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Monday, 09 September 2013

Almighty Almaty -- Ravenous Days & Wild Nights by Robb Young

AIKA ALEMI, S/S 14 designed by Aika Jaxybai (photo by Yan Ray)

About eight years ago, Diane and I took one of our most frisky, memorable "double trouble" trips to Kazakhstan.  As some of the first international fashion folks to touch down in the country, we were the first daring double-act from abroad to run the gauntlet of local designer gear as it swish-swashed down the Almaty catwalks.  Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.  Almaty today is a bigtime boomtown and on the express-lane toward more serious style vistas. This week, I was lucky enough to be invited back by the founders of the Kazakhstan Fashion Institute, Sima Rozikova & Zhanel Bertayeva, to see with my own eyes just how fast and just how far things have come along.


If the Aika Alemi brand is anything to go by, creative things really can and do happen at lightning speed in Kazakhstan today. Aika Jaxybai, who has held high-flying executive roles for multinational companies around the world and moonlights/daylights as a film producer among a myriad other artistic roles, only bought her first sewing machine a couple years ago.  Already, she's being tapped as the country's first designer with the talent and tenacity to make it big abroad -- endorsements from key international buyers are coming thick and fast to prove it.  This season, Aika used deceptively complex reversible patchwork strips and quilted textures in effortlessly elegant contours of what Diane herself might call a "shaded view on white" -- a pristine palette ranging from snow, clouds and mist to the ‘edible’ whites of vanilla, cream, milk and butter.


It seems like anyone who's buzzing in Almaty is remarkably young and doing a multitude of projects all at once. Aika's is the only Kazakh label being championed by serial entrepreneur Sima Rozikova's sleek online boutique which caters for women who crave niche international brands like Ostwald Helgason, Tatanaka, Ek Thongprasert and Eugenia Kim.  

Lucky little old me sandwiched between two lovely Almaty ladies -- KFI hostesses with the mostestest, Zhanel Bertayeva (L) and Sima Rozikova (R)

Sima's partner at the Kazakhstan Fashion Institute, Zhanel Bertayeva, is a former lawyer who, like Aika, caught 'the fashion bug' after corporate life left her feeling she wanted more.  Together, Sima and Zhanel also publish a subtly irreverent fashion news website called which keeps Kazakhstanis and Russian-speakers around the wider region both entertained and on their toes. 

FireShot Screen Capture #263 - 'Грузинская кровь I TFR' - thefrontrow_kz_thefronters_gruzinskie-dizainery_#

The Kazakhstan Fashion Institute is being modelled after the Kiev Fashion Institute which Daria Shapovalova (the prolific organiser of Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days, veteran fashion broadcaster for among other programmes and a contributor to many titles including Vogue Russia) spearheaded in order to help bring better fashion education and career prospects to young people in the Ukraine.  And now, also through partnerships with others in the CIS region like Sima and Zhana in Almaty.  More about Kazakhstan's blossoming scene and the institutes can be gleaned from Daria's candid article about it all on   As for me, this boy's certainly hoping to come back to Almaty soon, trekk up to Astana, and hopefully even persuade Diane to make her long-awaited return to Kazakhstan one day too.... And to conclude, here are just a few more of the beautiful faces and stylish charmers around town who caught my eye.... (although there were indeed many, many more whose photo I simply couldn't or perhaps shouldn't track down -- alas)...

Above, Olga Trefilova, Publisher of Harper's Bazaar Kazakhstan; Sonia Plakidyuk, fashion photographer; Daria Shapovalova; Masha Tsukanova, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Ukraine; and Saken Zhaxybayev, a well-known Paris/Almaty-based fashion event producer at Fashion Bureau.  All either speakers or supporters of the KFI this week (from L to R, photo courtesy of


(L-R) Danila Okay, (don't let his surname fool you!) of Harper's KZ and Alex Kazakov (Editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar KZ), Yan Ray (photographer), Aika Raiymkulova (fashion production, PR & marketing multitasker) and little old me yet again -- oops. (photo courtesy of

Alex Kazakov (Harper's) and Victoria Shurmach (editor-in-chief of Vintage magazine)
(photo courtesy of

Kuat Abeshev (art directior & Anita Zharkova (editor-in-chief of; (photo above courtesy of

Aika Jaxybai, designer of Aika Alemi



Posted by Robb Young at 02:21 AM | Permalink


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