Is it such an inconceivable idea that in the modern fashion industry, driven by an insatiable appetite for the next big thing, a brand could be operating solely on… following traditions? I’m almost one hundred percent sure that my story heroes, founders of the brand “House of Faige” Skaiste and Dominykas Karpovic, would give me a reassuring nod. This courageous power couple has a huge imperative, which is reorient the fashion customer’s look from the current chaos of trends to something much more stable and special – their own inner world. During our conversation, they emphasize their wish to encourage the growth, or rather creation, of fashion traditions in Lithuania. However, what strikes me the most is their determination to contribute to the overall cultural climate of the country, one impeccable piece of cloth at a time. Style IS a huge part of culture, after all.
I’ve seen Skaiste numerous times before this conversation. The entrance to the “House of Faige” temple of elegance in a cozy Saint Steponas street is like an exotic detail, easily distinguishable in the colorful mosaics of the old town. As soon as you enter, you find her – an elegant, always impeccably looking, determined and unflappably calm woman, radiating positivity. She’s a perfect example of somebody capable of managing the fashion brand. Let’s admit that it sounds so romantic – having a fashion house, communicating with clients, traveling and searching for the most luxurious fabrics in Paris… However, Skaiste and Dominykas, who founded the brand three years ago, let me understand very quickly that all of these images are nothing but a sweet illusion, a very difficult and demanding job in disguise. “It’s not a playground”, Skaiste smiles wisely.
This interview is the very first one the couple agrees to give together. When the day arrives, I’m waiting for them in a decided location with eagerness and excitement. They arrive just on the time, not even a minute late, each take a cup of coffee and a croissant. Dominykas starts the conversation with a joke that he promised he would give his first interview to Monika – not for me, but for his friend. Given the circumstances, I’m the one to be sitting in front of him, “but, theoretically speaking, I haven’t broken my promise”, he laughs. Even before we start the official part of the conversation, we find ourselves in a whirlwind of a passionate discussion. As I’m listening, I find myself surprised at how their life is marked by a succession of events leading from one to each other with a special meaning, presaging that something really special is bound to happen.
Strangely, Skaiste was never fascinated by fashion industry or working in it. “Maybe the surrounding examples weren’t inspiring”, she muses. From her teenage years, she always knew she would choose law. This was the path she took with a huge determination, without ever looking back. She finished her studies with the highest grades, took up higher and higher positions… Dominykas’ vision was a little bit different: “When I finished my master’s degree, I started developing my parents’ business and worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Lithuania. I was linking my future with diplomacy and ambassador’s work. However, it took me some time to understand that I can achieve my goals working in a private sector, not necessarily in politics”, he tells me. As an eight grader, Dominykas had already made a list of his possible future careers, and… having a fashion house was one of them.
How come that today “House of Faige” is a project of two people? Meeting Skaiste must have played an important role in this. “We met each other because of a mutual friend. At that time I was moving out from Uzupis (a neighborhood in Vilnius), and Skaiste was moving in”, Dominykas starts telling their story. Skaiste adds that everything happened very unexpectedly – without saying a word to Skaiste, her friend arranged that Dominykas would just sit at their table. There were no initial sparks: “Our first encounter wasn’t the romantic kind of type, when one evening we meet each other and the next one we’re already having dinner”, Dominykas smiles hesitantly. “Yes! You wrote and you wrote and didn’t get a response”, Skaiste laughs. After some time of getting to know each other better, they understood that they shared the same set of values, but what differentiated them were their characters. “I was very impressed by the fact that Dominykas was completely different than people from my law surroundings. Meeting him and talking about such topics that were impossible to discuss with others was like a fresh breeze in my life. At that time, I was sometimes even amused by him, thinking that ‘here I am spending my time with a guy who carries a poem book in his backpack’, but as I spent more and more time with him, I understood what a harmonious person he is. I fell for his genuine intelligence”, Skaiste isn’t short of beautiful words for him.
As you can guess, Skaiste was more than skeptical when Dominykas suggested founding a fashion house together. “Dominykas persuaded me to venture into the fashion world just because we were looking at this project as a cultural one, not as a product business. We wanted to create something with a strong additional value, to hire real craftsmen, choose only the best fabrics, work with a professional designer. I agreed to grow this kind of business only under the agreement that we do everything by the rules and in the best possible way that we can. Otherwise, it’s not worth it – there’s such an abundance of products in the market, they replace each other every single day, and if they’re not only one day wonders, they last for some months at their best. We didn’t want to head this direction. Our approach is very responsible,” she tells me passionately. The duo of a theoretical dreamer and a practical lawyer (as they evoke for a couple of times), agreed on one thing: The process of developing “House of Faige” would be ardent, demanding, without any self-pity. Their main focus is to create a brand that could be passed down to future generations.
During our conversation, Skaiste emphasizes the importance of being oneself. This element is essential to the whole philosophical ground on which “House of Faige” is based. The couple was strongly influenced by Vienna. “We’re joking that we must have lived there in our previous life”, Skaiste reveals. Why Vienna, and not Paris, I wonder? In the fashion discourse, Vienna is a city rarely evoked… “Our fashion house represents classics. Of course, it’s changing, there always are some subtle nuances to the ways it evolves, but, speaking overall, its timelessness is its greatest quality. Wherever you see it in the world, you’re going to respect it. You can dislike classic shapes, shy away from classic styles, but you can’t not respect it. That’s precisely what we found in Vienna. Life there is so harmonious”, Skaiste tells. “It’s particularly evident in the way the older generation dresses, because the youth is pretty much similar everywhere. There’s no incongruity between what one is wearing and who one is. Here, for example, we still think that putting on a suit equals being overdressed. In Vienna, we saw men walking their dogs in suits and going to work later. Obviously, these things don’t appear out of nowhere, this is a cultural thing. You have to bring your child together with you to buy jewelry for mom, for example – it doesn’t have to be expensive, let it be something very simple – but the child sees that there is some kind of special occasion and that’s why you buy mom a gift. This is how traditions are born. We saw how a grandfather took his grandson to buy a little gift for the grandmother and later they gave that to her in the street. In our opinion, these are the moments a happy life is composed of,” Dominykas smiles. “Nothing there is staged. People live like this”, Skaiste adds with hints of fascination in her voice.
I cannot shake off the thought that Dominykas must have been brought up slightly differently, in a “Viennese” way, if no, where does this strong determination to cultivate traditions come from? Who instilled these virtues for him? In Skaiste’s opinion, his great-grandfather played a very important role. He was a very sophisticated man who owned a German fancy goods store. Having endured such tough situations as war and escaping his own death sentence, he left two chests, full of diaries, which remain today as a testament of his incredibly strong and resilient character. “In some way, you’re perpetuating his work”, Skaiste smiles to his husband.
It doesn’t take me long to understand what Skaiste meant by saying that Dominykas is a man of ideas. The curious owner of a philosophy diploma constantly shares his thoughts about fashion, but touches a lot of other areas as well. In his opinion, one of the greatest problems of nowadays’ businesses is the marginalization of students of the humanities, who are treated as “dreamers”; as a consequence, they’re completely overlooked in the market. The couple also evokes the ignorance of emotional aspects. In their opinion, taking these aspects in account is fundamental to understanding why certain people wear watches or not, choose tea over coffee, why one woman can change her jewelry every day, while the other one can wear the same accessory for ten years and be happy about it… They are intrigued to understand things that one cannot simply solve by creating an algorithm. If businesses were more attentive to such things, there wouldn’t be so many budding companies already in crisis, such excess of similar products, and ultimately, the customer, aware of his needs and his shopping habits, would be more resistant to the consumerism.
The first years of the “House of Faige” – what were they like? Who’s in their team? There are sewers, photographers, models, the brand is also collaborating with a Lithuanian designer Milda Cergelyte. “I think that the designer’s path is very difficult and it must be respected. Milda is in our team because she has endured an incredible charge of work, has had internships in Paris, worked with luxury brands and she’s a real professional,” Skaiste arguments. In her opinion, it’s a challenge to buy a high-quality product via Internet, that’s why the brand doesn’t operate as a shop, but offers bespoke services. “I think it’s safe to say that we help people to choose what suits them (and what they like) the most – we talk about them, their preferences, the way they live, then everything is so much simpler. The costumers dictate their qualities that they would like to show visually”, Dominykas muses. One of their goals is to create a very close relation with the client, that’s why sometimes they spend hours and hours only talking. This aspect proves to be very rewarding. “I never really thought about this before working in fashion. We often receive messages with photos, where people are dressed in our clothes. We’re so happy they find time to send a thank you note. There’s nothing more meaningful when the clothing has an emotional value. We’re hoping that this will determine our future”, Skaiste says.
I ask a question that every working romantic tandem receives: Is it an advantage or more of a challenge to work together? ,,I’ve always been against the idea of a family business. I’m more of a career type of person, not business, but should I say that destiny got in our way? (laughs). We agreed that we would separate certain things so that we wouldn’t lose our personalities. We strictly operate in our area of expertise,” Skaiste explains.
As our conversation approaches the end, I learn some other interesting details. Their future plans? Collaborate with other talented Lithuanian creators. What was the first thing they sold? Men’s shirts (even though Dominykas guessed it would be a scarf and Skaiste thought it would be a dress). What are the most important rules in the fashion business? Strong idea and discipline. Skaiste insists that experience in law helps her appreciate the creative freedom in fashion and encourages her to make the most out of it. Maybe they have some plans to expand to other countries? “House of Faige” has already received such kind of offers, but the duo prefers to leave it to the future. What’s the essence of fashion and style? “Discover and get to know oneself. When you feel good in your own skin, you do not care what others wear”, Skaiste answers and Dominykas finishes her thought: “Everyone’s charisma is made of individual, distinctive choices”.
All photos by Guoda Ju
Lithuanian interview was published in Lamu Slenis magazine