Blurring the line between art and fashion, 33-year-old designer Gyunel Rustamova is feminine strength and artistic flair personified. Originally from Baku in Azerbaijan, she has chosen London as her base. Travelling from a young age she has found London very cosmopolitan and welcoming: a city where people are very open to new ideas.
Gyunel is very personable and is happy telling me all about her journey into fashion. She has always liked art; her parents, however, were not convinced and wanted her to establish a good business background so, after graduating from the Azerbaijan State Economics University in Baku, she pursued her dream at the London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins where she developed her love of painting oil on canvas. She feels that fashion and art fuse terribly well together and she enjoys creating her own patterns.
I have noticed that she likes drawing gargoyles. She explains that on a trip to Paris she visited the famous gothic Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité. She bought a souvenir fridge magnet which, back home, was sketched repeatedly and gave birth to a beautiful motif eventually printed onto fabric then used to create the garments standing beside us.
She tells me collections can take from a few months to as much as four years to come to life. They generally start with pencil drawings and canvas paintings, such as the Paradox dress with chastity belt unrolled on the floor in front of our eyes. Gyunel has in the past worked for three months solidly on a series of paintings in her attic studio back in Baku: the intensity of hard graft seems to be primordial to the creative process and she uses her subconscious and her travels to guide the brush.
Her style is surrealist art and the current collection is based on a post apocalyptic panorama story starting at the bottom with an underworld bunker followed by a nightmare childhood scene, including a walking wooden house with metal chicken legs, followed by a Baku contemporary cityscape, and finally melting into a darker space scene where gargoyles fly on magic carpets. Astonishingly this wildly drawn poetry makes for a beautiful fabric. To accompany the apocalyptic material, a more repetitive pattern has been created with different sized cogs inspired by the Hadron Collider exhibition at the Science Museum – a stone’s throw away from the atelier. Nothing escapes Gyunel’s imagination and the richness of the material is palpable: different gradients of colours, blacks, greys, blues, reds, which are further complemented by the cut of each garment, one harmonizing with the other.
I am told that some collections have an array of different materials and patterns (maybe between 10 and 20) such as the collection shown in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel where the original oil paintings were exhibited alongside the garments. The collection hanging in front of us, however, only used one basic pattern and was turned around in just a few months. A large sample of the pattern is printed on paper and adorns the wall behind me. Gyunel explains it is inspired by the seaside and her travels and has very evocative nautical connotations with compasses, boats, mermaids, the signature gargoyle, and verses rhyming with Gyunel such as ‘bête et la belle’, a pun on the French 18th century romantic fantasy book ‘Belle et la Bête’. It is another evocatively dreamy, poetic fabric full of personal meanings embellishing shorts, bomber jackets and dresses.
I can tell Gyunel is very hands-on. She confirms she can be very controlling, getting involved with every aspect of the business from the original paintings to the material cutting and a high volume of sampling and testing. She insists on keeping the essence of the original artwork but always listens to the advice of her committed team. She is undoubtedly a workaholic and takes work home daily. She knows work/life balance is a little tricky at the moment but believes the sacrifice is worth it.
I enquire which age group the lines are aimed at. “Hopefully they can appeal to all” replies Gyunel, but she knows age is a very emotive topic especially in the fashion arena. She believes women should wear what they want regardless of their age and is inspired by her fabulously glamorous and fashion-conscious mother who dresses well for her age.
Gyunel London is now expanding into developing bags, shoes and accessories. We are shown beautifully handcrafted handbags first, long black and turquoise clutches to match the black and turquoise handbags with metal clasp and black opal adornment – the black opal is actually blue, another twinkle to ambiguity that Gyunel likes so much. A little hexagonal black and gold leather number topped with a stunning metal clasp catches my eye and I notice the quality of the bags is second to none. I notice all the details, from the 360 degrees clasp, which had to be patented, to the hand embossed leather logo inspired from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code book cover. John Langdon devised the logo, Professor of Typography and ambigram maker, his surname was the inspiration for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code’s main character, Robert Langdon – a lovely anecdote which doesn’t go unnoticed and shows Gyunel’s insatiable mind for riddles. She confirms all bags were manufactured in Italy by a hand picked leather specialist, who also produces bags for Fendi and Russell&Bromley amongst others.
To finish with, I am shown a stunning white high heel shoe. The heel is a metal figure of Atlas carrying the world and supports a white satin top. I can’t stare for too long as the interview is coming to a close. I ask Gyunel what the future holds. She would like to get more stockists on board and also might like to venture in the bridal arena. A forthcoming wedding, for which she will be making the dress, might help her make her mind up on that front.
Fashion and Perfection is what Gyunel strives for and I attribute her success to four things: one, her amazing artistic talent; two, she only needs a few hours’ sleep a night to feel refreshed; three, she has the total support of her family and, lastly, she has an amazing team that is equally hard working and enthusiastic. For my money, watch out for this new kid in town. Gyunel London won’t be taking any prisoners!