By Amanda Allbee

Zagreb, the capital of Croatia in southeastern Europe, is a city brimming with designers who refuse to succumb to fast fashion; they hold tenaciously to their passions and original visions. From ateliers showcasing handsewn lace gowns that cost a typical Croat’s month’s salary, to a quirky conglomeration of eighty different local designers selling their art in a colorful craft gallery, the fashion culture of Zagreb unveils a new layer when you sidestep the department stores.
 1. Atelje Jeletić. Nataša Jeletić will welcome you into her atelier with the kind of warmth and sincerity she devotes to her work. She calls her decades-old Toyota sewing machine a“smart guy,” and demonstrated how the needle gracefully bobs in and out of a thin piece of scrap fabric, dancing down the line, binding the mismatched leftovers. Rich magenta and blue silk pieces demand attention in contrast to the creamy white walls and neighboring dark fabrics hanging on two parallel racks in the tiny store. Jeletić says that she is not really a fashion designer, she simply desires to explore herself through art. She does not care about trends. Her atelier on Radićeva street is eleven years old, but few Zagrebians sport her designs as street-style. Jeletić claims she is the most inspired when she is free from any expectation, when she is not shackled by the constraints of designing for a specific person or occasion.” I don’t care about being successful financially,”she stated, “I just want to enjoy myself.”
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Jeletic at her sewing machine.

2. Boudoir. If asked to describe their designs, identical twin sisters Martina Čičko-Karapetrić and Morana Saračević would reply: “boudoir,” and every fashion-savvy Croatian would understand exactly what that meant. Their atelier on Radićeva Street, a vessel for exquisite lace, tulle and feather gowns of bountiful velvety white and macaroon-colored pastels, reveals the definition of boudoir. Their creations are neither vintage nor avant garde; they embody a feeling of timelessness juxtaposed with empowerment of the modern day woman who acknowledges her sexuality and femininity. The twins have been fervently designing since high school; they claim that their grandmother, a milliner, taught them everything they know. Morana and Martina’s designs are so uniquely theirs, they need not seek inspiration from anywhere but from within themselves. Their most intricate gowns cost around 1,000 Euros, and the quality and care that goes into each is unrivaled by dressmakers nationwide. It is not uncommon to see an assistant or Morana and Martina themselves sitting underneath the chandelier in the middle of the boutique hand-appliquéing a dress. Each piece is made in-store. Although there is an air of extravagant exclusivity inside Boudoir, you do not need to schedule an appointment, anyone is welcome in. (http://www.boudoirzagreb.com/)
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The entryway of Boudoir, a cheeky “Press for Champagne” sign greets customers, and a peek into the main room where an intern is in the process of hand- appliquéing a dress

3. PMS. “If it’s raining, we don’t work,” bluntly declares a handwritten sign taped the door of a small store on Tkalčićeva street: Prostor Manufakturne Slobode, The Space for Freedom of Manufacturing, or PMS, for short. With arguably the quirkiest slogan of any store in Zagreb, “I cure my PMS by shopping in PMS,” the merchandise collected by owner Marta Grbešić follows suit. Everything in the store is handcrafted by eighty different Croatian artisans and designers. Stark white walls provide the canvas splattered with the wildly vibrant and eclectic concoctions of the craftspeople who ask Grbešić to display and sell it in the prime location where she rooted herself four and a half years ago. The artwork, jewelry and clothing tell an unsung story of naive Croatian artists. On one rack hangs an array of graphic tees, on another, metallic floor length skirts and slashed denim cut-offs with handsewn patchwork. Grbešić makes an effort to rotate designers every month.“There are more artists than stores in Croatia,” she claims; she is determined to perpetuate the passions of those who aren’t afraid to create something that does not guarantee an income.
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Colorful Croatian-made crafts for sale inside PMS.

4. Hippy Garden. There is a fresh feeling inside Hippy Garden, a store that has housed the designs of Durdica Vorkapić for fifteen years on Masarykova Street in Zagreb. With all-white decor including imitation birch trees with wild, tangled branches above the island in the middle of the room, a lantern sitting on the white tiled floor, and a contemporary fence separating the main room from the back, it is a fairy-garden tea party meets city-sleek modernity. Vorkapić’s designs fuse these contrasting vibes effortlessly. On the other side of the fence is the bridal collection, where the name of the store truly comes into play through the non-traditional selection of gowns: short dresses covered in beaded flower embroidery over a layer of tulle, plunging necklines and sheer flutter sleeves, this is a store for romantics and dreamers. (http://www.hippygarden.net/hr/)
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The selection of bridal gowns at Hippy Garden.

5. Ivona Martinko. Nestled in-between the colorful edifices that line the central streets of Zagreb is a tiny entranceway marked by an “I” on one iron door and “M” on the other. Once inside, you feel as if you have stepped into a miniature fashion warehouse in a city far more modernistic. The room is a monochromatic dark grey where merchandise hangs from the ceiling on suspended racks, with more displays on a second story loft gated in by a metal grate. In contrast to the warm, chromatic hues of the architecture surrounding her business, Martinko adheres almost totally to black, grey and white in her designs. The futuristic, industrial feeling of the interior matches the clothes it contains; designer and owner Ivona Martinko pulls influences from Japanese fashion schools and frequently references futurism in her work. Martinko, a designer of twenty years, opened her store two and a half years ago to bring her avant-garde visions to the streets of her city. (http://ivonamartinko.com/index.php)
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Designer/Owner Ivonka Martino and friend enjoying coffee and a cigarette on a frontstep mid-morning

 Although it is a small country, there is no succinct definition of Croatian fashion. It is an impossible task to place the diverging philosophies and inspirations of the creative minds of Croatian designers into one box. In order to experience the fashion culture of this country, and more specifically, the designers who ground themselves in the city of Zagreb, one must wander beyond the department stores to fully receive it’s delightful uniqueness.

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