Indra Komarova. Photo by Bruno Kabucis

Regardless of her considerable experience, fashion designer Indra Komarova calls herself a professional debutant. Recently she announced herself once again debuting her new brand Talented at Riga Fashion Week. Constantly gaining professional lessons and insights, Indra also teaches at the Fashion Department of the Art Academy of Latvia. In the conversation the designer admits that in her time she misjudged the local market, estimating it too low, and that at the moment she is learning to accept that being a perfectionist does not lead to much good.

Interviews Agnese Kleina April 26, 2017

Why did your previous brand I’M Your Shirt transform into Talented?

There are a few reasons for that. First of all, both for ourselves as well as for journalists and clients there were some difficulties with the use of the name. People don’t remember it and don’t know how to type it in the search engine. I’M Your Shirt has too many words, and they can be interpreted very widely. As a result, we had five or six different names. Secondly, the old name limited us very much. We were tied to the shirts. Trousers produced by a brand named I’M Your Shirt — it sounds funny. Also our initial idea about the online shirt constructor didn’t work out, because people don’t want to do my job.

In 2012, when I’M Your Shirt was announced, the shirt constructor was emphasised as your brand’s added value. How soon did you understand that the constructor would not work?

In the first year, we didn’t understand anything. We found the textiles, prepared the starting kit — a small collection of shirts, and together with the programmer created an online constructor. Anybody could choose any of the shirts from the basic collection and change some details or colours. We thought of the website as our main trading channel. When we became recognisable in Latvia, we realised that people want the finished product, not a constructor.  When they see a finished garment and how it sits on somebody, they can then imagine it on themselves. Approximately two years later we decided to gradually move away from the constructor. Financial investment and energy put into it didn’t justify the result.

In the beginning, you were consciously targeting the international market.

We had not estimated the local market. It seemed — well, how many people in Latvia will buy our shirt? Thirty? I was rather pessimistic, but now we see that the local market actually is pretty vast. I don’t know where all these people are coming from, but they all want fashion and value Latvian brands too.

When did the idea about Talented appear?

In one of our meetings we were looking at our regular clients. We came to the conclusion that they all are talented people. And not only talented creative people, also talented leaders, bookkeepers and scientists — really impressive personalities.  Every year Talented creates a capsule collection together with one of the talents. So far, there have been more visual artists (last year together with the glass designer Artist Nīmanis a set of cufflinks and a necklace was created — A.K.) but we very much hope that in the future we could cooperate with a professional athlete or a scientist.

You have always maintained that you are not an artist but a designer.

Functionality is important to me — material, proportions, pockets etc. When a woman puts on my blouse or a dress and looks at herself in the mirror, it doesn’t matter to her what my source of inspiration was, or on what impulses I added frills. She is there on her own with her complexes. For her, it matters that her shoulders look good, that the muffin top is hidden, and that my product raises her self–esteem. For me it is a very important part of functionality — that my clothing raises the self–esteem of the client. That defines the character of every collection: these are clothes that are flattering to the client’s body, make him or her look slimmer and more beautiful. For me, it is important what movements my blouse or dress will introduce into a woman’s arsenal. How she will turn, smooth out the skirt, move the arms.

Your collections have garments for men as well, however, Talented’s bestseller is the dress.

In Latvia, dresses are more popular. Women from abroad buy mostly blouses and shirts. We came up with two possible explanations for that. Firstly, from a practical and financial point of view, with a dress you are dressed from head to toes and don’t have to think about buying something else to go with it. A great many women don’t want to think about that. Secondly, very much alive is the concept that a feminine woman wears a dress.

In your view, how has the local fashion industry grown in these years?

I have great hopes that the moment might have come that brands have grown so far as to employ designers. Seven years ago, when we all began making moves there was no other choice — we had to build our own environment to work in. Now I don’t need to do everything myself anymore, and to be that queen under whose skirt all the kingdom happens. I seriously consider the idea of other designers working on the men’s collection or the jersey line for Talented. So that everybody can focus on their own job.

I think that very soon we will outgrow the phase of «wooden trinkets with Latvian folk signs». I don’t remember who said it in one of the conferences, Swedes or Norwegians, but they also went through this phase some twenty years ago. At first they also produced something from everything, then their local symbols appeared, and everybody thought that it is highly creative. «It will pass at yours, too,» they said. There would be no more of those leggings with the Latvian folk symbols.

And I quite like that the local brands think so much about the business, and the very word «business» does not seem ugly to me anymore. Actually business is such a creative process! You create workplaces, a structure, and you create yourself because you are developing. What I would like to see more in brands is clarity of ideas — and less eclecticism. As it is in the case of Mareunrol’s. Of course, one should think of what would sell best.

You recently invited Rolands Pēterkops from Mareunrol’s to the Fashion department of the Academy of Art — the spaces in the free seminar filled up in a flash. Tell us how is the work with the students going? What kind of students are they — people who will create the world in which we one day will live?

Students are very different — everybody with their own opinion on what they want to do. A number of them value their own time and money that they invest in the studies, and want to understand how to make money. They really like those tutors who besides teaching at the Academy are also running their own business. And then there is the other part of students who hate commerce, and they all want to be Rolands Pēterkops. The tutors are in between these groups. We who also studied at the Academy of Arts, still remember how we were all expected to deliver something similar and uniform, thus as tutors now we try to bring out in each student what they do best. We simply help to develop it. If a person is excellent at drawing and doesn’t have a clue about sewing, then one shouldn’t sew — one should draw. Maybe one will become a brilliant illustrator.

What does the new generation of the tutors — you, Artis Štamgūts and Agnese Narņicka — do differently than your own tutors in their time?

Firstly, we identify things that we cannot change in the Academy. To change something in the study programme itself is a very long and very complicated process. We can’t change the basic subjects to different ones that seem more important, that’s why we organise such seminars like with Rolands Pēterkops. We also invited Elīza Drāzniece, who has great experience in selling fashion, and Deniss Ševeļovs, who explained to students how to create their image and reputation in social media, because their future employers will look at what they are doing there. These were three very different lectures, and the students were very satisfied.

Do you ask your students what they lack in the learning process?

Yes, we just had a chat last week. I teach in two years — first year and the masters. If I compare to myself and my generation, these young people have a different self–esteem. I am very glad about that, and even a little bit jealous. At the moment the internet is flooded with various articles about problems of the Millenials, but looking at our students I somehow think that everything will be alright. They won’t all die in depression with a mobile phone in the hand.

Last year at the exhibition of the Fashion students’ works I especially felt what it means, that students perceive the world through Instagram — the collections had references to this or that world fashion trend. How important is it for you to develop in students their individual way of seeing things?

I think that access to internet only helps. There have always been people who will follow directly what they like. I have an impression that students now are more in touch with reality. I liked very much the compliment by Talented’s graphic designer Marta Bula to students of Fashion Department after the same exhibition: «You know, Indra, it seems that they understand what they are doing». When we were studying at the Academy, we didn’t understand what we are doing. We made something because we were simply supposed to. Why — we didn’t know. Everything was in the clouds.  Now the students understand themselves if their collection is wearable or not. And that is their conscious choice, and not because it just happened that one has fashioned something, but one cannot wear it.

Every year before the public fashion show in the beginning of June you organise a preliminary selection —  not all students get their collections presented on the catwalk.

There are two reasons for that. First of all, pre–selection is an obligatory part of the learning process — students learn to present and defend their ideas, and the fashion show itself is not a part of study work at the Academy, but the PR of the Fashion Department. We invite different people, also journalists. Why should they suffer through a three–hour event? Another reason is to raise the quality of the collections.

Everybody knows that in the design schools in the West students have great technical advantages. You have facilities in a former canteen in the Academy’s basement, and can only dream about such possibilities.

But we have Taņa (Tatjana Sokolova — A.K.). She is great. Taņa is an assistant who helps students manage the machines. You can ask her about constructions, and about sewing. But to say without joking, in our conditions students are more prepared for reality than in the great Danish school.

Once a Swiss student came to our department. She also said so, that they have a very well equipped school in Switzerland, but looking at our pictures from the fashion shows it seems to her that we get more done. The collections themselves are bigger here than in Switzerland — how do we even manage that? Somehow students resolve this — if needed, it will be done.

How do you merge in yourself a teacher, a designer and simply Indra?

It is very difficult. When I’m at the Academy I wish to dedicate more time to it. To prepare the lecture even more, and to do more to benefit the students. When I am in my studio, of course, I wish to have more time to develop Talented. I personally now have such conditions that I need to think more about my health. I didn’t know that it is so difficult — to think of oneself so much. Can you imagine — a human has to eat four times a day? I don’t understand how that is even possible. In any case, due to events in my life lately, I tend to think that I have not taken enough care of myself.

What would you like to resolve or to learn in this time of your life?

Lately, I gravitate more towards personal insights, not new challenges. One of the most recent ones is on the changing nature of all things. Whether it is friendship, work, relationships or some self–esteem problems. I have a feeling that nothing is in order, but at the same time it is the way it should be. The petals of a daisy are not all perfectly the same, but you wouldn’t say that it is not perfect because of that. Ten years ago I was striving for perfection, and it led me to a horrible state of nerves. An absolute perfection is not possible, but you try to reach it all the time. Now I’m learning to accept that it is not necessary.