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In Conversation with Risto Bimbiloski

Designer Risto Bimbiloski at his Spring 2011 show. Image by Shawn Brackbill.

Risto Bimbiloski spins tales—artistic, futuristic, electric tales. They begin in his imagination, travel from his Parisian studio through galaxies and thunderstorms and turn up in Ohrid, Macedonia, the designer’s hometown. Here, local women use traditional textile techniques to weave, knit, embroider and sew Risto’s stories into womenswear that is part classical, part vanguard and always evocative. The completed garments next arrive in New York City, where they are presented each season during Fashion Week. Through this poetic process, Risto has established a new paradigm of globalization, one that incorporates and encourages, rather than eradicates sustainability, innovation and tradition.

Polina Aronova: You have a factory, a community of women in Macedonia; what motivated you to open your own factory?

Risto Bimbiloski: It happened quite organically. In the beginning I was producing in Italy and France, and I was always struggling. You always have problems with minimums—it’s a really industrial way of working. It all started when we opened a knitting company. We first met one woman, then had ten manually knitting. It was more about the atelier then… You go [to the artisan], she shows you what she did when she was a bride or for her daughter…and you discover [the techniques]. They’re incredible and you try to apply them to your collection. It begins to be a network of ideas and now we have like 100 knitters in our town who are working for us. The way the atelier works, every garment is done by one woman. It’s not like a chain, so it’s a very particular way of working.

Polina: It’s longer.

Risto: And that’s why we opened, too, to help other designers who have problems, who are always between Italy and China. They can’t produce, so we started to produce for three other brands in New York.

Polina: What are some of the benefits and challenges of producing in Macedonia?

Risto: There is a really good textile tradition, because the textile industry used to be really strong there. Even in the ’70s and ’80s, it was a place where a lot of licenses were done. When you mix that with something that is traditional and handcrafted, the whole package is quasi un-doable in Europe, unless it is a haute couture atelier.

Polina: Are there younger women [working in the factory] or are they all older?

Looks from Spring 2010

Risto: For the moment, unfortunately, the younger women are less and less interested. But that’s one of my goals; I want to start a workshop. We will recruit the young people to learn these traditional techniques but still on smaller scales. I’m not interested in trying to become a world supplier. It always has to be interesting for [the workers]. That is what was really touching in the beginning: I discovered the techniques and they discovered design. They were used to knitting baby clothes or sweaters that were really classic. I have women who have been there for ten years and they are still interested in working on a new collection.

Polina: It’s a very traditional, classical way of doing things.

Risto: There were some moments when they were working all together at my place and watching telenovelas. They would knit without watching the needles; it [was] like a movie. Then you see the product and it’s super classy, and it’s done while watching telenovelas.

Polina: Where does the technology come into play, both in the sustainability and design? Particularly, in your prints …

Risto: [The prints are] kind of…not a signature, but really a direction that I want to go. When I was a kid, I was kind of a computer nerd. I wanted to work for NASA. I was amazed by space shuttles and I was an Atari fan

Polina: But the final result almost doesn’t look digital. Last collection’s prints were almost like Impressionist paintings….

Looks from Fall 2010

Risto: And I do like that. Even if I have folk elements or inspiration of folk elements, I don’t want to put forward too much of the inspiration. I always want to blend a little bit all of [the pieces] and make something that looks like a contemporary wardrobe. That’s why I’m always inspired to see the clothes on the street and I want to show something that’s not too visionary. I want to show pieces [that are] realistic. That’s where the struggle is, because the fashion system is not always like that. They always expect you to idealize a little bit, so of course that’s a challenge for me.

Polina: Looking back on the past couple collections, there’s nature—violent and visual, like the lighting—as well as digital. It’s an interesting combination…

Risto: I have this pop science side. I’m not into reading how the world was created in so many details, but I do want to have that very popular side of science. That’s why I love to see all of the images on the A-Pod [Astronomy Picture of the Day]. Every day there is a picture of a new galaxy they discovered, or the sun…beautiful, beautiful images… I’m always inspired by that.

Polina: When you bring these images to your more traditional workers, do they get it?

Risto: Yeah, because we always do a video screening of the show. Let’s face it, it’s a country where they love Fashion TV. They always ask: “When are you going to be on Fashion TV?” Still, they don’t understand my sort of edgy way of doing shows. I can see by their reaction… Sometimes then when I do a new piece and they go, ‘Oh this is so great,’ I know, OK, maybe I should push it a little bit harder.

Polina: You live here in Paris; why don’t you show here?

Risto: Because I don’t sell here. Everything is sort of happening in the States for me. I did a couple of shows here a long time ago, but when you feel like the things aren’t happening, you don’t want to push it anymore. I like New York. I am based in [Paris], producing in Macedonia and then showing in New York. It makes it all very global.

Spring 2011. Backstage images by Shawn Brackbill.

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