Not just a pretty face: Dhaka Live talks to the scholar with a passion for fashion and film, Sara Liza Baumann

Film director, writer and fashion designer Sara Liza Baumann talks exclusively to Dhaka Live about her experiences as a designer for Dhaka Fashion Week 2011 and her life as a thoughtful fashionista in Bangladesh.

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Published in Dhaka Live in July 2011

Sara Liza Baumann
Sara Liza Baumann

Film director, writer and fashion designer Sara Liza Baumann first arrived in Dhaka in 2008 on a two-year Fulbright scholarship. Before turning her full attention to film making and designing, Sara, who has a Masters in International Public Health, became heavily involved in researching issues such as HIV awareness, micro-finance and gender relations. Sara said it was an “amazing experience” which sustained her interest in Bangladesh, where she has largely based her creative endeavours ever since. Sara also discovered a passion for addressing social issues through the arts – an approach that has been met with a large measure of success.

Sara talks to Dhaka Live about her involvement as a designer for Dhaka Fashion Week 2011 and her life as a thoughtful fashionista in Bangladesh.

What is your approach to creating beautiful clothes?

I love using natural materials for my designs. My show in Dhaka Fashion Week features lungies that I turned into vintage style dresses – the soft cotton is gorgeous. I really enjoyed brainstorming ideas with the Head of Dhaka Fashion Week earlier in the year – this was what lead to my involvement in the show.

Jute is featured in many of my designs and I have collected sample materials from Cambodia, though these latter two will not be featured in my show. My business partner, Hannah Marsden, will be taking some of these pieces to the United Kingdom, United States and Europe. It’s an exciting time for us. I have also recycled cement bags by turning them into skirts. Of course, the skirt isn’t simply a cement bag! The material is incorporated into the overall design of the skirt.

Sounds cute. What do you admire about Bangladeshi fashion?

It’s absolutely practical, and rooted in tradition, yet I also see it evolving.

I’m really impressed by the variety of cute flat shoes I see women wearing – the jelly sandals are especially cute. Although I would personally like to wear high heels, I know they’d get trashed in Dhaka!

Have you adapted your own fashion style while living in Bangladesh?

Because fashion is a large part of my identity and I enjoy it as an art form, I occasionally feel frustrated by the restrictions on what I can wear. I design western style dresses that I cannot wear in Bangladesh! However by abiding by the cultural norms relating to dress, such as covering my shoulders and legs, I’m forced to think outside the box when I dress myself, and I enjoy that.

And because Bangladesh is a fascinating place, and there are so many creative opportunities in Dhaka, I’ll continue to work here for at least another year.

Do you have any style tips for fashion-conscious men?

Oh, that’s a tough question. However I’d say that jeans are the first thing I notice on a man. Sure, almost every young guy wears jeans, but I really think it’s worth investing in a pair that fits well. Men should also try experimenting with different shades of denim, whether lighter or darker. A good pair of jeans can make or break an outfit.

Sara Liza Baumann
Sara Liza Baumann

As a fashion designer, what’s your opinion on the contentious issue of using animal fur?

I don’t buy fur, but I do wear fur coats that were handed down to me by my family. I grew up in a small town in Michigan, where fur is worn to keep warm during the freezing winters.

If you could dress any woman in the world, who would it be?

Lady Gaga — because she’s so whacky and bold. Obviously, I don’t agree with everything she says or does, but I’d love to take a peek inside her brain!

And which man?

The British actor Jude Law. Just because he’s so handsome!

Let’s turn briefly to your adventures in filmmaking. Your gorgeous website, http://www.oldfanfilms.com has an interesting anecdote about creating a fake rainstorm. What was involved in creating that scene?

Yes, that was incredible –- though at first I wasn’t at all confident it would work out! We had several huge trucks which were filled with water, and 12 men worked hard to create the perfect effect using fans, sprinklers and hoses. It was quite something.

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