Coming up: my online travel writing class for Catapult in mid-April.

Local Voices Croatia: Nataša & Martina, I-GLE

Croatia’s fashion scene is on a steadfast climb, with local designers slowly getting their moment of spotlight on the global scene. Zagreb is a great spot to check it out and, while you’re at it, nab some cool “homegrown” couture.

So this week, I caught up with Martina Vrdoljak Ranilović and Nataša Mihaljčišin, the design duo behind Zagreb’s cool I-GLE boutique, and the movers & shakers of Croatia’s fashion scene.

Tell us a little about I-GLE.

We started in 1997 after meeting at the Faculty of Textile Technology here in Zagreb, where we both graduated. We decided to make clothes together soon after. We called ourselves I-GLE (wordplay meaning both ‘look!’ and ‘needles’) and opened a small shop and a workshop, all in one single (and not very big) space. Now we have a boutique in one of our most favorite locations in town (Dežmanova street), and a really nice studio where we work.

We were never into opening multiple stores because we were afraid of falling into that business trap where you end up spending most of your time organizing production and managing stores, instead of simply designing clothes – which is the thing we love the most.

How would you describe your designs?

What we are trying is, basically, to take a classic, everyday piece of clothing and turn it into something different, something that will make a woman feel gentle, seductive and self-confident, all at the same time. Certainly, special. The way we achieve this is a matter of moment, inspiration and our current intimate challenge of sort.

Photo by Marita Stanić

To us, the source of our inspiration is unreachable. It can’t be tracked and caught. We believe that inspiration has to find you, and not vice versa. The trick is to open up, recognize and embrace it in that crucial moment, because you can’t really tell when it’s going to show up, what it’s going to look like, and where it’s going to take you.

When it comes to our faithful clients, these are usually women (and a few men, too!) that appreciate design that is a bit different, yet stylish and extremely wearable, paired with quality fabrics. They prefer investing in a garment that won’t go out of fashion the very next year.

Since you’re totally clued in, would you give us a few up-and-coming local names in fashion that we should be on the look out for.

There some interesting young designers in Croatia right now, for instance Andreja Bistričić and Igor Galas. Then there are Romina Mejak and Marita Stanić who make great jewelry. It will be interesting to watch their development and see where it takes them.

What’s latest and hottest with I-GLE? And what’s next?

We have just completed our conceptual, all-black collection based on the geometric shape of circle. We exhibited this collection in a local gallery in Gornji Grad, Nest (Visoka 1). We’re constantly – and with great love – working on new designs. Right now we’re devising our 2013 Spring/Summer collection.

Would you share your three secret spots in Zagreb? Places you love to go.

We often grab a bite at Makronova on Ilica street, a great macrobiotic restaurant, and also at Mali Bar (Vlaška 63). Spunk (Hrvatske bratske zajednice b.b.) is great for garage rock gigs. We like Vip Club for jazz concerts and clubbing. That’s already four!

If you had friends from out of town visiting Zagreb and they wanted to devote one entire day to shopping, where would you send them?

The center of Zagreb has some great local designer shops, for instance Prostor, where you can buy interesting clothes and accessories designed by young Croatian designers. There’s our shop, of course, and many, many others.

There are also many stores you typically find in a mall. Streets to start with – Ilica, Dežmanova, Mesnička, Radićeva, Tkalčićeva…. Also, the center of our city is beautiful and dynamic, something’s always going on.. A beautiful way to spend a day shopping, drinking coffee, and avoiding crowded, closed and cloned malls.

What is the best time to visit Zagreb, in your opinion?

It depends on what you’re looking for. There are different cultural events throughout the year, a lot of music and film festivals. Each time of year has its own beauty here in Zagreb.

It sort of slows down and empties during summer months because everyone flees to the seaside. But then again, there’s beauty in that, too. There are also a few summer music and film festivals you wouldn’t want to miss if you’re visiting Zagreb this time of year.

Springtime brings beautiful weather, autumn is usually rich with cultural events, and well, every autumn sort of represents a fresh start, people are energetic after the summer break.. Wintertime, around Christmas, is a very special time of year, too, with its kitschy ornaments and scent of cooked wine and cookies everywhere.

Photo by Romani Decker & Dejan Kutić

Can you describe a typical Zagreb moment?

Dolac (the city’s main marketplace), and everything around it. It’s a beautiful, merry and messy spot we often visit, mostly to buy organic foods. There are nanas in their clumsy vests selling cheese and vegetables, ladies in posh dresses and hats buying the cheese and the vegetables, then there are loud pensioners playing cards nearby, mums drinking coffee, kids eating ice creams… Tons of different people at one spot, surrounded by beautiful old buildings and churches.

Any strong stand about Croatia’s entry into the EU? What do you think are the pros and the contras?

The opening of Croatia’s market to the EU will definitely be followed by some changes. Whether they’ll be positive or negative – well, from our standing point it’s hard to tell, probably some of both. We’ll leave the strong opinions and forecasts to politicians and economists.

When it comes to our business though, this will probably depend on purchasing power of Croatian citizens, and we can’t be certain if it will rise after we enter the European Union.

To escape the city for a day, where do you like to go?

Žumberak is great for day trips because of its beautiful nature and because it’s nearby. Samobor is another great spot, a wonderful little town half an hour’s ride from Zagreb.

What’s your favorite spot along the Adriatic, your own special beach hideaway?

It’s very difficult to name just one spot, the whole Adriatic coast is breathtaking. The ones we love the most are the ones that relate us to our childhood or romantic memories. We do have to mention Mljet island because of its intact nature and beautiful lakes.

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