Arif Aziz – currently in his 75th year – ranks amongst the most internationally respected contemporary Azerbaijani artists. Renowned for his “uninhibited self-expression,” homage to his extraordinary and unique vision was paid by the young German fashion designer Leonie Mergen in her new long-awaited collection, unveiled at the 2018 London Fashion Week, which took place from 16–20 February.

This came soon after her critically acclaimed Karabakh-Collection, which is inspired by the traditional clothing of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and launched in 2017 during the Berlin and London Fashion Weeks. That collection received praise from critics around the world and was featured in the British edition of Vogue.

Arif Aziz and his family eagerly await the runway launch of the Arif Aziz Edition by Leonie Mergen. Photo: OnAnton Productions

Following the runway launch in Devonshire Square, the work of Arif Aziz and Leonie Mergen was celebrated by more than 300 fashion critics, bloggers and top-flight artists amidst the art deco splendour of Shepherd’s of Westminster, a timeless restaurant opened in the shadow of Big Ben in 1936.

Known as the Arif Aziz Edition, Leonie Mergen’s new collection takes its point of departure from the great artist’s White Period. This began during the nascent period of Azerbaijani independence in the early 1990s, and saw him increasingly move from a depiction of objective reality, emanating from realism, to the converse – a mystical and subjective reality, creating beauty through his rhythms and colours.

Leonie Mergen’s Arif Aziz Edition collection catalogue

Reflecting on his White Period, Arif Aziz, who is also Dean of the Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, amongst other positions, commented:

White, when perceived psychologically, is the irrefutable basis for the expressive energy of lines and contours, outlines and volumes.

Two forces of creative energy – Arif Aziz and Leonie Mergen – congraulate each other following the successful runway. Photo: Jonathan Milton

For the artist, white – a synthesis of all colours – has various degrees of significance, being a symbol of purity, the involuntary light of the joy of existence and the unity of nature and man. It also alludes to “cleansing” or “bleaching,” following the regaining of Azerbaijani independence, expressed in a subtly lyrical form. Explaining what drew her to the artist, Leonie Mergen told Noctis Magazine during Fashion Week:

During the research for my last collection, I came across some of Aziz’s paintings which I found absolutely fascinating and I wanted to know more about him and his concepts. He has recently been celebrated as ‘Artist of the World’ and what I find great about his work is that he reflects social issues, realism and his communist values during that time.

Arif Aziz proudly stands between one of the looks and his painting that inspired it. Photo: Jonathan Milton

Born in the village of Shuvelan on the Absheron peninsula near Baku in 1943, Arif Aziz went on to study at the Sergey Stroganov State Academy of Arts and Industry in Moscow, becoming the first Azerbaijani to receive a professional education in applied graphics and design. Since then his wide-ranging artistic endeavours have included graphics, poster and theatre art, book illustrations and painting. He has also taught at the Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Arts for over 40 years.

Above all, Arif Aziz is celebrated as a master of abstraction, his works often reflecting the tones and themes of his native Absheron. He is also noted for his innovative fusing of tradition and modernity, combined with his experimental use of colour. Earlier this year he was awarded the prestigious Order of Glory by President Ilham Aliyev for his contribution to cultural development.

Leonie Mergen is an exciting emerging talent on the Berlin fashion scene, having graduated from the Berlin International University of Art for Fashion (ESMOD) and undertaken internships at some of the leading Berlin fashion houses. The Arif Aziz Edition is her third collection and the second to take inspiration from Azerbaijan. Her first collection, Public Boudoir, focused on women’s fashions from the 18th century up until today. To find out more about her, see Karabakh Hits the Catwalk in the Spring 2017 issue of Visions.