Vancouver fashion week organizer comes to LIFWeek (Interview)

Interview by Hannah Vickers and Rachel Chase

Jamal Abdourahman, organizer of Vancouver Fashion Week, came to Lima to check out LIFWeek after five Peruvian designers showcased their work for the first time at the VFW in September. We met up with him to find out what he thought about LIFWeek and Peruvian fashion.

Vancouver fashion week organizer comes to LIFWeek (Interview)

(Photo: Facebook)

Vancouver Fashion Week is the fastest growing fashion week in the world. Jamal, who organizes the bi-annual event, invited Peruvian designers for the first time to their Spring/Summer season fashion week in September. Noe Bernacelli, El Closet de mi Hermana, Alfer Castro and Itala Testino showcased their work and Jamal was so impressed, that he decided to come to Lima Fashion Week, to see more Peruvian fashion. Hannah Vickers met up with him, to find out what he thought of it.

How did you get into organizing fashion shows?

I started organizing shows just for fun as a club promoter in ’94. I’d never been to a show, it was just for fun. I did a fashion show to promote a club and thought I could do the same, but better. After a couple of shows, I ended up doing everything myself.

I love fashion, and design, and style.

What I liked about it was the challenge and opportunity. It just tests you every time you do a show. It’s competitive – doing shows was the biggest challenge. From doing shows from ’94 on, I ended up owning a boutique. In ’99, I had a project where I was working on taking designers to Asia. It’s like all this was preparing me to start Vancouver Fashion Week. I kept rolling with it and in summer of 1999, we started working on this project of getting international designers to Vancouver.

The first five years of Vancouver Fashion Week were just a learning curve and we had a couple of international designers, but more national emerging designers. We almost lost the show in 2006-2007. The model we had wasn’t working. Vancouver is a small city and fashion is not the biggest. There are not a lot of fashion designers who needed a fashion week.

What did you do to bring it back around?

Quitting was not an option, so I went for something I really love. [I started working] seven days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day. I began picturing a big, grandiose event instead of small event. The main thing was that I had to be inspired. BC Fashion Week (another fashion week in Vancouver) gave me great inspiration. Inspiration for me not wanting to lose what I believe in. Competition only motivated me.

We regrouped in 2008 on. To me, those slow years were an opportunity for me to help me build my character, and my appreciation. From spring 2008 on, it just kept growing continuously, season after season. We had close to 60 designers at the last one, and we’re aiming for 80 next time. We have hundreds of media partnerships globally.

It’s a great world. What helped us also was our hard work and persistence; I literally lived in the office. There were nights I slept in the office. I tell designers when I meet them that if you don’t give yourself to it, you’re not going to do it.

This was the first time you came to Lima. What did you think of LIF Week, and the city generally?

Noe invited me to come to this great country. It’s an amazing city: the people are just so friendly. The food is something else. Just a great culture. I love cebiche – the food is amazing here, even lemon tastes better!

What were the standout shows at LIF Week for you?

What stood out for the most part was the effort in trying to create the shows.
Noe’s was something else, it’s not fair. When he showed at [Vancouver] Fashion Week, everyone noticed him. Everyone was saying how nice he was. He plays a role [in the show]

It was the first year that Peruvian designers showed [at Vancouver Fashion Week]. The organization at the Fashion Week here they did an amazing job. Flawlessly running the show. People have no clue they’re only four years old.

What do you think LIF Week needs to do to get bigger and even better?

Really identify what they’re doing: Are they trying to put the country on the up? Help the designers? The industry? Otherwise, you become just serving the sponsors. The most important thing is: why are they doing it? I’m sure they know, and I’m sure they’re working on it. But from what I’ve seen, I’m very, very impressed. The way they run the show – it’s a beautiful space.

What do you think of the fashion scene in Lima?

It’s growing, just like in every other place. There’s a lot of talent, of course. You have to live it, and you have to love it more than yourself. Love creating and challenging yourself.

Having worked with Peruvian designers in Vancouver (Noe Bernacelli, El Closet de mi Hermana, others) and having seen LIF Week, how would you describe the state of Peruvian fashion?

Those four who came, (Elfer Castro, Noe Bernacelli, El Closet de mi Hermana designers Maria José and Usula Bertelo, and Mario Testino’s niece, Itala Testino) really represented Peru wonderfully.

The quality of designs and clothes was how they stole the show. I think they had a better show at Vancouver than they had here.

Elfer was amazing as well. Not just the culture but the designs. Beautiful dresses. And they’re so easy to work with.

On the one hand, our job is to take their vision and present it their way, and more and better.

The good thing is now is that the world has changed. Talent is everywhere. It’s coming from all over the world. [Designers are] going to the best schools, then they come back to their homes and start their businesses. We are creating a platform for those. Just creating is not good enough. How we’re creating is extra added value.

How does LIF Week compare to other events you’ve seen?

One of the good things is that they have the right sponsors. [The chose the] right city, the place was full. To me, they’re doing really, really well for a four year event.

Why are fashion weeks important, in your opinion?

When a designer creates a collection, he needs to have a place to show. He has to create a sample collection that’s going to be shown six months down the road. Creating a vision and inspiring a buyer to buy. We’re in an era when you can be a designer in a small town in Peru and send it to Copenhagen and Berlin online. We live in a world full of possibilities.

Fashion Week helps to create possibilities to sell your stuff. They need to have fashion week to build brand awareness.

A country needs to create their own [fashion] instead of just being a consumer. If they build their own fashion market, they don’t need anyone else – Peru has a 3,000 year old textile [industry]… but the government needs to support the industry. It creates jobs.

How can fashion be socially inclusive?

We don’t focus on exclusivity in my business. We don’t only take designers from big schools with big portfolios. Why go by a formula that’s created by someone else? If we do that, we‘re just going to be followers in someone else’s footsteps. That’s not impactful.

Will you be inviting other Peruvian designers to your next Fashion Week?

Noe is coming back. I’m going to Buenos Aires, and I’ve been invited by the Colombian government to look at their textiles. It’s a South America tour!

The driving force for us is that we want to be champions for designers who can’t show in London – Champions of the McQueen. We don’t focus on “let’s bring in the big man to make our show big.” Absolutely not. Bring in a new talent and introduce that to people. That way we have the talent. We put other countries and cultures under the spotlight and get celebrities to go. By doing so, we’re inspiring Canadian designers.

[Fashion is] global – there’s talent everywhere. If there’s no environment for it, there’s no competition, people become complacent.

It will never be [successful] if there’s no effort; the designers have to knock on the doors of politicians. Work with organizations and push organizations to do a better job. Get the government to support them – not just money, but also promote locals to buy local. They need to grow. But not just looking at what others are doing and criticizing.

With fashion week and everything we do, we want to contribute in a great way. Sometimes the government helps us to promote the show.

Peruvians incorporating the old cultures of Peru into the fabrics. They take pride in the cotton. Noe’s team are the local people. Vancouver Fashion Week [was their] international stage, and to get so many compliments and coverage from the people who are in the shows… You expect that from the old countries, from India and Italy… It’s great to see it in Peru.

With Noe’s collection, you think you’re in Italy when you see his ready to wear. You can see the influence. Usually the school has some influence. Sometimes when I look at award-winning designs, I say I know what school you come from.

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