I sat down with Uzbekistan women’s wear designer Elena Milberger, who recently showed her collection of stunning hand painted silk dresses at Metropolitan International Fashion Week Miami, for a Q&A session.
KARINA MOUTRAN: How did you get started?
ELENA MILBERGER: In 2007 I produced accessory collections using the batik technique (hand-painting on the fabric). I found the experience of creating original prints using common resources extremely interesting and in 2008 I debuted my collection “Fall in love with the East”. All the looks were made entirely from homemade, pure silk, and were adorned with quilted head-wear and accessories made from beads and tissue pieces. This collection took the first place in “Folk” category in the International Competition of Young Designers “Podium – 2008”, as well as first place in “Hand Made” on Fashion Week Style.uz in Samarkand.
KM: Walk me through the step by step process.
EM: I graduated school in 1994 and entered Tashkent Institute of Textile and Light Industry where I studied the processes of painting fabric using chemical technology until 1999. During this time I began taking private orders for bespoke clothing. In 2001 I entered School of Design and Style “Libos” of the Art school where I was successfully studied Modern Costume Design for 4 years. In the following years I fruitfully worked on my own lifestyle women’s brand, experimenting with various cuts and handmade techniques. I am always interested in art so I try to bring it into fashion original and create daring looks for woman’s wear.
KM: Why did you choose this career?
EM: I dreamed about becoming a designer since childhood. I love art and art-history; being a fashion designer allows me to embody my creative ideas in a tangible way and create my own style.
KM: Tell us about your line.
EM: Today my self-titled brand Elena Milberger is a women’s wear fashion label specializing in producing luxury dresses using the batik techniques. Uniquely designed clothes from Elena Milberger are fusion of runway fashion and traditional Far East. Each look has a unique individuality, an unusual cut and bright colors. Clients of Elena Milberger are women who want to look bright and different from others, and stand out. My clients are undoubtedly remarkable individuals who understand the value of hand labor.
KM: What is the name of your latest collection and what was your inspiration for it?
EM: The name of my most recent collection is “The Wing Beat of Fragile Bird”. For this collection I incorporated prints of birds and surrounding nature to create an ode to beauty and untouched nature. These dresses evoke the singing of birds and the sound of the forest; bright colors triumph in this collection and are balanced with soft, pastel tinctures. I like to propagandize femininity and elegance with the uniqueness of recycled material. In this collection the dresses are light and airy and made entirely from silk. All of the gauze, organza, satin, chiffon, velvet are hand-painted with my own patterns. Each dress is created manually and is designed for the woman who wants to be fascinating and unforgettable. Hand-painted pure silk is really royal luxury!
In addition to women’s wear, I also have a collection of handmade, leather footwear, and a collection of silver and gold jewelry. Both collections feature birds and birdcages. For my jewelry collection I teamed up with goldsmith Kirill Kim, who turns my sketches into jewelry.
All the details from dresses, shoes, and accessories were carefully thought over and masterfully elaborated.
I hope, my collection will carry each viewer into a journey through time and space, somewhere between fantasy and reality, and will gift to each spectator a pair of beautiful wings.
KM: You use the batik technique. Tell us about the process.
EM: Batik is a kind of hand-painting on fabric. Batik is ancient and very artistic craftwork. In today’s time of industrial clothing batik is one of the few limited types of techniques that is still handmade and represents luxury. Batik is a very painstaking and expensive process, but it gives the designer an opportunity to produce unique and unusual clothes. There are several techniques of painting on fabric. I like to mix all types of painting in one work. It gives me interesting and unique results.
KM: How did you learn/master this technique and why do you use it?
EM: I was briefly introduced to the batik technique in school and found it interesting. Throughout the years I continued learning, developing, and creating this technique on my own. When I first thought of creating my collection I did not have enough money for exclusive materials, so I bought white, simple Uzbek pure silk and worked on it. After a lot of experimenting I managed to turn an ordinary silk fabric into an extraordinary one with my own hands. This magic process carried me. I am constantly playing with hand-painting on different types of silk, using and creating interesting patterns, themes, and unusual cuts. The most important thing about hand painting on a fabric is making sure your work stands out in a crowd of other designers. With each piece I create I ensure my clients, my models, and my designs are exclusive and one of a kind.
KM: What challenges did you face?
EM: When your brand is actively developing and gaining an audience there is a natural desire to go into a vast market and conquer it. But each item I create is unique and time-consuming, so both goals contradict one another. The challenge is how to increase sales and at the same time create a sufficient number of unique products. And of course, like all designers we need to work on PR and marketing.
KM: How did you overcome them?
EM: I try to participate in meaningful fashion events, like I did at Metropolitan Fashion Week Miami 2016. I also attend various festivals, visit exhibitions, trade shows. In the world of social media my site www.milberger.uz, Facebook and Instagram play important roles as well.
I am very excited about my new collaboration with Indira Markov, creator of Silk Road Lab. Silk Road Lab is a concept dedicated to merging urban fashion with the traditional craftsmanship of Central Asia. With a vision similar to my own, Silk Road Lab focuses of the unique artisanal and handmade pieces that go along with current trends. Silk Road Lab can be found at www.silkrdlab.com.
KM: How did the obstacles make you feel?
EM: For me, my work is not only creativity, but also the social mission. This is an opportunity to teach young artists and create employment for creative people. As a matter of fact Uzbekistan is a country very rich with talent. I want to help them and share experience with them. I also want people to know more about the rich culture of our country. I dare to hope from my work I can educate people, share the history of the origin, and creation of costumes.
KM: What were your achievements?
EM: Ten (10) collections produced by brand Elena Milberger lived through. I took a part in different festivals and exhibitions devoted to fashion and applied art where I was awarded honorary certificates, diplomas and prizes. I have shown my collections around the world.
KM: Favorite moments?
EM: I love to create! It’s the most important thing to me. Batik gives me absolute freedom in creation. I have a lot of kinds of clothes painted on different themes. You can see patterns of traditional Uzbek embroidery Suzani and also famous print Ikat. I interpret them and use my own variations. And I also combine these patterns with floral and other motifs. All this artful devices I use to get beautiful and original clothes of my own style.
KM: What is your advice for others?
EM: The most difficult thing is to steadfastly believe in yourself and your talent. Do not despair and do not give up! Always move forward and remember about self-education.
KM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
EM: I wish all young and talented designers to reach their goals!