There’s a special pleasure in listening to someone who loves their craft talk about their work. Fashion designer Venera Mustafa held an intimate pop-in talk in the courtyard in front of her studio for the Femart Festival. In 2010, Mustafa set up shop in Kosovo, after studying fashion design in Paris and spending several years working in European fashion studios. Her designs are outside of the norm in Kosovo, where fashion design is often equated with trends and constricting forms. Mustafa’s clothing is loose, free, whimsical, and integrates the work of local Kosovar artists (see Mustafa’s 2014 Palladium collection, with works from visual artist Jakup Ferri and photographer Majlinda Hoxha, among others).
Mustafa says it was difficult to explain her aesthetic when she first opened up her studio. She describes customers visiting the store with a magazine in hand, asking for dresses that imitated high fashion designs from the west – or asking Mustafa if she had any clothing that wasn’t for pregnant women. “I had to educate the market a bit on what fashion designers do,” Mustafa says. “Before one decides to do a line, you have to know yourself first – starting from the colors, the details, the volumes. It’s said that men prefer comfort, and women don’t…but I want to be both male and female,” she adds.
Mustafa’s studio may be small, but it reflects not only her vision, but her core values with regards to the fashion industry as well: she doesn’t work with models, preferring to scout ordinary young women in Prishtina (she also doesn’t demand that they smile for the camera). When challenged on the body type of the models featured in her lines, Mustafa states “I work with girls that are 19 to 24, with very different bodies…I can’t define what is ‘too fat’ or ‘too skinny’ and I don’t put those limits on people who like my clothes.”
Mustafa also doesn’t believe in cheap labor practices, and she also doesn’t believe in using leather or fur (as a vegetarian and the proud owner of a blind 13 year old dog). “These are ethics I decided upon before becoming a designer,” Mustafa says.
The personal and the political intertwine in her work, and that sensitivity is evident in her work: her VISA-ISA-SA-A bag directly comments on the difficulties Kosovars have when travelling abroad. The conceptual framework of her lines also focus on ideas of knowing and being engaged in the world – for example, the “Sonder” line is drawn from a made up word, defined as the moment when you encounter someone in the world and contemplate on their lives. The stories, emotions and feminist ethics that concern Mustafa are all there in her pieces – understated and woven into the design, but there nonetheless.
Also, another important takeaway: bras. Not necessary for Mustafa’s clothing. But what about the issue of the nipples showing? “It’s a nipple! It’s nice! I really don’t find bras necessary,” Mustafa says. There you have it.