Last Friday marked the first time two prestigious Kazakhstani designers exhibited in the United States. The show was part of DC Fashion Week, an eight-day celebration of local and international designers intended to promote Washington as a fashion mecca, which ended Sunday. The designers’ launch was part runway show, part film screening; after the models took the stage and the audience was wowed by the colorful couture, the show concluded with a short film that denounced the movie Borat.
The Kazakhstani people are still feeling the negative effects of the 2006 film, in which comedian Sacha Baron Cohen painted their country as a backward nation. Designers Akkenje Devyatko and Kuralai Nurkadilova were determined to display Kazakhstan’s rich and diverse culture through fashion, and they both proved their aptitude on the runway.
Guests filed into the National Press Club buzzing about clothes—from what they were wearing to what the designers would be presenting. Akkenje’s line came first, and as the lights dimmed and techno music started thumping, the audience sat up straighter and angled in closer to the central catwalk.
Akkenje’s apparel was theatrically inspired, and her models showcased a mix of modern attire and costume elements. Many pieces were dresses or jumpsuits with attached hoods—pulled low over the brow—in metallic or plaid fabrics. Conical headpieces in striking orange, vibrantly colored gloves, and necklaces of wooden beads or tribal medallions were frequent accessories.
Koralai’s collection was an assortment of urban-chic career suits and pretty, feminine frocks. Her fabric of choice was almost exclusively sea-foam green or powder-pink satin, often embellished with black ribbon and lace. Koralai’s business-style approach led to more conservative fashions than Akkenje’s deep V-neck lines, but both designers were enthusiastically received by the crowd.
After the short film, aptly titled Borat’s Repentance, host Ean Williams came onstage for a final word and the crowd energetically rose. Some guests exited, but many stayed to snap pictures and mingle with the designers. What’s next for these free-spirited Kazakhstani fashionistas? Considering they both designed gift suits for Olympic teams this year and Akkenje experienced great success at last year’s fashion week in Paris, we should expect to hear from them again.