of Ivan Asen 22 design platform which encourages and promotes the conceptual art development in Southeast European fashion designs. Her creative initiative for the joint presentation of fashion designers, who would not have been able to succeed individually due to the lack of financial resources and small Southeast European markets, has borne fruit. Various joint fashion exhibitions as well as conceptual fashion film shootings and different fashion expos have so far been organized under the auspices of Ivan Asen 22 platform. Ivan Asen 22 design platform is widely known for its anti-elitist approach which is characterized by reducing the distance between a fashion designer and a user. The platform supports slow-fashion movement and fashion design ethics. Neli Miteva and Ivan Asen 22 platform have managed to establish a powerful impact, they generate waves of inspiration, and they also stimulate positive changes resulting in an increased enthusiasm and creativity. Therefore, they have deservedly been awarded numerous national and international awards.
Her creative initiative for the joint presentation of fashion designers, who would not have been able to succeed individually due to the lack of financial resources and small Southeast European markets, has borne fruit. Various joint fashion exhibitions as well as conceptual fashion film shootings and different fashion expos have so far been organized under the auspices of Ivan Asen 22 platform. Ivan Asen 22 design platform is widely known for its anti-elitist approach which is characterized by reducing the distance between a fashion designer and a user. The platform supports slow-fashion movement and fashion design ethics. Neli Mitewa and Ivan Asen 22 platform have managed to establish a powerful impact, they generate waves of inspiration, and they also stimulate positive changes resulting in an increased enthusiasm and creativity. Therefore, they have deservedly been awarded numerous national and international awards.
An interview with Neli Mitewa: Future in fashion
By Meta Megušar Bizjan
For Neli Mitewa, creativity and art are just like the air she breaths. She lives for art and she believes that fashion can and should be art. She connects and inspires by means of her IVAN ASEN 22 conceptual art, design and fashion platform. To many creatives, she represents a real conceptual fashion leader. However, deep down in her heart she remains a true artist and a dedicated fashion designer.
Neli, could you explain why you decided to establish the conceptual design platform IVAN ASEN 22? You are a designer yourself. Why such an empathy and caring approach towards other designers? What drives you to act in a manner that aims to bring together other creatives?
There is a big gap between a young graduate designer and his professional realization. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean that you will become a successful designer, since it is becoming increasingly difficult to get recognized in our limited markets, to find customers for your design collections, and to be able to make a living out of designing clothes. Moreover, you need some financial support to be able to invest in the production of your collections, to find a platform that cares about you and your work, attends to its promotion, and makes your work visible to the public. In addition, especially in Bulgaria, but probably elsewhere as well, creative people are commonly introverts who are not able to market themselves. They are strong individuals who cannot and do not want to work together.
I myself have experienced all these difficulties and struggles after graduating from the University of Applied Arts and Sciences in Trier, Germany. I learned there that in addition to perfect skills you have to think beyond any authorities and hierarchies, to respect all people involved in a design and production process, to collaborate well with others. On the other hand, my non-conformist attitude resulting from my liberal upbringing and education gave rise to my free spirit and an almost naive courage and a will to dare, to make, to change… And here comes Bulgaria, my beloved home country where, after having spent my adolescence in Germany, I kept coming back again and again… first after having studied in Germany, then after having worked as a fashion design professor in Munich … Because in Bulgaria, there is this fruitful ground for creativity, this sweet chaos where nothing is fixed, where nothing and everything is possible if you dare to follow your own path and find collaborators: mine were the first professionally trained fashion graduates of the National Academy of Arts and the New Bulgarian University in Sofia. They were the first participants of the fashion events we started organizing in my studio, which turned into the emblematic designers’ platform IVAN ASEN 22 – and it is still there, existing for 11 years now! Our concept is both simple and effective: designers working on a common theme and concept, each of them elaborating a small group of garments which are displayed as a joint collection in a showroom. We make them visible by making photos (and recently also a video), shootings, inviting the interested audience to the showroom, working with the media, organizing international exhibitions, and also by means of conceptual fashion installations with especially shot fashion films.
Apart from leading the IVAN ASEN 22 conceptual design platform, you work as a curator, teacher, owner of conceptual design store, costume designer. How do you manage to do all that? Which of these activities is closest to your heart?
I love all these activities because all of them are related to my passion which is creative and individual fashion. I certainly dedicate most of my energy to the projects I initiate myself within the IVAN ASEN 22 platform. Besides the thematic designers’ exhibitions in my showroom, these projects include our big scale conceptual fashion installations and fashion films shown in museums and at various exhibitions all around the world. At the moment, it is the curatorial work which is really close to my heart, along with my own sculptural fashion works created with my own draping technique. And I can reveal to you what my next passion will be: writing and publishing books! Our book “Ideas to Wear” is about to be published soon!
Why are international projects so important for creatives? What benefits can such collaborations bring to artists or fashion designers – especially those coming from our Southeast European region?
International collaborations represent a true exchange of visions, cultures, and skills. In contemporary fashion design, eclectic clashes of seemingly incompatible aspects are truly a must, and besides, while visiting and exploring a foreign country, one can draw inspirations from completely different traditions. We had an extremely fruitful collaboration with our Japanese co-designers and co-artists working on our conceptual fashion project “+7 HOURS”. Japan was a boost of inspiration that encouraged our designers to create brave new visions. “Travel, dream, discover.” According to Mark Twain, it is vital to develop new ideas, to meet astonishing people, to assess and compare one’s own work with the work of his or her colleagues… I believe in networks of thoughts without any borders!
You have a lot of work and teaching experience, and you have been involved in many international projects. What differences have you noticed between Southeast European region and other regions?
Working with Japanese or German collaborators means: you can count on them, there is a perfect plan and organization without any chaos and loss of energy … which sometimes is the case while working in our latitudes. A good organization and reliable partners are an indispensable precondition for a successful project. Having lived in Germany for years, I try to convey all the positive values I gained there to my Bulgarian collaborators who have freed their creative spirit and are ready to learn and become more professional and better organized in each subsequent project.
How to succeed if you are a Southeast European fashion designer or conceptual artist? What are the main problems that you and your colleagues, designers, artists are faced with? What do you think is the right solution to the possible existing problems?
I think, at least for me, fulfillment is more important than success.
First of all, find your team of dedicated collaborators! Don’t be afraid to be yourself and develop your vision! Try to make as few compromises as possible. Don’t commercialize yourself. If you believe in a certain vision and if you work hard to get it accomplished, you will certainly find partners and supporters since a strong vision, passion and dedication are contagious. One should be proactive, and one should not just plan to do certain things. Believe in your uniqueness, try out different aspects within your profession to discover the one which is truly your cup of tea. If something is missing, invent it. We have to be pro-active, not just complain or adapt too fast. Dare any change. Collaborate.
Neli, what is your next project? What are your future goals? In your opinion, what is the future of fashion?
After having worked for more than 11 years on a one-of-its-kind designers’ platform uniting a group of designers, I am glad that our National Culture Fund has finally recognized our persistent, long-term work, and consequently we have been granted a one-year-support for our activities! Besides the two main thematic exhibitions, we are thus planning to carry out presentations of individual designers or labels, fashion illustration workshops, research work in order to build up an anthology with the profiles of contemporary Bulgarian fashion designers. We are planning to publish the book “Ideas to Wear” presenting our conceptual fashion exhibitions “XXSofia”, “1,5 km of…” and “STATIONS”… In addition, we are going to work on a new conceptual project including a VR-fashion clip shot in the inside of the emblematic Buzludza monument and on the digitalization of our Japan inspired project “+7 HOURS”. Our plans regarding international projects (as long as they will be rendered possible due to the pandemic situation) include the presentation of “+7 HOURS” at BUNKA Fashion University in Tokyo, and our presence at the La Jolla International Fashion Film Awards in California, the USA.
The future of fashion, hopefully, won’t be too digitalized, so that we will still be able to touch and experience it with all our senses. Nevertheless, new forms of presentations beyond classical catwalks are already taking place and, thanks to contemporary technologies, they will develop into true visionary concepts in the future. Customers will become connoisseurs of sustainable, slow, and individually made fashion goods, they will know their authors and consume consciously. My hope is that local, individual design will certainly be appreciated far more than it is at the moment, and that mass fast fashion will slowly or maybe quickly disappear. Also, different cultures will merge to form the basis for new inspirations, ideas, and eclectic visions. Industries will have to adapt to design needs, not vice versa. Every creative person should stay strong and defend his or her individuality. In my dream, I imagine Southeast European fashion scene which shall finally become recognizable for its well-defined image, weirdness, and craziness!
Neli Mitewa conceptual fashion outfit for their first conceptual fashion installation “XXSofia”, film still by Boryana Pandova, featuring Lorina Kamburova.
Neli Mitewa conceptual fashion outfit for their second conceptual fashion installation “1,5 km of…”, photo by Boryana Pandova from their exhibition during Bokeh International Fashion Film Festival in Capetown, South Africa.
Dress from Neli Mitewa collection “Fusion Fashion”, merging Bulgarian and South African fabrics and motifs, photo by Petyr Tanovski, model: Aylin Bobeva.