In conversation with fashion designer Piret Ilves

On minimalism, pink cashmere coats, and the Estonian fashion scene. In conversation with designer Piret Ilves.

Piret Ilves I

The work of Piret Ilves was a fortuitous discovery. Walking along Tallinn’s cobblestone paths with a friend, I stumbled upon the store of this young designer and walked in. Piret’s work struck me as contemporary and confident; her clothes, with their clean lines and luxurious fabrics, as distinctive yet wearable.

Ilves showed her first collection in 2008 at the Estonian fashion designers competition SuperNoova. She has since created nine collections and regularly shows at Tallinn Fashion Week. In February 2012, she was nominated for the Small Golden Needle award (Estonian fashion awards – Editor).

Piret was happy to chat with EstonianWorld about her work and inspirations, sketching out a vision of what it means to be an Estonian designer with a cosmopolitan aesthetic.


Have you always known you’ll be designing clothes? How did you get into fashion design?

When I was fourteen, I decided that I would be a fashion designer. I don´t know exactly why I made that decision, but I did. I have to mention that there are no artists in my family. My mother is an excellent tailor, and today we also work together. Maybe that affected me.

During my fashion design studies, I worked at the Tallinn Department Store (Kaubamaja) as a visual merchandiser. After that, I became a fashion editor in Estonia’s largest weekly women´s magazine Naisteleht. All that time I also made small collections and dealt with private clients.

At one point I realised that now I have seen the backstage of fashion world and I am ready to create my own label. I have run my own company successfully for three years now. That for me is an achievement!

What did you enjoy most about working as a fashion editor?

Working for a weekly magazine is very different from working for a monthly fashion magazine. Everything happens fast, and you are not expected to make art. All articles and stories are about giving overall fashion advice and tips on shopping.

Having to produce these kinds of news every week makes you very clever in the end. This skill now comes handy in my own marketing! In addition, you get many contacts and learn a lot about journalism. Both of these things have an impact on my current work.


Could you tell me a bit about your creative process? What’s your typical day like?

I enjoy working in the morning a lot more then late in the evening. So I arrive to my studio around 9 am and start with emails. Around 10 am, other employees arrive, and we discuss the plans for the day. As I am making all the patterns for my designs, this is my everyday task. I desperately need another pattern maker. I have two to four private client fittings per day. A big part of my day is also creating new collections – sketching, designing, making toiles, finding suitable fabrics and so on.

What inspires your designs?

I am a huge fashion history fan and I love the fifties and sixties elegance. I know the theme inside out, but still, I always find something new to draw inspiration from.

The key is to find a detail or shape or even an attitude, modernise it and then use it throughout the collections.

Could you describe what a Piret Ilves woman is like?

A Piret Ilves woman is feminine, chic and stylish. Most importantly, she understands the essence of minimalism. She is not particularly a trend hunter, but may be a trendsetter. She believes in good quality and great design.

My client is rational, but once in a while she understands that – let’s say – an absolutely impractical pink cashmere coat is a must!


What does the Tallinn atmosphere, the essence of Tallinn-ness, mean to you?

I like to think of myself as a Scandinavian designer. I have never thought about Tallinn-ness as such. I have spent my whole life in Tallinn, I was born and raised here. And I am glad that I have – I love Tallinn. To be a fashion designer in one of Estonia´s smaller towns – I can imagine that it would be a lot harder.

What is working in Tallinn like? What are the specific opportunities and constraints of the Estonian market?

Considering Estonia, Tallinn is by far the best place to work as a fashion designer, simply because it is the biggest city in Estonia. And still, it is way too small for a designer to be really successful. I don´t know whether I am mistaken, but somehow I remember that there are approximately 500 women in Estonia who really can afford and are willing to buy designers clothes. But it may also be a myth. Many women would like to buy Estonian design, but they simply can’t afford it. On a plus side, Estonia is so small and it is really easy to get noticed here compared to for example, London.

Your show at the Tallinn Fashion Week was really successful – congratulations!

That was my fourth time to participate and it went really well. I have gained a lot of good feedback, and by today most of the collection is already sold (the interview took place in late January 2013 – Editor).

What are your plans for the future, now that Fall/Winter 12/13 is done?

Spring/Summer 2013 is the first big thing of course. Future… I am most definitely interested in the international market. The research part is almost over, and I am making plans. I am dreaming of going international with the collection for Spring/Summer 2014, but Autumn/Winter 2014/15 is more realistic.


Photos: Piret Ilves Fashion House.

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