Is it possible to design freedom? At first glance, designer Ema Koja’s pieces seem like chimerical odes celebrating the nature of the girly girl. But, then you speak to the designer, whose company name is Ema Savahl, and the hand painted English gardens, dandelions, mushrooms, elves and leaves illuminated with glitter, beads, lace, and sequins translate a deeper story.
“In Europe, they expect you to be a part of the group,” said Koja, who is originally from Tirana, Albania. “It’s a very herd-mentality. The sheep that gets out of the group gets eaten by the wolf. In America, you are free to be an individual. The more colorful, the better.”
Koja moved to Italy where she played volleyball, but injured her shoulder in 1995. She then came to Miami, beginning her designing career in a second-hand clothing boutique on Washington Ave. where she made $5 an hour. She refurbished old sewing machines and reinvented old vintage pieces.
“I’d get these big garbage bags filled with Pucci and Christian Dior dresses that were being sold for $15,” said Koja. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Since then, Koja has savored a prolific career. Clients including Paris Hilton, Tyra Banks, Paula Abdul, Rebecca Romijn, and Lil’ Kim have rocked looks from the 12 year old line.
From dreamy, funky hand painted stockings and lacy poodle-esque, gold embroidered skirts to corsets, bikinis, mini-dresses and goddess gowns, Koja uses silicone paint to create the art pieces that adhere to the body, giving the designs a fairy princess meets Woodstock glam effect.
Koja said the paint warms up from the body heat in 10- 20 minutes. Frocks flow in splattered, sparkly colors: mango, mauve, yellow, pink, and tea green. The designer sells wholesale and made-to-order pieces that range from $95 to $2,000 (prices change according to the elaborateness of the piece).
“I had aunts who were seamstresses, designers even, but Albania was a communist country. Fashion was flat,” said Koja. “I appreciate my freedom, but in some ways, I’m like a factory girl, just making clothes.”
Hot Picks at Ema Savahl at Barucci
What we love: Nude nylon blend bikini with hand painted, mango and rose flowers, $300
Why we love it: Because women wear bikinis, nymphs wear flowers.
What: Black, mauve and yellow ombre, triangle, halter gown with English Garden artwork, $975
Why: Princess chic meets 60s rebel in a piece worthy of your Champagne moment.
What: Red silk bra corset top with gold removable trim bejeweled with Swarovski crystals, $690
Why: Transforms a plain top to something you may where on a plane to Milan.
What: Sea Green embroidered, bejeweled and threaded back corset, $400
Why: Go Dsquared with military capris and Starbucks coffee.
What: Hand-painted ombre stockings, $95 (Available upon request)
Why: Because girls just want to have fun – and at least one pair of funky, purple leggings.