REVIEW: Estonia Fashion Festival 2018


Conceived as a platform to bring emerging Estonian designers and international fashion professionals together, the first ever Estonian Fashion Festival in Tartu combined three existing catwalk shows with seminars, workshops, screenings, markets and parties for an all-round fashion celebration. For this edition, the festival revolved around the theme of “Slow Fashion” with many of the featured designers incorporating traditional handicrafts, sustainable materials and upcycling into their work.

Right on the cusp of Europe, Estonia shares a border with Russia and Latvia, lies across the Baltic Sea from Finland and Sweden, and has a population a little over 1.3 million. In centuries past, the country has been under Danish, German, Swedish and Russian rule, gaining independence in 1918, to then be absorbed into the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991. In 2004, Estonia joined the EU and today is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of Skype. The tech-savvy country has one of the highest number of startups per head in Europe and was the first country to adopt online voting back in 2005.

Despite its digital affiliations, over half of the land is made up of forest. This becomes readily apparent as we drive into Tartu: Estonia’s second largest city, better described as a leafy town, made up of 100 000 residents, with quaint wooden buildings and a charming pastel coloured old town. Home to Tartu Ülikool, one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe, Tartu is Estonia’s cultural capital, with printing, publishing and footwear among its leading industries. Against this backdrop, the Estonian Fashion Festival took place from the 5th to the 10th of June 2018. 




The festival began with the most experimental of the three shows bringing fashion together with performance, music, dance and film. Organised by students from Tartu Art College, MPT celebrated its 20th anniversary by returning to its birthplace and going en plein air. What didn’t quite go to plan was the weather – however, the wind and rain only served to add to the drama. Raukka’s post-apocalyptic ninjas kicked off the proceedings, abseiling down the far wall to a techno beat, while Annika Kiidron’s stereoscopic skeleton prints – and even a jacquard weave  – literally popped out with the assistance of 3D glasses. A deceptively water-soluble mac by Anita Trink stole the show as it was hosed down to reveal the dress (and shivering model) beneath. With echoes of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballet or Merce Cunningham and Rei Kawakubo’s Scenario, MPT was a spectacle of unbridled creativity and collaboration, very punk in its delivery, commanding the audience’s full attention.




Initiated by the Estonian Native Crafts Department at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, OmaMood showcases contemporary Estonian designs that incorporate elements of traditional dress and/or handicraft. For the first time OmaMood opened up to designers not only from the university but across the country, and fittingly took place in the Estonian National Museum, which also happened to be showing the largest ever exhibition of Estonian folk costume. Guests were take on a musical journey through Estonia’s mystical landscape by one-man folk band Silver Sepp upon his jeep-sailboat-hybrid-cum-DIY-instrument placed at the centre of the catwalk in the round. Made from old bed sheets and curtains, Helve Alla’s collection of dresses inspired by historical Estonian undershirts were a firm festival favourite (that wouldn’t look out of place in cult London boutique Egg), whilst Katre Arula put a spin on traditional folk jewellery with quilted conical brooches and fabric coin necklaces. Amongst the steady stream of natural linens, woolens and embroidery, Cärol Ott’s Baltic cowgirls and milkmaids were an explosion of colour, a playful bricolage of recycled materials, proving that ‘heritage’ needn’t look old-fashioned.

Antoniuse Moeetendus

Antonius Fashion Show

Featuring established and up-and-coming designers from Estonia as well as neighbouring Latvia and St Petersburg, Antoniuse Moeetendus focuses on pieces that can go straight to the rack – if they aren’t on them already. The show took place at the Estonian National Museum once again, this time on a regular, straight runway to go with the prêt-à-porter vibe. Considering Estonia’s geographic location, one may have expected more references to quirky Scandinavian minimalism or the post-Soviet aesthetic popularised by Gosha Rubchinskiy, Demna Gvasalia or Lotta Volkova, however, aside Tiina Kraav’s Vetements-esque reflector bag clasps and the string shoppers accessorising Angel A’s drapey yet euclidean avantgarde blacks, there was barely a loud print or logo in sight. Instead of tapping into marketable tropes, the designers stood steadfast to their own visions, finding niche markets as Latvian brand Be-with has done for hug-friendly, oxytocin-inducing clothing with secret pockets to allow for more skin-to-skin contact.

From intricate hand embroidery to computer loom jacquards, sharp tailoring and dissolving fabrics, the Estonian Fashion Festival catwalk shows were a smorgasbord of styles, materials and techniques, executed at a level highly commendable for recent fashion graduates – most of whom made their entire collections themselves. The designers’ readiness to use sustainable and recycled textiles must also be applauded, while each show, a gesamtkunstwerk of creative collaborations (OmaMood and Antoniuse Moeetendus had their own choreographed dance and live musical acts) demonstrated that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. 

Taking Estonia’s tech prowess into account, it would make sense to see more partnerships here, whether in garment production or as part of the show experience, and although much of the clothing was locally made, this didn’t necessarily extend to the fabrics, so to further the Slow Fashion cause, it would be good to see more native wool and homegrown linens in the future.

Tartu may be remote, but the power of the internet means that you don’t have to be in a bustling metropolis to be aware of what’s going on: the Slow Fashion theme and the Techno-Innovation discussion for instance were very on trend, plus experts from around the world were invited to impart their knowledge at the Seminar event. Being a small, faraway destination also provided a safe space in which to celebrate ethnic dress without being accused of cultural appropriation or nationalism, and in a similar way that exhibitions like documenta in Kassel and Skulptur Projekte Münster have put smaller cities on the art world map, Tartu is certainly on course for doing the same in fashion.

We would like to say a very big thank you to Tartu Centre for Creative Industries for their wonderful hospitality and congratulate everyone involved for launching the festival with a bang!

Title image: Katre Worth “Myko-Riisa” @ OmaMood

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