WHO: By Far
FROM: Sofia, Bulgaria
Tapping the sartorial zeitgeist of an era past is difficult. It is a delicate limbo between cool rebirth and foolish send-up. One wrong move, one awry decision, and in a split second you’re on the ground face first in a pile of cliché. So how does one reference the joys of the past but make them truly modern? Just ask By Far, the cult neo-nostalgic shoe and bag brand that has filled the shoes – and draped the arms – of the fashion crowd for the past three years.
The label, founded in Bulgaria by twin sisters Valentina Bezuhanova and Sabina Gyosheva and their best friend Denitsa Bumbarova, first cut its cloth – or butter-soft leather – in footwear, presenting an impeccable range of premium shoes made for cool girls in its family-run factory near Sofia. Their debut collection couldn’t have been more prophetic: mules, lace-up boots and ladylike court shoes – well before they were venerated commercially. Then came the kitten heel. When the all-but-obsolete style staged its unexpected yet non-committal comeback some years back, little did we think our feet would still be purring today. By Far did, tapping the itsy-bitsy, backless kitten heel Manolo Blahnik made so famous in the ’90s – and later a wiry-haired, Cosmo-drinking columnist from Manhattan – to great success. “In our SS19 collection, we created kitten-heeled styles that instantly give you that ‘I couldn’t help but wonder…’ Sex And e City feeling,” the girls explain. It’s a feeling they’ve captured exceptionally well, further cementing the simple unassuming shoe from passé to fashionable with styles Virgo, Libra and alia leading the way. They were even doing square toes long before Daniel Lee was at Bottega Veneta, the squared-off silhouette part of the brand since its conception in 2016.
But sparkly mules, quirky booties and snazzy slingbacks were not enough. What followed was a collection of retro-inspired handbags, which, remarkably, usurped even the popularity of their shoes; their “Rachel” bag finding famous fans in the likes of Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Gigi and Bella Hadid. As if to anticipate the ’90s renaissance of now, By Far’s thirst for the decade had actually been a long time in the making. “Knowing our obsession for the ’90s and the early 2000s, we were absolutely inspired by the nostalgia of those decades,” the designers explain. “By Far was the first brand to reintroduce the baguette bags and it was received with phenomenal success, completely selling out within two weeks.” Reinventing Fendi’s iconic bread-y shaped bag of 1997, By Far’s contemporary take was in fact the result of a TV binge. “Rachel was born after a Friends binge-watching session, and embodies the comeback of the baguette bag, a style that was iconic in the nineties and all but lost in recent years,” they add. “Cute, easy to wear and small yet surprisingly spacious, it is among By Far’s bestselling pieces (and one that Bella and Kendall have been obsessively wearing since it first launched last winter).” They’re not wrong. Both the Jenner and Hadid sisters have been unable to part with Rachel; sandwiching her long, loaf-like shape everywhere from Mykonos to Manhattan.
For a brand that courts both old and new, in order to look forward, it needs to look back. So what did the ’90s look like growing up in Bulgaria? “Our generation was the odd one raised between the fall of the communism and the rise of the internet,” the designers recall. “After the fall of the communism in 1989, came the golden era of ’90s elegance where we first felt the freedom for more choice and expression of style. We were – and still are – driven by the power of nostalgia, our obsession with the ’90s and early 2000s inspiring us to create sleek, cool silhouettes that enhance the femininity without overpowering the woman.”
As a female-led business, femininity plays a vital role in the brand, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. “We’re three young female entrepreneurs with very feminine business. So many have questioned our success – especially men,” they lament. “We’ve heard remarks such as ‘it’s just luck’ or ‘is your father behind your success?’. When we answer, ‘No, it’s purely us,’ then they ask, ‘OK, then are your husbands behind it?’ But no one has ever asked, ‘Is your mother behind your success?’ But, to be honest, we find the challenge very satisfying; we want to prove them wrong.” And continue to prove them wrong they do. The kind of bags and shoes that feel instantly fabulous, crusty and cute, if Carrie Bradshaw were still on our screens today, we think she’d be flitting around the Upper East Side in the Libra Blue Patent Heel. Or the Carrie Slingback, of course.