Petar Petrov is not one to court attention. The Vienna-based designer is a reticent publicist, relying on the strength of his creations and on word of mouth, rather than on newspaper column inches or celebrity endorsements. While he has not yet established the global reach of one of Austria’s most famous fashion names, Helmut Lang, he is fast evolving from an insider secret, loved by fashion editors and models, into the man most likely to share Lang’s fashion crown.
The Ukraine-born designer grew up in Bulgaria and moved to Vienna at the end of the 1990s to study economics – a somewhat surprising choice. ‘Then I heard that you could study fashion too at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. That was a really new idea to me, so I prepared a portfolio in a few weeks. I was accepted on the course and here I am!’ he laughs. Petrov, who has a delicate physique reminiscent of a young, albeit slightly edgier, Yves Saint Laurent, credits his teachers with influencing his design aesthetic. ‘I was lucky to have teachers such as Viktor & Rolf and Raf Simons. Their strong vision of fashion influenced me a great deal.’
The result has been described as ‘effortless luxury’, crafted from cashmere, merino wool, silk and calfskin, as well as immaculately tailored pieces that ‘feel like menswear for the modern woman.’ Petrov says his love of tailoring was steered by his mother and his childhood in Sofia. ‘To be honest, I never dreamt I’d become a fashion designer,’ he says. ‘But my mother is a tailor and so I grew up with fashion and clothes all around me. I was lucky enough to have clothes made for me by my mother.’
Having your own personal tailor in your home is perhaps the ultimate luxury, but Petrov says the lack of choice in the shops at the time also had an impact on how he evolved as a designer. ‘In the Sofia of the 1980s and 90s there wasn’t really much clothing choice and it was almost impossible to buy western clothes. Our only access to fashion was through MTV or old issues of fashion magazines. But this made fashion even more exiting and pushed me to be more creative, to become more individual.’
That individuality is part of the DNA of Petrov’s designs. ‘Every piece of clothing from Petar Petrov is woven with attitude and individuality. My clothes are not designed for the kind of woman who doesn’t want to be seen in a crowd,’ explains Petrov. Indeed, his full-length leopard-print shearling coat, silver metallic trousers and gold over-the-knee boots have a glam-rock drama that only the self-possessed could pull off. His bestselling pieces include striking shearling coats and jackets in rich jewel colours as well as his androgynous tailoring.
Petrov started off designing menswear and produced his first collection in 2002 before launching his womenswear collection in 2009. ‘Suiting will always be a part of my collections,’ he explains. ‘We build the collection on its bones and many of my designs are inspired by the male wardrobe. I love the preciseness of men’s tailoring. The woman who buys my pieces is independent and individual, but she also likes the element of surprise.’ The surprise in his autumn/winter 2016/17 collection comes in the form of a classic double-breasted suit made from baby-pink gaberdine and finished with playfully oversized black buttons.
Luxury and craftsmanship are also at the heart of the brand. ‘Our collections are made in the best factories in Europe and Sofia, and my mother still produces some of the most complicated pieces in her workshop. We never compromise on quality. A collection starts with us looking at a lot of colours and materials, seeing how the colour works with the fabric. This gives me the inspiration to make something special or surprising,’ explains the designer. ‘For autumn/winter 2016/17 we incorporated a lot of texture, such as shearling, suede, silks and gaberdine, and mixed and layered materials. The heaviness of a fabric is something that I particularly like.’
Petar Petrov’s reputation in Vienna is already firmly established and, with the launch of his debut bag collection this September in premium London department store Selfridges, he is set to step on to a global platform. The collection features a brass hand motif, created in collaboration with the workshop of renowned Austrian modernist Carl Auböck. The surreal motif, which features as a clasp on the bags, was first created in the 1950s. It evokes Petrov’s signature artful, feminine elegance. ‘The beauty of the outstretched hand represents the meeting of kindred spirits,’ he explains.
Although he now has a team to call on, Petrov remains very much hands-on when a collection is being made. ‘I have a great team but I do as much as I can on my own,’ he says. ‘I'm a control freak and I’m passionate about not compromising on quality, design and materials.’ Such genuine enthusiasm for artistry suggests economics would have been an awkward career choice for the young Petrov, and the designer agrees: ‘I need the creative process and I can’t imagine not working in a creative field.’