From: The Balkanista
Amargi – Albanian Ethnography Meets High Fashion

One night, after putting my daughter to sleep I found myself scrolling lazily through Instagram until by chance, I came across something that made me sit bolt upright in bed.

Clean lines, minimalist styles, and subtle embellishments drawing on traditional Albanian ethnography- it was a combination of the most pleasing aesthetic qualities, presented in sleek photographs that would not look out of place in the world’s leading fashion magazines. It was Amargi.

The brainchild of two young women with no formal fashion training, this new label debuted with an A/W19 collection that will tantalise your senses and empty your bank account. This season, Amargi has presented 13 items including dresses, skirts, trousers and shirts, each combining classic tailoring with touches of Albanian motifs and patterns hailing from the Zadrima region of the country.

The name “Amargi” is the Sumerian word for ‘return to mother’ and according to its founders Arilda Lleshi and Joana Kacomi the idea is that when you wear their pieces, you also wear the history behind it. Each area of Albania has its own motifs, designs, colours, styles, shapes, history, and traditions when it comes to clothing, and in their future collections Amargi hopes to expand on this, drawing on influences from throughout the country.

Born out of a fear that so many traditional arts, crafts, and ethnographic styles will disappear with the generation of their grandparents, Amargi and the young women behind it have embarked on a journey to reclaim their heritage and to combine it with the fashions of today to bring it to a new audience.

The collection is incredibly versatile- long sleeved shirts with high necklines and skin tight dresses with woven panels at the hips. Tasseled capes, off the shoulder tops, and high-waisted pants- they have covered every wardrobe staple, injecting the colours and styles of Zadrima in a subtle but highly effective way.

All of the pieces are handcrafted and support the local economy, empower the women who craft the fabric, all whilst adhering to firm principles of sustainability.

To craft the textiles they use, they decided to utilise the skills of the women of Zadrima themselves. All of the intricate and delicate fabric- be it the smooth, creamy, cotton or the vibrantly woven stripes and embroidered finishes, are all handmade by Tereze Gega, who I previously dubbed ‘The Queen Of Albanian Textiles’. Her incredible attention to detail as well as her unsurpassed skill in weaving results in the perfect complement to Amargi’s flawless lines.

I was lucky enough to see some of the clothes in real life when I met with Arilda in a busy cafe in central Tirana. One cannot truly appreciate the level of perfectionism that is present in these clothes until you see them up close and in person. Each seam is flawless, and the cream cotton fabric hangs in the most interesting way. This with the added vibrant injections of colour, work together to provide a fascinating accent to the wrists, necklines, and waistlines.

Arilda comes from a background of international relations and has studied in Canada, and her partner in Amargi, Joana studied architecture. Together their love for their country, their desire to help and empower Albanian women, and the need to both resurrect and rebirth the incredible fashions and styles of their heritage has resulted in something truly special.

Future collections will draw on influences from other parts of the country and Arilda tells me they intend to team up with Made In Prison to create a range of jewellery to complement their new designs.

But they don’t have an easy task ahead of them. Today’s penchant for fast fashion, fake brands, and simulating reality TV stars has left little room in mainstream fashion for labels such as Amargi. The founders hope however that they can tap into a niche market that desires bespoke, original items that burst with understated chic. I think that the fashion-forward shapes of their designs, coupled with a growing interest in traditional motifs will be enough to sustain them and I hope that those who crave a connection to their roots and see a bit of themselves in Amargi, dare to be different.