From a starting point in microbiology and finance, NIKI CHARALAMBOUS speaks to a Nicosia-based man helping integrate the island’s traditions into design
Although Cyprus has more than its fair share of fashion designers, the field was far from the mind of Ukrainian-born Vitali Tabakov when he arrived on the island on a two-year working visa to join the banking and financial industry.
More than a decade later, Tabakov’s interests have shifted from banking to fashion. “Cyprus has a fascinating and diverse history. I fell in love with its beautiful waters, historic villages, fresh mountain air, people and thoroughly enjoyable lifestyle.”
Tabakov’s foray into fashion, as well as his exceptional craftsmanship and ingenuity, were internationally recognised earlier this year when American actress Sabrina Culver donned one of his pieces at the Cannes Film Festival, achieving a lifelong ambition. “I had always imagined the day when a celebrity would wear one of my designs, and it was then that I realised I was living out my life’s purpose – creating fairytale dreams,” he said.
Tabakov, who was born in Verkhivtseve in 1985, was inspired by his grandmother’s skills in knitting and sewing. “I was very creative and loved fashion from a young age, and I had the good fortune to inherit her skills and would often sew glamorous ballgowns for my sister and cousin’s dolls,” he added.
Despite his interest in studying fashion, and even attending knitting and sewing courses during his school years, his mother encouraged him to pursue microbiology instead, while also studying finance part-time, resulting in two separate degrees.
In 2012, he applied for a position with a Ukrainian bank based in Nicosia and moved to Cyprus for an initial two-year term, which he opted to extend indefinitely.
While working in finance, Tabakov decided to explore his passion for fashion, realising it would provide him with joy and mental stimulation while allowing him to live in a place he loves. In 2017, he bought a sewing machine and enrolled in a patternmaking and sewing course at an atelier in Limassol.
“I realised after a year of studying that this was not enough for me,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “I wanted to create evening gowns and wedding dresses, so for the next three years I studied wedding dress design and patternmaking, including corset making in Italy, Ukraine and Russia.”
Tabakov began experimenting with forms, lines and textiles while admiring femininity’s romanticism and delicate quality of elegance. Nonetheless, his style is bold and sexy, frequently revealing his emotions at the time of creation.
“I often draw inspiration from fashion collections overseas such as Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Elie Saab and other couture masterpieces that are internationally renowned for their unique craftsmanship and style.”
Tabakov’s creative approach is extremely practical, centred on the many textiles that inspire his designs. “When it comes to putting a collection together, I start by spending countless hours in fabric stores, feeling the various textiles, laces, embroideries, which allow me to visualise the finished product,” he explained.
He then translates the visual image to paper as he sketches out the design, which includes fabric selection, colours, and patterns, frequently making a mock-up of the concept so that he may have a glimpse of the finished garment before embarking on the production process. “This process allows me to review the garment and make any changes or abandon the project in its entirety,” he said.
His meticulous thought process and attention to detail captured the attention of the local community in 2021, when Tabakov unveiled his bridal line at a spectacular event that included other emerging designers, ultimately establishing his place as a local fashion force.
Tabakov’s recent fashion show showcased his genius and outstanding reputation as a local fashion designer. His femininely trendy, stylish and exquisite designs, which can be worn to work and events, took centre stage during the show for their simplicity, chic and wearable style.
According to Tabakov, Cyprus has many talented designers, “but it is important to remember the local traditions, such as lacemaking from Lefkara.
“It is also important to encourage the younger generation to learn this craftsmanship, and integrate these beautiful handmade laces into modern clothing,” he added.
This is precisely what he aims to achieve. Aside from opening his own showroom and workspace in Nicosia soon, Tabakov is also planning to learn lacemaking from Lefkara and would like to create a summer dress collection, integrating this artisanal craft in his designs.
Vitali Tabakov has come a long way since his days in microbiology and finance. His creative ideas along with his original personal style are helping to reinvigorate Cyprus’ fashion sector, fusing his past and present while looking at Cyprus’ rich cultural heritage.