Ayanat Ksenbai’s life is full, and getting fuller.
Yelena Deyneko: You have a beautiful name! What’s your cultural background?
Ayanat Ksenbai: Thank you! I come from Kazakhstan, the land of the nomads.
YD: Eight years ago you visited New York with several feature movies under your belt; why did you stay?
AK: I came to NYC in 2007 to improve my acting skills and then go back home to continue my acting career, but shortly after my arrival my life went through a complete transformation: I met my husband, and now we have a three-year-old boy, Sandro and the rest is history.
YD: Was it an easy transition?
AK: No, not really; here, in New York I had to start pretty much everything from the scratch because I left everything I had back in my country: my family, friends, a successful acting career, etc, but New York was love at first sight for me, so I decided to stay till I found myself here… I’m a bull by sign. Once I make a decision I stick with it. And now, almost 9 years later I can’t imagine living anywhere else but New York City.
YD: Why did you change careers?
AK: Well, I guess I needed a break from making movies because as much as I love acting it could be quite demanding, emotionally. Every one of my characters was on an emotional roller coaster, starting from Leyla’s Prayer, where I played a young woman affected by nuclear-weapon testing from the Soviet era, to my latest film Ulzhan, where my character helps a deeply saddened man find peace in the mountains in Kazakhstan after losing his family.
YD: What does great acting mean to you?
AK: For me great acting is this immense talent to switch characters and personalities from one film to another while maintaining your signature identity the viewers always expect to see. It’s hard to act without showing that you’re acting, in my opinion only a handful of actors have been able to achieve such level of performance.
YD: Do you miss acting?
AK: Sure I do, but I never really left acting. I’ve been keeping myself engaged with developing several film projects with an outstanding writing and production team here in NYC. It’s exciting to work on the characters and stories I’ve always been so passionate about like; adventure, mystery, real-life tales packed with failures and achievements, losses and gains. At the end, our life is all about ups and downs, highs and lows; nothing is permanent although sometimes it sure seems like it is.
YD: How did fashion and textile design enter your life?
AK: My great-grandmother is an outstanding designer of exotic Eastern rugs and textiles. Her story has been the driving force behind my dream to utilize elements of Kazakh culture and its rich, vibrant colors of nature.
YD: How did fashion and textile design enter your life?
AK: My first experience came on the set of Nomad The Warrior where I was privileged to be working with Hollywood’s top costume designers Marit Allen and Michael O’Connor; they spent several years on the set with me recreating 18th-century ethnic Kazakh costumes for my lead character in the movie Gaukhar.
One day it hit me: What if I try combining my watercolor prints with garment designs? I fell in love with the idea and never looked back.
YD: How did you start your company?
AK: Actually it all happened quite spontaneously. I didn’t have this ambitious plan to create a star fashion house and take over the industry. About three years ago I saw one of my paintings next to my fashion sketch and it hit me: What if I try combining watercolor prints with garment designs? I knew that the idea was as mad as my watercolor prints, but I instantly fell in love with it and never looked back. Soon my prints ended up in the hands of an Italian fabric got to my tailor’s atelier, knew I had something special and that’s when Ayanat & Co was born.
YD: What are exciting and challenging aspects for you?
AK: I love challenges, so this whole journey I’m on is exciting to me. Of course every phase has its own unique challenges; I create both the textile and the styles, which is purely creative work so I love it. Then I work with my pattern maker to bring my sketches into original garments, which is a clearly complicated process. I call it a fashion engineering. Once we have the patterns, it’s all about timelines and deadlines from production to marketing and sales.
YD: What’s the order of the creative process?
AK: My main collection is driven by watercolor prints, so the textile colors definitely dominate the styles. While my couture collection is a combination of neutral, solid colors with more complicated patterns along with more creative design and styles.
YD: Your designs are colorful, bright and bold – is that how you see the world?
AK: I see the world in many different colors. Honestly the nature is one of my limitless resources. Of course, my inspirations also come from my personal emotions, feelings, memories, and visions of the future for my child and for all of us. By the way the streets of New York are unmatched source for my inspiration.
YD: Who is your perfect client/consumer?
AK: Any women who wants to look and feel special; I want my garments to let women of all ages or demographics experience freedom, power, elegance and the logical madness of rich colors. I promise you, that the dresses we make will look slick, sharp, elegant and fun anywhere you wear them from the streets of New York to the beaches of the Hamptons, resorts, or all years around destination towns like Miami, LA. I’m a huge fan of summer, palm trees and an ocean view!
YD: What have you learned from doing the collection?
AK: Never limit yourself. Go for it all, go with your vision, your instincts in the development stage of the collection and you can always pull back just before you are ready to showcase it to the world. Get serious only after you are done with the creative process; and then listen, listen to the ones you trust on taste and business strategy.
YD: How do you balance the roles of daughter, mother, wife, friend, actress, singer, artist and designer?
AK: Constant craving, just like that song. I never stop moving, and I try to manage my stress with tennis, swimming, good food and music. Once I’m done working, try to collect as many pleasant experiences as I can; sports and music help me forget how much I must do and keep me focused on the things I enjoy doing. Of course my son keeps me so pleasantly busy that I don’t have much time to worry anyway.
YD: Are you nervous about competing in the fashion industry?
AK: No, I actually feel privileged to be doing what I love! As long as I am persistent in challenging myself to do more and better and the creative ideas keep on coming to me I have no fear. It makes me enormously happy when I see women enjoying wearing my garments. I don’t think there is bigger reward for a designer than seeing your design keeping someone looking elegant, sexy and vibrant. Like seeing a true Hollywood legend, Sharon Stone in one of my dresses made my entire month.
YD: What was your biggest influence growing up?
AK: Movies and nature. I always dreamt about designing those dramatic garments so lavishly worn by some of the biggest Hollywood stars in my favorite classic movies. And looking at the giant sun setting over the snowy Tien Shan mountains from the window of my childhood apartment was always mesmerizing.
YD: What are the important moments in a woman’s life?
AK: Having a child is a life-changer; I can’t remember myself without my son and will always be thankful to God for making me a mother. Everything else is in our hands. We make or break our lives by our actions, choices and decisions. I realize more and more that I decided to make clothes because I wanted to do something that would make me feel elevated and as long as I feel this way I will never, ever quit.
I’m the worst critic of my work, hands down
YD: Who is your biggest critic?
AK: My mother and husband, but I’m the worst critic of my work, hands down.
YD: What makes you happy?
AK: My family and my work make me complete and happy. Seeing people enjoy life. I take everyone’s pain way too close to my heart, even strangers’. You can only do so much to help the unfortunate ones, but we should keep helping without looking for rewards.
YD: Do you have obsessions?
AK: I am obsessed with anything that elevates me; from nature to music, from food to architecture, but my biggest obsession is my son, and just like every other mother, I’m obsessed about creating a better future for him, and I would go as far as I have to to keep him safe and sound.
YD: What are the most important things you learned?
AK: To value those who love us, trust us and wish us well; we should remember how solitary the world can be without family and friends. It would be a world without colors.