A converstion with mutli award winner fashion designer and architect, Zekaryas Solomon Part I
Zekaryas SolomonPart IBest Male Designer 2012 @ BEFFTA,
Menswear Designer of the year 2012 @ fashions FinestFirst of all, congratulations on your latest awards which occurred within two weeks of each other and being named one of “Africa’s Top Ten Male Designers”Issayas: Would you tell us about yourself?
Zekaryas: I am a guy who was born in Eritrea and spent most of my formative years growing up in Germany. I have a very strong perfectionist professional side, tempered with a very soft fun-loving humorous nature which stands me in good stead for the demands of my chosen profession.
Issayas: You studied architecture and fashion. Why the switch and was the switch difficult?
Zekaryas: Yes I first studied Architecture, Design and Art at University of Wuppertal, Germany and Fashion Design at London College of Fashion London, UK. Why the switch? This is a questions that I always get asked. Why from architecture to fashion? A question from an Eritrean elder man (kab engineer si nab Sarto yhaysh ilka)? If you are not happy you look always for something. After starting my job in London as design architect for an educational building, all the projects I was involved were connected to lots of problems.My job was sitting hours in the office and fixing plans which made me working so many hours, getting depressed and not having normal life. The worst thing was that I didn’t feel creative at all and this made me hate my job everyday. Every morning was so hard to getting up and thinking that I have to go to the office. With support of my close friend I decided to do something that would make me happy. I wanted to do something creative. As I was doing lots of interior designing, dealing with colors and fabrics and partly styling for friends before coming to London, so I thought fashion would be something closer to what I have done and suitable for me. It certainly wasn’t the normal route that most aspiring designers would have taken. I had always had a love for fashion and so I decided to take a short course in menswear pattern cutting, just to make sure that if I applied for the degree course, it was going to be the route that I wanted to follow. I enjoyed it so much, that I applied at the London College of Fashion with mainly my architecture portfolio and some fashion sketches. One of the question in the interview was: “Mr Solomon, you are an architect, why do you want to study fashion there are so many fashion designers out there?” My answer was “Yes I am an architect with a passion for fashion; I want to bring both architectural and traditional backgrounds together to create modern and futuristic garments”. I believe that I explained my concepts and vision so well that they understood, given my limited experience with pattern cutting and garment technology.
Issayas: In broad terms, cultural elements such as food, cloth, drink, etc. are considered part of soft power. Your products are a great example of Eritrea’s soft power. I use your work as an example when I talk to Eritrean audiences about soft power. Do you put Eritrean cultural elements in your fashion design? Why is it important for you as a fashion designer to do that?
Zekaryas: My designs, specially the baggy trousers are inspired by my traditional and professional backgrounds. The design was taken from Eritrean heritage, re-interpreting traditional costumes with a futuristic, functional edge and also, being trained originally as an architect; the clean lines and impeccable structure is evident in my designs. With the architectural cut and adding special detail like the military styled buttons. It’s very important for me to reflect my tradition and identity and the way using traditional attire and make them wearable for everyone.
Issayas: You have your models wear Shidas (sandals worn by Eritrean fighters for independence and a symbol of Eritrean resistance). Would you tell us about it?
Zekariyas: The story of using SHIDA on one of my catwalks was very emotional. I wanted to say always thank you to my family who made always sure to teach me my tradition, language, history and support me with everything, to all harbegnatat (Eritrean heroes) who gave me a heritage “free Eritrea” and to those (my fans) who are always supporting me to make the next step. I didn’t knowhow and where to start and whom first and whom next to thank. I was thinking and researching on one thing which would make every Eritrean proud. The other important thing was to introduce SHIDA and the story of it to all my non Eritrean friends and fans. I chose SHIDA as :
Symbol of my Eritreawinet (Eritreanism)
Proud of my country, my history and my people
Respect of those who lost their lives for us, the new generation.