How did you become involved in fashion design? Since I was five years old my dream has always been to design and sew clothes. In 1995, I was given my first doll and I handmade her entire wardrobe from old t-shirts and blouses my mother tossed. No other toy was nearly as attractive as making clothes, actually my dad kept the sketch book I used back then. I used to sit for hours on the carpet, surrounded by threads, pieces of fabric, scissors (with my mother’s and grandmother’s supervision specifically on this item) and Barbie dolls.
The first sewing, knitting, embroidery lessons came from my grandmother, who was talented in handmade clothing, especially knitting. As most people would say, fashion back then was not a real profession in Albania, I studied Environment Engineering, but my heart was elsewhere.
At the age of twenty, I purchased a small sewing machine in order to be able to make my own clothing. Four years later I decided to start Maison Stella Sallaku, in a small venue in Tirana. The place was so modest but it didn’t matter to me, I always had imagined a small but cozy place, elegant and sophisticated, yet with a modern touch. I started reading all the books I could find for fashion design techniques, The Little Dictionary of Fashion by C.D., Chanel, Pierre Balmain, etc.
My days were intense because I wanted to learn all about other fashion designers, their lives and experience. Still today, the rhythm is ten hours a day of work (and sometimes more), and at night I read books dedicated to design. During these years in television, newspapers, magazines, radio etc, I saw potential in my unique style and designs. And lately I was given my own column at www.Tiranapost.al titled “In Stella Sallaku Lupe,” it’s kind of “Fashion Police”.
Online was MSS’ design marketplace where we would sell my clothing and designs as well as at the atelier, custom made also ready-to-wear women’s wear. A hands on process is what I love, and it is why from designing in the sketchbook, I move to the cutting of the pattern and the first sewing by hand or machinery myself. It is only after that, I give the garment to one of my employees to finish. Being part of the designing and making of my designs inspires me even more, as well as making our clients part of the whole process is something we both enjoy a lot.
What materials do you most like to work with? Personally I don’t like limitations on creativity and that is why I have tried different kind of fabrics—from jerseys, cotton, crepe, crepe de chine, jacquard, brocade, silk, silk satin, organdie, tulle, lace, elastics, scuba, sheer, chiffon, doc, velvet, cashmere, wool, fur. I can say that for a certain type of design there is only one appropriate fabric that identifies the design 100%. It all comes down to the kind of garment I want to make, but as summer is almost here, I prefer doc, elastic cotton, crepe de chine, silk, jersey and a good lace. In the winter clothing I like to use wool mainly, as well as elastic wool and cashmere.
My favorite fabrics are the wrinkle-free ones, especially for skirts, pants and jackets. As for blouses or shirts I prefer silk, crepe de chine and cotton. A couple of years ago I felt in love with velvet, but you know it was just temporary and it comes from time-to-time.
How does your geographical location influence your aesthetic? Working in Albania for the past three years in fashion design has been and remains challenging. Albanians love to have expensive clothes such as (Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Dior, etc.), but their income doesn’t allow for most of them to afford these brands. So the easiest way to make it happen is to go to a tailor's shop and make it happen with a copied fabric from the above mentioned brands. Three years ago it was difficult to explain to all customers that I am a fashion designer and I can’t copy some other designer's work. A lot of girls sent me photos of big brands and wanted the dress or suit made for them.
People seemed to not know what my job was and sometimes still is this way, especially with TV celebrities. The struggle was—and is—to maintain the business running and at the same time be okay with my creativity. I didn’t want to promote my work through coping some other designer's work and creativity, it was important to me to educate clients what to ask from a fashion designer. A lot of times I thought of leaving Albania and working somewhere else, but something kept me here, I am sure it’s God’s plan. So, instead of complaining and nagging about the situation I work hard, pray, and study new sewing techniques.
For a year now we are producing collections according to international fashion calendar, spring/summer and fall/winter. It was our collaboration with JAANTE SHOWROOM in Switzerland who pushed me to continue through every difficulty, hard work will be rewarded. And then Not Just a Label welcomed us with our collections on their website and I am humbly grateful to that. It was a great surprise and a huge blessing to see my work there in the Global Community of emerging designers.
What’s been your greatest professional achievement to date? This is a tough question, I don’t know actually. Every achievement was big and important to me, and I had the privilege to learn a lot though all our collaborations. But I may say that being labeled as a Black Sheep Designer at Not Just a Label together with the runway that will be held in Zurich by our partner JAANTE with our SS’17 Collection “Daisy,” has been the best moments and inspired me to continue work hard and stick to what I want to do, and what God wants me to do.
What’s one thing people would never guess about you? Well, they never thought I would do bridal dresses, but I did a couple of them last year, and I'm working on bridal dresses and suits this season, very custom-made ones. This might come as a surprise to many, because my previous collections were mostly ready-to-wear and custom-made for special events. In Albania, bridal gowns are full of jewelry, sequins, ruffles, layers etc. , on the other side I love minimalist bridal dresses. In my opinion we need a new kind of “Bride,” passionate, confident, loving, feminine, delicate, sophisticated and smart. This is why I want to offer a new kind of style to young brides who want to make the most from that day, not just be a huge White Christmas Tree.
For more, head to StellaSallaku.com