Chechen fashionistas stifled by tradition

A fashion show in the Russian Republic of Chechnya may, at first, look like any other, but the predominantly Muslim society’s traditional way of life allows little opportunity for the style industry’s more wild ideas.

Hairdressers and stylists are snipping, trimming and fluffing to create an award-winning haircut, which also fits the traditional Chechen image.

Work is in full swing in designer Zareta’s studio. She hasn’t slept for two days while she prepared her collection to hit the catwalk.

Her traditional Chechen bridal outfit will be the highlight of the exposition. Zareta Khamkhoeva says that from a young age she knew what she was destined to be:

“When I was three years old, I cut my grandma’s expensive curtains to make a bridal dress, I was scolded very much for that,” she recalls.

“But when I was 14 I sold a dress I sewed for the first time ever for $200.”

Her favorite couturier is the enfant terrible of French fashion, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Zareta hopes that one day his extravagant models will appear on the streets of Chechnya.

For now, less high profile models are preparing in the make-up rooms. Among them is a Canadian model, who hosts her own show in English on Chechen TV. Crystal Callahan says this collection isn’t quite what she’s used to.

“It’s different… I have done bridal shows before, so this kind of feels like more a bridal show, most girls are wearing bridal outfits, bridal costumes… I am wearing this costume – it’s really traditional, it’s heavy,” Crystal explains.

As the jury deliberates, the models and their stylists wait nervously. The scarf is a compulsory accessory; it’s trademark of Chechnya.

Traditional Chechen singers and dance groups are also on hand to entertain the audience in the intervals between the show and the awards.

Zareta, unfortunately, does not triumph on the day, and the winner is the experienced Zarema. This is her third contest. Her tip for always looking great is going for the natural look:

“This is a very fine, reserved look. There won’t be any creative features.”

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim and very traditional society. You won’t see women in trousers on its streets, for instance, as that’s looked down upon, and as something which doesn’t belong to females.

Officials may advocate a national way of life in an attempt to create an image for the republic, but the designers say there is no room for creativity.