February 22, 2007, Updated September 19, 2012

By the time Tatiana Pogrebnyak was 11 years old, she knew she liked to sew and put things together. By the age of 13, she was interested in “the outfit, the cloth, the colors, everything.” And by 15, she was studying design in high school and preparing for a career in fashion.

With such early drive, it seemed almost natural that last fall, at the age of 22, the aspiring young fashion designer became the first Israeli to win the Triumph International Fashion Award.

The annual award is sponsored by Triumph, an Austria-based lingerie company, and includes entrants from all over the world. Each year, designers are invited to create an outfit that showcases the company’s signature product using a particular theme. The theme for the latest competition was ‘Dress Up for Mozart – Rock Up Rococo!’ and entrants were asked to create clothing that the famous 18th century courtesan Madame Pompadour might wear if she were to go on a date with Mozart today.

Pogrebnyak’s inventive, ultra-feminine ensemble was chosen from more than 1,500 drawings to win the competition.

“It was actually a very tricky item, for Triumph [makes] underwear,” Pogrebnyak told ISRAEL21c. “And they didn’t want underwear, they wanted some outfit that shows underwear.”

She developed her designs through research into the period, using visual cues such as paintings and original clothing as well as cultural aspects of the Rococo world to get a sense of the lifestyle of the period.

“This gave me the visual inspiration for the drawings… and also a concept of the society. The society was very spoiled. It wasn’t life for something useful, it was a kind of life for amusement, for pleasure, for the fun. And the clothes are not really useful [either],” notes Pogrebnyak. Her winning designs combined the “flowerish’ atmosphere and pale colors of the period with the competition requirement to incorporate “lingerie as an integral part of clothes.”

Winning the Triumph Award was just the latest accomplishment for a young woman who has made a habit of overcoming challenges through hard work and creativity. Born in Ukraine in 1984, she moved with her parents to Israel at the sensitive age of 14. At first, her adjustment to life in the suburbs of Haifa was predictably rocky.

“I was a quiet person, I didn’t talk much,” explains the still soft-spoken Pogrebnyak. “I didn’t speak Hebrew and it was a new experience trying to understand people.”

Pogrebnyak soon enrolled at the WIZO High School of Arts in Haifa, and as she began to study fashion she began to integrate into Israeli life as well. “People were much more friendly and open,” she remembers. “I wanted myself to adapt and so I took all the regular classes. I didn’t want to be in an oleh (new immigrant) program. [That would have made] the studies easier, but I wanted to be in the real class, to understand it and it helped me much more.”

“The professional studies opened a whole new world for me,” Pogrebnyak said. “Sometimes you see something and you don’t know the background. When you study, for example, the structure of design, the history of fashion, the history of art, it opens for you a whole area, so you see different aspects. [It] helps you understand fashion and see it in a personal way.”

After graduating from high school, Pogrebnyak entered the army where she served for two years in the computer division in Haifa. Then, in 2004, Pogrebnyak began her college studies at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Israel’s top school for fashion design.

Shenkar was an obvious choice for the talented and ambitious Pogrebnyak, who travels two hours each way from her family’s home in Haifa to the school near Tel Aviv. Now in her third year at Shenkar, she is learning various design techniques while developing her personal style.

For her interview Pogrebnyak wore a coat of her own design, an update on the classic trenchcoat. In a beige-pink fabric, the sharp lines and metal hardware of the coat make it look like a cross between a jacket from the punk era of the 1980’s and the more elegant lines of the 1940s. The punk look is enhanced by a pair of pointed leather boots, and then softened by a more feminine knit dress (not of her design).

Pogrebnyak refuses to classify her design. “I don’t like talking about my own style,” she says. “I like people to give the judgment.”

“I love designing clothes that are more than streetwear,” explains Pogrebnyak. “I love designing couture, using techniques, working with your hands, working with embroidery, handiwork. The treatment is much more personal. I like combining, I like making – not a dress but making an outfit of different parts, maybe combining a jacket but not a standard jacket, maybe [something] asymmetric, maybe with embroidery.”

Her model for the Triumph Award combined these elements of an ensemble created with various fabrics and colors, enhanced by delicate handiwork.

With the outfit due in Vienna in September last year, Tatiana was sewing her intricate, 18th century-inspired design at home in Haifa, a city then involved in a very 21st century conflict, last summer’s war with Lebanon.

“It was a really hard time,” recalls Pogrebnyak. “Sometimes we heard [the sirens] seven times a day, and each time you had to run downstairs, because we had no bomb shelter in our flat, so we had to go to the bomb shelter that was situated in the bottom of [the building]. It’s about six floors down and then six floors up me, my parents, my dog, every time. And also there were bombs hitting the area and we felt everything trembling.”

“I had to buy materials for the project, and all the stores were closed except one, but this is the best one [for fabric]… so I was lucky,” explains the fair, delicately featured young woman.

Her elaborate design also required semi-precious stones, which came from another shop. This shop, outside Haifa, was in an open area with no bomb shelters, so she knew going there was dangerous. But Pogrebnyak was determined to buy what she needed to make her project all she’d envisioned. So she called every day until she finally found one day when the store was open.

“I went just one time, but there were four or five sirens [that day]. “We heard each siren, we heard the hit. Some were nearby.” Since there were no shelters, Pogrebnyak hid in the ladies room of the shop during the alerts.

“I believe when you’re going to risk something or work something out, you must make your best. If you believe you need this material, you should use it, and not use something that you don’t like. It’s what I’ve been taught and something that I feel.”

The Triumph judges obviously believed she succeeded, awarding her the 4,000 Euro prize at an awards ceremony in Vienna last November.

Looking to the future, Pogrebnyak isn’t sure what she’ll do after she graduates. Studying for an MA is one possibility, as is going to Europe or the US for further training at a foreign design house. One thing she knows, is that she always wants to be connected to Israel, and to the unique style that is Israeli design.

“Here we’re more open [than in Europe],” explains Pogrebnyak. “Many people are making crafts and are very creative. And the combination of different cultures – we’re all Israeli, but each one has got his own background, his own origin, and maybe his own craft technique.”

“I can’t say I love each and every piece, but you can say that it’s something new, and something that has a kind of energy, something that comes from inside… I think this is what makes our fashion special.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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