Zagreb pair Martina Vrdoljak Ranilović and Nataša Mihaljčišin run cult designer boutique I-GLE. As well as fashion for women, I-GLE (meaning 'needle' and 'have a look') creates set designs for theatre productions. Here Mihaljčišin talks about their work.
How did I-GLE start?
In the beginning there were three of us. We were just friends, had just finished school and doing different kinds of design jobs. We realised that we weren’t satisfied with our present situations, jobs or lives. So we started this studio, which at that time was quite different in Croatia. It was a difficult time. When we started we had to have enthusiasm because we had no money. It was possible only at that time. We rented a small space and painted the walls. We were sewing and selling in that place. We had no money for advertising. But we had something of a reputation and we had friends. Every moment someone was dropping by, so we had to work late at night. The working day was long and hard, from morning to midnight.
Another issue was that there wasn’t so much of a desire to wear Croatian designs. Now it is different and now we can be realistic about what is good from here and good from abroad.
How would you describe your designs?
Our design insists on being original. We want to explore ideas further and further. That is our main intention. We also have to like what we are making and make sure the designs are wearable at the same time – wearable and challenging on an aesthetic level. Since the start, the idea was to design something we liked and would wear. The main thing was we wanted to create.
What influences your designs?
We are influenced by everything. All forms, by geometry, art and even by music and movies. We admire some fashion designers, of course, and like to see what they are doing. But for me it was always more connected to other fields – artistic, scientific and mathematic, among others.
How did you get into fashion?
When I was young I already knew I liked fashion. I was always interested in how I looked even as a young girl. I was obsessed actually. I was always precise in my mind with the whole image of myself even when I was four or five. Really, it was important for me what I was going to wear, which is funny because I grew up in a really small city. My mother was like that, she had a nice style and sense for everything aesthetic.
I have always been excited when I see something beautiful, original and brand new in the process of design. I’ve always been able to recognise that fresh quality. It was always the most important thing to me.
How do you know when something different works?
It is beyond logic. You can’t always get it right. Sometimes you think a design is going to work and it doesn’t. Sometimes you think something isn’t good and then it works. Even large companies who hire a lot people to follow trends can’t be sure. It is something mysterious to some degree.
Do you keep up with fashion to see what works?
We try to be informed. Even just out of curiosity. But we actually don’t have to follow trends, which is our good fortune. Because we are small, with our own small shop and production, we are independent.
How often do you create something new?
Every day. Sometimes we just put some lines on paper, we know what they mean and we make it.
How would you describe fashion in Zagreb?
People in Zagreb are well dressed and they have style. It has always been quite important in Zagreb. Even in the 1920s and 1930s, there were many tailors and people who made their living from sewing. It was part of the culture to be good looking and it became part of the lifestyle. Also, there is something about the mentality here that people like to show off. Partly it is connected to the desire for beauty. And partly it is a matter of culture. You are showing respect to yourself and your surroundings. But there was also a sense of being equal to the bigger world outside. People here wanted to show that they could be like the West, or even better.
Is Zagreb fertile ground for fashion design?
Certainly. I think now is quite a creative moment in Zagreb and in Croatia as a whole. I love the feeling here today. Because Croatia has become comfortable with itself and now it is developing. When you combine being comfortable with itself as a country and a long tradition of wanting to look good – it is a good match.
What would you say was most special about your designs?
Our fashion is intimate in a way. It is a small production company and there’s a real sense of where the designs come from. With our things you can really feel this intimacy, that this has really been made for you. When you go to our shop you know that the piece didn’t pass through 100 hands but four. That gives it a different energy. Maybe that’s a good idea for a new advertising strategy.
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