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From Aleppo to Yerevan: Designer Hagop Shahinian on Creating Through Adversity

“Since everything tied to Syria in the media is about war, I really wanted to change that image and show that Syrians are still creating and have the passion to live and create.”

The 28-year-old, Yerevan-based, fashion designer, Hagop Shahinian was born in Aleppo Syria with a perpetual desire to explore different creative outlets. This exploration led him to establish his two fashion brands HGP and Hagop Shahinian.   

“I love to tell a story, that’s the most important part.” This common thread of storytelling is sewn through each of Hagop’s designs as he pulls from his hometown, Aleppo and his Armenian heritage.“I have a background in architecture,” Hagop explains, “plus I studied fine arts and I use a lot of elements of Armenian architecture for my prints and cuts.”

While studying interior architecture in Syria, Hagop’s peer who was the creative director of a fashion company called XO asked Hagop to join the creative team. Soon after, Hagop became the creative director of XO and his journey in fashion began. 

Crafting the Life You’ve Always Envisioned

As the over-a-decade-long civil war in Syria continued Hagop permanently moved to Yerevan in 2016 to reunite with his displaced family. “Many of my friends back home became refugees over the years, which was hard for me to accept. That wasn’t a process I wanted to be a part of.” 

Following a year of living in Yerevan, Hagop returned to Syria for a two-month period. The time he spent back in his hometown became a period of reflection in which Hagop gained a fresh perspective of the underlying purpose of his creative strides. This introspection pushed him to create the first release of clothing for Hagop Shahinian.

Hagop’s goal was to present a contrasting representation and idea of Syria and Syrian people.“Since everything tied to Syria in the media is about war, I really wanted to change that image and show that Syrians are still creating and have the passion to live and create. It felt right to go back home to make the collection and bring it back with me here.” 

Do you remember the first thing you made? 

“The first thing that I made was a hoodie. It made me so proud to see my sketches come to life. That’s how it all started.”

A Rip In the Fabric

Moving to Yerevan came with a new set of challenges. 

“Here in Armenia, the situation keeps changing, especially economically. We have to keep changing our vision and direction, we have so many before and afters. Before and after the revolution, before and after COVID, before and after the first war and the second war. It’s a lot to process every time something happens.” He further explains, “we have to stop what we’re doing for about a month until things pick up again every time. It’s not okay, but we keep trying.”

Hagop’s determination and consistency have paid off with upwards of 17K followers throughout his social media pages, his brand continues to grow. 

Hagop Shahinian Fashion Designer Yerevan Armenia
Armenian fashion designer Hagop Shahinian in his namesake brand HGP.

Sketching Yourself Apart

I actually have one of your shirts. Your attention to detail is amazing and the quality is great too! How do you stay consistent with this, do you get any help?

“I don’t have any creative team working with me, I do all the designs, but I do have seamstresses that I work with. It’s very important as a small brand to have something very unique for people to notice, especially because the market is so small, you have to be very noticeable.”

In comparison, Armenia is about twice the size of Los Angeles County, however, its population is shy of about a million people. With such a condensed population and different standards of living, brands such as Hagop’s struggle to grow at the rate they hope to. 

With this challenge, small business owners such as him look to create a formula in which their immediate audience, the people of Armenia, have the desire to buy their clothes more so than their international clientele.

“Visually Armenia is very different right now. A lot of Armenians from other places started moving here, and the younger generation of people started traveling more, also with all the Russians that have moved here it has really influenced the style. It’s very colorful; because Russians like bold colors. But of course, Armenians have a big influence because we are an Armenian-based brand. We had to find a fine line between what we want to put out and what the people want to wear.”

When did you come up with HGP?

“As someone who worked three jobs before Covid, I’d have to be in comfortable clothes all day. I’d mainly wear jeans and a hoodie,” Hagop explained, “I realized I don’t have clothes that are cool that I could wear both to work and also to look nice going out. I kept thinking about what the menswear brand should be about or how it should look during Covid times”. 

What brands/designers inspire you to make clothes?

“A lot of artists and architects. Dali, Zaha Hadid. I love Alexander McQueen, Donatella Versace, Mugler, and John Paul Gaultier. There are a lot of people that inspire me.”

So what are some men's fashions “do's and don't's”?

Skinny jeans are out, I hate skinny jeans. Switch for some loose-fitted jeans and t-shirts. Also color, big vibrant colors are very in at the moment!”

Hagop Shahinian HGP Clothing Sergey Akopyan
Hagop Shahinian, shot by Sergey Akopyan.

We are a culture of strong creatives. As the world throws its scissors at us we grab our sewing kits and put ourselves back together. The story of Hagop Shahinian and his brand is a representation of our strong will to keep moving forward, no matter the rips and tears. 

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