NEVEN: the student behind the sweatshirts

Nearing the end of St Andrews' fashion season, The Saint speaks with student designer and entrepreneur Luka Terihaj and introduces the man behind the clothing brand NEVEN.

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Catwalk 2017 was Luka Terihaj’s second time exhibiting his clothing at the show, and he remains St Andrews’ most prominent student designer. Mr Terihaj’s Season Two designs are crisp, vivid, and unique – and, after the show, they sold out. The Saint spoke to Mr Terihaj about his brand, his thoughts on clothing, and fashion culture.

Mr Terihaj’s interest in clothes is a long-standing one; all through childhood and adolescence he noticed clothes, reimagining and tweaking them in his head. His mother is interested in fashion and would discuss it with him, and her wardrobe is a treasure trove of vintage fashion.

Mr Terihaj’s mother is the inspiration behind his brand and its aesthetic: her name is Neven, the Croatian word for marigold flower. The rich red and ochre pallet of one of his designs in particular pays homage to her Yugoslavian identity.

“Quite a lot of my heritage is from former Yugoslavia, and my idea was to play on an eastern European vibe,” Mr Terihaj said. “I flipped ‘Neven’ so that it looks almost like it’s fake Cyrillic. I’m a super font nerd and a huge stripe fan, and with the red it all coordinated.”

Mr Terihaj also noted that eastern European design does not get much of a look-in when it comes to fashion; it is dwarfed by the fashion capitals of London, Milan, and Paris.

“Growing up, at least in England, eastern Europe didn’t strike anyone as cool,” he said. “But that’s my reference point, so I thought why don’t I tune it in and make eastern European design fashionable?”

Mr Terihaj enjoys subtle allusions to the Soviet era, so the nod to eastern European fashion that his garments give to his parents’ home country makes sense.

He explained, “There’s a certain visual attraction too; that’s why their propaganda was so successful.”

Mr Terihaj also remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that it can be amusing to see students from “The Land of the Free” sporting sweaters that hark back to, or at least stylistically allude to, Soviet propaganda: “it’s fantastic in a town of Americans that I can make a fake-Communist jumper and have people still marvel and say, ‘This is cool!’ and not know the reference points behind it.” There’s a secret dichotomy there that’s striking and funny to the designer.

So, when and how did Mr Terihaj’s journey in design begin?

It started around last Christmas. “In my room in halls, I had lots of drawings of sweaters pinned up — I’ve always loved drawing,” he said. “I’d draw a t-shirt, a sweater, and annotate it with the texture and the fabric — and my friend said I should get some of the designs made, and that was the trigger to see how and if I could do this.”

Luckily for Mr Terihaj, one of his friends from halls was on the Catwalk committee and told the president about his clothes.

“The beauty of the bubble,” Mr Terihaj added, “is that you will always have a mutual friend with someone.” St Andrews is a place ripe with opportunity if you are brave enough to go for it. Mr Terihaj did, and it is going very well. For him, it is all about the clothes and the creative vision: “that’s my canvas and that’s my painting, in a kind of really pretentious way.”

Nevertheless, Mr Terihaj has very much taken it all in stride. When asked if it is tricky to balance student life with designing, he said no, “it’s such an enjoyment for me it’s never a struggle. The only thing is that my best ideas come to me when I have something else I need to be doing, like an essay.”

Perhaps Mr Terihaj’s inspiration also stems from his study of English. Of the clothing brand Supreme, he said, “On one of their t-shirts they put a Philip Larkin quote. That was fantastic, being able to connect the two fields. That’s the great thing about art — everything can inspire you. I get inspired all the time.”

Mr Terihaj loves designing, and hearing about the process allows one to realise that designing an item of clothing that works aesthetically is not straightforward. It needs to work as a drawing, graphic, and real-life garment, and Mr Terihaj clearly has an eye for what works and the vision needed to see it through to fruition.

“Van-Gogh style, I cut off my ears and don’t listen,” he said. “I do sometimes get the impression that people try to hold you back with their comments or belittle your ideas or put you down, but when I start valuing their comments is when I start diluting my own vision. I trust my own opinion.”

This is not to say Mr Terihaj rejects criticism. He only hopes that people will respond to his work, positively or negatively, and feel something when they see it.

“As long as I can polarize things, I could spark someone to say, ‘He’s got it completely wrong, I’m going to go away and do something different,’ ’’ Mr Terihaj said.

In delving into the world of design, especially as a solo start-up designer, he has had to source his own fabric and find a manufacturer. Mr Terihaj’s journey to find both begins with a train ride to somewhere in the suburbs of Kent.

It continues with a baby greeting him at the door of a house and a bevy of sewing machines in a room made for a home-run manufacturing factory. This was a bizarre experience, but it was all part of Mr Terihaj’s journey.

Another essential element of Mr Terihaj’s designs is comfort. He explained, “I want my clothes to be cool and cosy, because when you’re wearing something you feel good in your confidence and energy can be through the roof: mentally it’s fantastic.”

Mr Terihaj also wants his brand to be accessible visually and financially. “I want it to be super different and new but not alienate people. And if people want it, I want everyone to be able to have it.”

With Catwalk 2017 over, Mr Terihaj has nothing but praise for the event. Its professionality, the real love for fashion that the committee have, and the fact that they all know him and his designs play into his appreciation for the event. He explains that Catwalk is a close-knit and communicative operation in which the creative vision is pure. “In the interactions I’ve had with Catwalk directors, you can tell very palpably that they love clothing and they love fashion,” Mr Terihaj said.

“Sometimes I wonder if the actual fashion of other fashion shows gets lost amidst the glamour, and you detract away from what you show on the catwalk, but Catwalk really cares about the clothes.”

Mr Terihaj has greatly enjoyed working with Catwalk 2017, but he is a man with a vision and dreams of establishing his own fashion show in St Andrews.

“I have the vision for an independent fashion show, on my terms,” he said. “I’d get rid of the goodie bag element of fashion shows at St Andrews. It wouldn’t be about the add-ons: you’d sit down and actually watch the clothing. There’d be a soundtrack curated for the clothing.

“I love having half a party and half being able to watch the show at Catwalk because they have these super-sick DJs, but at my show the focus would be how can I get everything to align to the clothing. Then I’d have a party afterwards.”

Mr Terihaj’s passion for clothes, design, the arts, and the connections between them shines brightly.

He is a man who loves his craft and hugely appreciates the work of others, too: a plethora of designers, artists, and writers receive his praise.

A NEVEN fashion show would undoubtedly be meticulously and eclectically curated, with all involved being cherished and creatively challenged.

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