Melinda Rebrek grew up in the TV and film production scene. She worked as Executive Producer, Editor in Chief, and everything in between. She is one of the most experienced Event managers in Slovenia, who is specialized in fashion shows, corporate and gala events. She owns a production company Pirana Productions with a team, whose experience lies in reality, game and lives studio shows, soap and sitcoms, feature films, and music video production. Melinda loves to take on the most challenging projects and make them come to life, including Ljubljana Fashion Week (LJFW).
This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Melinda Rebrek, who is one of the most fascinating women you will meet.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Me. All over the place.
We know you as the organizer of many different events, projects and even a producer of TV shows, are we right? Which project do you enjoy working on the most or are most proud of?
Every project I start working on is like my new baby, I work on it and cherish it immensely. I don’t have favorites, I love the wide variety of them, and that is that special fuel that keeps me going. I also came to the point when I feel like sharing my knowledge so you might attend some of my lectures on occasion or two. I am one of those people who are smothered by routines therefore I love to dive into new things, projects, and situations. It makes my blood flow faster. Corpo events, TV shows, LJFW, statehood celebrations, concerts, bring it on, I am on it.
A boring question perhaps, but what is the biggest challenge in your field of work?
Remaining calm and patient in certain situations with people that certainly don’t deserve it. I am not the most patient person in the world to start with, but years of experience taught me that counting to 10 from time to time is a good thing. Also, I learned that time is of the essence, so keeping my calm when someone is wasting my precious time is hard, I admit. Dosing sincerity with clients can also be quite a challenge sometimes. I firmly believe that mutual trust and sincerity on projects results to better outcomes, yet we all know a frank opinion/fact is not the easiest thing to hear and digest. Probably that is the reason I don’t have that many different clients but with the ones that we ‘clicked’, it’s a happy marriage.
What brings you great joy at work?
The wide variety of it, unexpected situations (yes, I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie) and the last but certainly not least, the end of every single one. I love the feeling of fulfillment at the end and even more the time off that follows. Oh, and I love decorating. That’s my secret passion. On smaller projects I do the event decorations myself. I especially love recycling/reusing and inventing simple, yet effective solutions for various venues and occasions. Then and there I can release my creativity and enjoy every step of the way.
We imagine that your job must be quite stressful, especially since you are managing a lot of people along the way. How do you deal with the stress? Do you have any advice for us on how to handle the stressful jobs?
I learned to speak up when something frustrates me, so I mostly resolve stressful situations on the spot. I hate sitting on the problem because only thinking (or overthinking) about it makes it bigger than it usually is. And I learned to delegate so, jobs and stress are more or less evenly divided among the working team. Not being control-freakish and trusting your team helps a lot. But my favorite way to handle it is to book a trip or buying a plane ticket in the middle of the biggest commotion. Just the thought of the adventure coming after the hardship makes it so much better!
When you actually get a day off, what do you like to do?
I love travelling and exploring new places, I also love water and sun, concerts, festivals, good food and wine, so any chance I get, I pack my bag and loved ones and drive somewhere, where no-one knows me and hopefully a foreign language is spoken. In the ‘worst-case scenario’ I tend to do weekend city breaks to declutter my mind of daily problems because getting lost in unknown places is one of the best things ever! In the summertime my wakeboard is my constant companion. You’d be surprised how many European cities have ski-lifts for wakeboarding and how my partner hates that ‘thing’ in the backpack but he kinda had to make peace with it during past few years. I am also looking for possibilities of SUP daily trips in unknown locations, they are fun! In winter I try to get some time off on ski slopes. If I have only an afternoon off or so, I love to read a good book with one of my cats in my lap, take afternoon naps or binge-watch a series or two.
Melinda, you have been organizing Ljubljana Fashion Week (LJFW) for a few years now. Could you tell us how it all started and why you accepted the project in the first place?
It was not about accepting the project; it was all about co-creating it with a dedicated team. That is a whole other level. Some of us initially met years ago and we connected during organizing the series of Fashion Weeks for one of the Slovenian lifestyle media companies. In 2014 our client decided to cease those Fashion Weeks due to low-profit rates. So, after the first shock we decided to continue it on our own, we had so many plans and ideas for the Slovenian fashion scene in the future. We regrouped, added fresh members to our team, renamed it, registered the LJFW brand, moved it to Ljubljana center, announced the new independent concept and went for it. Without a client, it was easier since we could unlimitedly spread our creative minds but also harder in a way because we had no long term or (at the time) credible organization behind our back and we worked hard towards gaining firm confidence of partners and sponsors to support us. In January next year, we formed the Zvereene Institute and produced the first proper and big edition of an independent Ljubljana Fashion Week on Ljubljana’s Congress Square. It was in April 2015. The initial team of 5 a.k.a. Zvereene Institute (Zavod Zvereene) was and still is a mixture of a great graphic/video/art designer and music producer (Den Baruca), one of the best fashion photographers (Mimi Antolovič), innovative technical director/light designer (Uros Vovk), media/marketing/hospitality officer (Saso Kralj) and experienced event manager/producer (my significant self). We also recruited one of the boldest Slovenian stylists Nina Jagodic as designers’ connoisseur/selector, we also came up with a new, interactive and connected PR team, a new generation social networks manager, backstage team, a trusted models management (Immortal Models), hair and make-up designers and many more. Key to a successful collaboration is teamwork and loving the project as well as be able to perform the jobs professionally under pressure and mostly for free at first. It’s been a rollercoaster, we had serious downs as well as ups, but the main thing is that we survived and developed something that is becoming one of the most credible fashion events in the region. In April 2020 should be our 12th edition already, unfortunately, postponed until fall 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We will pick up from where we left off. Even for us it is sometimes hard to believe what we created, but I firmly believe that we have a solid base with roots deep enough to survive many more shocks to come.
Could you tell us what the organization of Ljubljana Fashion Week (LJFW) looks like? How many weeks in advance do you and your team start planning and preparing things for the event? What do you need to pull off at event like LJFW? How many people are working behind the scenes?
We start immediately after we finish one. It’s a constant and ongoing process, a way of life, if you must. First we sleep in and rest a few days, then the wider Zvereene team meets at lunch or dinner and very sincerely (and I mean VERY sincerely) evaluate the finished one, so we don’t repeat past mistakes and try to improve, then we brainstorm about next one. We prepare the reports, set the goals, timeline and dates, and put the locations wish list on the table. I do the cost estimate and then we are off to start the locations and funding hunting process. It is a period of numerous meetings with sponsors (those who already support us and new potential ones) and other partners, the rest of the LJFW team (discussing the ideas and plans) and location recces. When basics are set, we announce the dates and start the designers’ selection, PR activities in Slovenia and inviting international press and buyers, location/set designs, team and equipment co-ordinations, scheduling, … and before we know it the next LJFW is here. The team is extendable, we start small, 5-7 pax, then we grow according to needs, at the end there is more than 150 people involved in the realisation of the event.
Lights, camera, action! How does your day look like when Ljubljana Fashion Week (LJFW) actually begins? Could you walk us through your day?
The first day is always chaotic, I usually start it in crazy early hours on the TV Slovenia’s morning show, where we announce the beginning. That day there is never enough time to get ready enough and there is always something that goes wrong, yet we always manage to pull through. Rehearsals, sponsors’ materials, branding, transports, briefings, hair, makeup, technical details, … and then welcoming guests, seating them, runway shows, interviews, … After the shows we clean the venue and prepare it for the next day, I usually take our foreign guests and press somewhere to dinner and to discuss the day and plan the next one, the photo team collects all the photos and makes a selection for social posts as well as collections, we process them during the night, to publish them the next morning with a press release. Next morning, we all wake up early, because there is plenty to do. I make my coffee and read through the PR before it’s published, then we send it out. In the meantime, the social network’s team already posted the photos online, so we are all on them tagging them. Sometimes there are also some newly emerged problems to solve or co-ordinate. By then it’s already late, I shower and get dressed, pick out my evening wardrobe and we are off to daily duties. We prep the hall, do interviews and some networking, check the VIP lists to see what we are up against, how to plan the seating and possible meet&greet, some fast briefings with all the teams (backstage, tickets, seating, tech, PR) and the show is already on. Sometimes I take our foreign guests and media around town and to lunch before the shows, show them towards our concept and designers’ shops or other locations, meet their requests on the wish list and plan their stay and transport here. It’s a speed of light carousel that doesn’t stop until we finish the last show and disappear from the venue. And then the preparations for the next one begins, again.
At Ljubljana Fashion Week (LJFW) we always see you rocking amazing outfits from Slovenian designers. The most memorable for us was the amazing golden bomber jacket from the talented Matic Veler, which you wore at LJFW in 2016. Could you tell us which is your favorite Slovenian designer or which designer’s collection are you always excited about seeing down the runway?
Haha, actually there is a funny anecdote to it, Matic told me that one of his fans commented that he should’ve put it on someone with a smaller behind 😉. And that brings me to favorite designers – I appreciate good design, a well-made piece with a signature cut or detail, that is made for a normal woman, with normal curves, living a normal life. It also has to be wearable and practical. I buy and wear our designers frequently and proudly, and must say that even abroad they attract attention. I think every designer needs to know their audience and all who manage to sell their designs and make them to be worn on the streets are winners in my book. I always come from the fact that designs are wonderful on perfect models on runways, but their real-life starts after, when they are embraced by happy customers. I admit I have a soft spot for some of them but not mentioning others would just not be fair, maybe their next collection will be my favorite one.
Which piece of clothing you simply cannot live without?
I could live without any clothes, summer is my happy time and the less clothes on, the better I feel. In the ‘rest 16 months of Slovenian grey weather,’ I find an oversized shirt most useful – you can wear it as a dress or a shirt, you can dress it up or down, depends on needs, weather and occasion. I love them in all shapes, colors and styles.
How would you describe your style? Are you more of a fashion trendsetter or trend follower?
I am aware of trends but I came to a certain age when those are not that important to me anymore. I much more appreciate a well-made piece of clothing, that can be combined and reused many times and that emphasizes my character and my lifestyle. I am a practical person who knows their flaws and advantages, with a hectic life and doesn’t have much time for grooming myself or my clothing. So, I go for basic pieces with a character and dress them up or down according to the occasion. The important thing is that I feel well in them and they are not too plain. My Zodiac is Leo, after all.
Since you have been on the team that organizes the Ljubljana Fashion Week, you were probably able to see how Slovenian fashion evolved and changed over the years. How are Slovenian fashion designers different from foreign ones in your opinion?
When we started no-one really knew the Slovenian designers but few exemptions, but after few editions it changed significantly. People were buying and proudly wearing them, Slovenian fashion industry signed on various designers’ collaborations, we made them visible and we knew there was so much more to be done. We were also visiting fashion weeks in the region, we bonded especially with Belgrade Fashion Week and shared designers and experiences, soon new possibilities, connections and opportunities appeared, that helped opening doors home and abroad. We met new people, new ideas for local/regional bonding emerged, our designers became interesting in a wider circle. We met Martyn Roberts, the founder of Fashion Scout from London and formed a regional contest for upcoming designers from our region called Fashion Scout SEE (South East Europe), opening doors for the best one to one of London Fashion Week’s runways, via Skopje Fashion Weekend’s German connection we sent designers to one of Berlin Fashion Week’s market presentations, currently, we are forming a Central European hub for designers and organizations from Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria and Ukraine, as well as sending young and yet unknown designers to an IYDC online contest that is organized by Ukrainian Fashion Week. With Center for creativity (CZK) and SOTO society’s help as well as previously mentioned hub we are also starting to create a market for our designers outside our borders, our goal is to connect fashion under one roof with solid and constant funding. During all that time and action, we draw the attention of foreign press, agencies, and buyers to great variety of designers that we are able to provide. There is plenty to choose from for all tastes and styles and one of the best features that Slovenian fashion designers have – beside previously mentioned ones – is vision, reliability, quality, and willingness to go that extra mile. Wearing their designs on fashion weeks abroad proved to me that we are far from average and that we definitely stand out.
You are also the woman behind the Secret dinners in Slovenia, where you worked with some of the best Slovenian chefs. Where did you get the idea for this amazing project and how do you select the secret locations?
I am just one-half of the two women behind Secret Dinners. It’s a joint project with Andreja Freyer, a friend of mine, who is a journalist, editor and an excellent public relations expert. One day during an extreme workout in the gym we soothed the pain with fantasies about pleasant things – food, drinks, travel, …and the idea came across. She had a lifestyle blog at that time, covering Chefs, wine, travel and lifestyle in general, I was in the middle of various projects, but our constant ‘pain’ was, that we could never do it entirely our way. There was always someone to answer to. So, we decided to develop it for our souls. No bosses or clients, agencies, no-one who will tell us what and how to do it, we did it the way we felt it’s supposed to be done. We registered the brand, invested our own funds in design, basic equipment and website, made a bunch of rookie mistakes (we do not own a restaurant, after all), but we learned on the fly. And the rest is history. We select locations on inspiration, sometimes we match them to a Chef or the menu, sometimes is vice versa. Venues need to have some basic infrastructure, being close to people but out of sight, we usually go for those that are usually not associated to foodie events. The beauty of this project is that the most of it is based on our own inspiration, wishes and ideas but at the same time we are not irresponsible and we tend to make the most of it for our guests as well as to Chefs who are more than happy to participate and to return.
Could you tell us which Slovenian chef surprised you the most with their dish?
They were all superb and it’s hard to surprise us since we all expect the most of them, but there are few memorable ones. Bine Volčič definitely threw us off-guard with his tasty deer heart, Boštjan Rakar with a pigeon and Florijan Virant with his crabburgers. Oh, I also ate my first frogonese at a Secret Dinner, made by Ivo Tomšič. The more I think of it, the more I could’ve come up with, so let’s leave it at that. You can check the dishes out on our FB page and pick your favourite.
Do you also enjoy cooking when you have time?
Absolutely. But I cook as I live. Fast and efficient, but well, as I like to think. I love 20 minutes dishes and ones from the oven when you put everything in one baker and shove it in, wait a while and it comes out something delicious. And it is never exactly the same. There is also a benefit of not having too many dishes to wash.
Which dish would you make us if we came over to your house tomorrow for lunch?
If one can even choose… Probably a pork neck in milk and parmiggiano or deboned marinated chicken thighs from the oven. Or maybe a chicken paprikash my style.
Which is your biggest passion, fashion or food?
My biggest passion is traveling. I need it like I need air, it clears my mind and chases the problems away. That I love to combine with fashion and food, exploring, just wandering around, meeting new cultures, and doing new things. I also love bookstores, art and flea markets, concept stores, water sports or just sitting with a gin-tonic beside the water in any form (trying to ignore mosquitos 😉), I adore food markets and getting lost in the middle of nowhere. Actually my biggest passion is life.
The spring edition of Ljubljana Fashion Week was sadly postponed due to the epidemic of Coronavirus in Slovenia. Can you tell us what the future of Ljubljana Fashion Week will look like?
Some changes will certainly have to be applied, so we are having a variety of scenarios prepared. From normal runway shows to special performances, exhibitions, as well as digital presentations of collections. No-one really knows what will happen in Autumn, the execution mostly depends on awaited circumstances – possible 2nd wave of the pandemic, lack of funding due to increased caution in the economy and possible restrictions that will be active at the time. We will do our best to produce the most of it, if not all.
Can you tell us when Ljubljana Fashion Week will be held in the autumn? Any hints for us and our readers, that you can give away?
We initially announced November but as things develop it might be one month earlier. When all stars and facts align, we will announce it, by that time you will just have to be patient, like the rest of us. When we come out, we will be loud and clear.