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A.W.A.K.E. is Natalia Alaverdian's childhood dream come true. In 2012 she fulfilled it after her husband left her no other choice. Former fashion director of Russian’s Harper Bazaar, Alaverdian understands fashion as a tale and design as words that bring to life all the fantasies stuck in her head. She uses quality fabrics, creates luxurious looks and mixes elements of this lovely little madness. Celebrities or social media connivances? Pretty dispensable for her.

As a child she was an avid reader of history books, notably those about the history of costumes – it was an instant crush. Years later, when she came across the designs of Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, her teenage mind was just struck: she would definitely do fashion. And her love for it is what we see in every A.W.A.K.E. collection: a balance between dreams and pragmatism, wearability and flamboyance.

A.W.A.K.E. links two interesting things: on the one side you have quite an amusing universe, and on the other one clothes are lovely-twisted pieces of tailoring. I was wondering if this sort of compromise between classical and eccentric is something you've been playing with since you were a child?
Well, I don't really know. I love the fun, amusing part of fashion – when I was a child I loved fairy tales and even now the movies that I go to see are like The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Tim Burton’s, or one I really loved this year with Eva Green, called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. This ‘fantasy dream world’ is what my aesthetics are based on. But then I really love men's tailoring and a kind of very preppy British style, and also the tailoring of the Japanese costumes and the sculptural aspect of it. And all these references converge in my own mix.
You were the fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar Russia before founding A.W.A.K.E. How was it to jump from fashion editor to fashion maker?
I’ve always thought of myself as a fashion designer more than as a stylist – I preferred designing than styling. But I didn't know from what angle could I get there because I didn’t study fashion design, I did business and styling. I basically did lots of illustrations, sketched garments and people – that’s all I’d do back then and was fascinated by it, but I was too scared of design. And the closest thing to it was styling, so that’s why I got into it.
What were you scared about?
I was scared about making a mistake in my calculations and pattern cutting. Basically I wanted to study design from scratch and I wanted to attend Central Saint Martins, but then my parents were like, “We are not putting you into a fashion school, you'll do business first.” So I studied styling after, and that's it. But since I didn’t have a background in design, I was scared to do it and I couldn’t work for someone else. The alternative was working for myself, but then I had to start a company and didn’t know how to do it – despite my studies in business. But then I met my husband, who told me “You have to do it.”

Your garments really match what today's active women want: classics full of joie de vivre. Do you start from what you or your friends want to wear?
Silhouettes always come from tailoring or from movies, and sometimes even from some dreamy stylings or the crazy hats in fantastical movies. It's always something multicultural, and it's mostly about me being into something in particular – something I saw or that caught my attention. Obviously when I start developing them, or even when I sketch them, I pick the fabrics at the same time so I know how a certain silhouette can potentially be. And then I think, “Would you wear it? How often? In which occasion? Would you waist time and money trying to develop it?” It's always an honest conversation with myself.
But yes, fifty per cent of my collection is something I would wear: a quiet, mostly black and white palette – I don't wear bright colours. Although I don't necessarily think if someone would wear it. If I just like it and it has something to say, it makes an interesting story. So sometimes I just treat pieces more like clothes, and sometimes I treat them as interesting objects. 
You often use original patterns, like small rooster, dragonfly or zebra. These are pretty tricky to slot into a simple and classical tailoring, yet you succeed in balancing those two components. The clothes you design tend also to mix conceptual lines and shapes, but they are so easy to wear – how do you compose a silhouette in that sense? How would you define A.W.A.K.E.'s equation?
It just goes instinctively; I try to be super honest with what I want to do. I don't try to overthink it too much – I'm always driven by the question, “Would you wear it?” It’s not always like this, but if I do half of the collection based on the things I know I would wear, then the other half can be crazy and I can treat it more like a painting or like an object in which I can express what I want to say with colours or shapes, or in terms of reference – because I like mixing completely different references together to create a fun way of recognition for different people. But organically, so it doesn't look forced.
You once said: “I don’t actually consider myself a stylist, photographer, or designer. I’m more of a creative manager who puts it all together.” What do you mean by creative manager? How do you work around A.W.A.K.E.’s inspirations to tell a story?
Not sure I've said “creative manager“, cause I don't think I'm a good manager… I would have said that I’m more like a storyteller – someone who writes a book, makes a movie, or something similar. And I really don't think I'm a designer or stylist or a photographer. I could be all of these things but at the end of the day I'm just trying to say something.

“Even though it’s helpful that celebrities wear your clothing, you can still build a brand without them; but you can’t do it without hard work.”
You've also said that you do not shop as crazily as you used to. How do you understand the act of shopping, nowadays experience?
It depends of the person. I would be happy if someone buys ten of my pieces, but I would be very happy if they bought one as well, and then valuate it and cherish it. I also think it depends on the pieces – obviously if you buy a classic pant from us you keep it longer, but if you buy something more flamboyant that you may not need… But I don't think I'm big enough to be asked this question yet, I’m just a small brand trying to survive.
So how do you feel in the industry as a small brand?
The market is pretty hard right now. It’s very difficult to survive when you’re honest – not in terms of your ideas, but in terms of quality versus price. So my mark-up is quite low because I want to create a quality product that is not overpriced. But obviously, because I'm small it's harder to survive. And it's not even about competition, I'm really happy with other young designers. But I think that when people lower their standards and the fashion crowd just runs after brands that don’t put a single effort into quality, everything becomes more difficult. In addition, the price point is insane and no one cares!
So I just decided that I would do my thing in a way I feel honest to my clients and to my customers because I love and respect women. I make flattering clothes for women so they feel comfortable, attractive, beautiful and special. They know that if they buy a piece, they will feel this luxurious sensation. It’s not just a label.
Your brand became a household name after Kim Kardashian started wearing your designs. How do you understand the privileged relationship that fashion shares with celebrities today?
When Kim Kardashian wore my brand, no one knew it and no one cared about it. And the brand really grew up – good stockists, good stores –, but only three years late, so it wasn’t that of a big impact. If young designers think it’s important that some celebrity wears their brand, they’re wrong. What is important is to have a unique perspective and produce good quality pieces with the right price. Even though it’s helpful that celebrities wear your clothing, you can still build a brand without them; but you can’t do it without hard work.

Doria Arkoun 
Natalia Alaverdian / A.W.A.K.E

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