Abzal Issa Bekov Interview

Abzal Issa Bekov Central Saint Martins collection
Abzal Issa Bekov Central Saint Martins collection

Abzal Issa Bekov graduated from Central Saint Martins MA Fashion in 2016 specialising in menswear. His much lauded Central Saint Martins collection proved to be one of the favourites of the season. Something About caught up with the young designer, as he was about to leave London for Paris and a new job at Celine.

Abzal Issa Bekov: All you need to know about the Central Saint Martins graduate – and his new job with Celine in Paris.

“I educated myself with the internet. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to follow this path. Thank you World Wide Web!” Abzal Issa Bekov is explaining how he first fell in love with fashion while studying for a finance and marketing degree in his native Kazakhstan. Bekov’s trajectory from Pavlodar where he was born to London’s Central Saint Martins MA Fashion course is a captivating tale of sheer determination which required serious backbone and a lot of raw talent.

Abzal Issa Bekov’s mother was a seamstress and taught him to sew as a child. Times were tough and his mum tasked him with making toys for his little brother. But in the 1990s crafts were not encouraged in the former Soviet country. The Kazak educational system favoured studies that promoted a new capitalist ideology to the detriment of the applied arts – hence Bekov’s business degree.

Abzal Issa Bekov’s soon realised that fashion was his calling when he moved to the sprawling city of Almaty, “I saw people dressing up. A more interesting crowd.” He completed his degree but shifted his attention to graphic design and fashion. ‘I started applying to all fashion colleges; Central Saint Martins and Bunka in Japan. I was prepared to learn Japanese!”Parsons in New York accepted Bekov through its CIS (Commonwealth Independent States) scholarship programme. A fairytale start to his fashion education since there was just one place available for his entire geographical region.

 “I decided to focus on menswear,” he explains. “I am not very good at draping but thanks to my mathematical training, I knew that I was a flat pattern maker. I am a measurements person. Also it helped that I could fit everything on myself.”His first internship was at Antonio Azzuolo (“He really made me love menswear”), followed by Lucio Castro and Helmut Lang. Bekov was also working in the art department at New York’s famous Strand bookstore, which proved to be an education in itself. There, he would pore over books and learn about Central Saint Martins’ MA course director, the late great Louise Wilson OBE. She was the reason he applied for a place at the famous London school in March 2014. “I applied but nothing happened. Then in May I received a letter telling me that Louise wanted to interview me on Skype. I still treasure that interview in my heart. It was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. Three days later, she sadly passed away.”

 The designer was taught by Fabio Piras whom he describes as “inspirational” but brutal (he tells me that Piras once calmly told him to throw his work away and start from scratch). Luckily, you get the feeling that very little fazes Bekov, who enjoyed every moment of the 18-month program. “You had to put in 200% when he asked for a hundred.”Piras encouraged Bekov to translate his love of techno music into his designs. The young designer also drew inspiration from the gay club scene of 1970s Paris and contemporary Berlin. “Designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were so dandyish, but then at night they would frequent these crazy fetish bars. This is the same for Berlin’s techno scene. People wear sharp suits during the day and dress up in rubber at night. When you work with rubber it is like working on a tailored suit. You make it a tiny bit too small and it won’t work; too big it’s not going to sit right. You really have to understand that it stretches in every direction.”

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 For the collection, he married rubber with refined tailoring, adding his own little nod to couture. “The looks run from black to white, so I had a groom and a bride!” Bekov’s love of detail and intricate measurements extends to the interior of the garments with traditional inside pockets for a watch, coins and cards. Every trouser has a built-in jock strap. He’s methodical in every way.This autumn, Bekov starts work as an assistant designer at Celine. When I ask him about his future plans he replies with point-blank conviction. “I want that Christian Dior path. I need to experience everything, to be a studio designer and work up and up.”


Abzal Issa Bekov Central Saint Martins collection
Abzal Issa Bekov Central Saint Martins collection



Something About Temperament

Abzal Issa Bekov: ‘If I had to cite a character trait that I deplore in other people it would be hypocrisy. I despise the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.’

 Something About Diligence

Abzal Issa Bekov:  One of my proudest moments was making a pair of gloves, all lined and ready to sell within 2 hours. It may not sound that fast but [the time] includes cutting and sewing. Designers will understand that gloves are very intricate to make! I really felt very proud.’

 Something About Dolce & Gabbana

 Abzal Issa Bekov: We had Dolce Gabbana come for a tutorial [at Central Saint Martins]. When you meet them in person they are so different. So much less theatrical. I was with Domenico and he started checking the jacket I was making and helped me correct the shoulder. I still have a really cute photo with them.


Abzal issa Bekov in Something About AW16 Print Issue

Story by: Alexandra Zagalsky

Photographer: Dham Srifuengfung

Fashion by: Michael Darlington