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Milena Vartanyan

photographed by grisha petrosyan

So, where we are, how long you've been living here, how did you find this place?

I’ve been living in this apartment for 4 years. After years of renting, my family and I decided to purchase our own place in Yerevan. Unfortunately, our timing coincided with a real estate boom, and prices went up. There weren’t many options available, but I did my best to make it feel like home.

Can you tell us about your neighbor?

My neighbor? Sebastian? This friend has been with me for 7 years. I found him quite by accident when I wandered into a pet market. I had no intention of getting a pet, but I saw him and decided it was time to fulfill my childhood dream. And he's been with me ever since.

We met you at your store. We really liked it. When did you open it, and why? What do you do there, and how did you start collecting these items?

As a hobby, I always loved going to second-hand shops, vintage stores, flea markets. In Tbilisi, this culture has been around for a long time. As long as I can remember, people preferred to go to thrift shops rather than markets with new stuff. I have childhood memories of walking through these thrift shops with my mom. Later, she opened her own store and also deals with this, but on a different level. About six months ago, I was thinking about how I would like to express my vision of beauty somehow. I decided that opening a store would be a great way to channel this energy and ambition. So, I started looking for a space, found the garage, came up with the name, and began to explore where to source everything. I wanted to make everything as cool as possible. I started talking to warehouses in Europe and America and chose items via video call. It didn't always work out perfectly because sometimes the pictures were blurry, and you think, "Oh, great," but when it arrives, it's not so great, and you pay a lot for shipping. There are many risks, but I have a character that if I do something, I go all the way. Over the last six months, I've learned how to choose and where to source. In addition to my items, there are other brands in my store. For example, for bags, I have a buyer who has been doing this for over 10 years. So, that's how it is.

Did Gaya do the design for you?

Yes! I was introduced to Gaya and Melik a couple of years ago, and since then we’ve been good friends. I thought Gaya would be the best person to transform the small, scary space into something beautiful. When she sent me the initial design, my jaw dropped because I never would have thought of something like that. The best feeling was seeing the final result after eight months of renovation, which was, of course, another sort of headache. It turned out exactly as Gaya envisioned. I’m endlessly grateful for her work.

I found out about your store when I saw Gaya's stories and photos of the interior. And a few months ago, I was sitting in a café near your store with a friend from Paris. And a couple was speaking French at the next table. So they started to speak French with my friend and mentioned they were going to a cool store that had just opened in the area. I realized it was your store when I overheard their conversation. Europeans who know nothing about Yerevan already knew about your store and were recommending it. It's very pleasing.

I put all my heart into this project, and it’s incredibly flattering when people from countries with well-developed vintage shopping cultures visit and compliment my place. My main goal, however, is to make local people appreciate the world of vintage. I hope that, along with other great vintage projects in Yerevan, we’ll achieve this goal someday.

did you do the interior of this apartment by yourself?

Initially, when we bought this apartment, it had a standard Soviet renovation, but the only thing I liked was the floor. My mom insisted on changing it to laminate, but I was adamant about restoring it myself. It turned out okay, but I love wood, even with its imperfections.

What about that painting?

It's a painting by my grandmother. It's my mom's favorite painting. They are red roses. My grandmother loved painting in watercolor. She had a simple style but was very talented, working in animation studios and drawing Georgian cartoons. This painting is simple, but the roses look so vibrant.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Tbilisi. My brother and I are the fourth generation of our family there. We lived in a non-typical area for Armenians, we were probably the only Armenian family in the neighborhood, all the others were Georgian. We moved to Armenia for obvious, trivial reasons, and the first few years here were very uncomfortable for me. The Armenian society is much more conservative compared to Tbilisi, especially 12 years ago. I had to adapt my wardrobe to avoid unwanted attention. Over time, I've learned to stand up for myself and noticed that society here has become more open. I'm glad that progress is being made, and women can express themselves freely.

When I moved, I also changed my clothing style, avoiding leggings or tank tops without bra.

Yes, me too, but now I rebel by going without a bra. Although my size allows it, I still get attention. But I stand my ground. I hope that by living my life, I set an example for my friends from conservative Armenian families, showing that one can be free, live alone, or live with a partner without being married, and still be a respectable person. When I meet such people, they often have a stereotypical view of me at first, but when they get to know me, they are surprised by the contrast. I used to have more of these encounters at my old job, which had a very traditional Armenian environment.

What else can you tell us?

Unlike my brother, who got very interested in Armenian culture in high school, joining the Armenian community and learning dances and history, I never felt a strong cultural attachment. I am Armenian by origin, Georgian by passport, and Russian by language. The culture I associate with the most is French.

How did you come to associate with French culture?

It might sound trivial, but it’s about how the country makes me feel when I’m there. Strangely, I felt immediately at home as soon as I arrived in Paris for the first time, and that feeling has never left me. Growing up in a Caucasian family and community as a woman, I always felt a lack of freedom to express myself. However, I’m grateful for every single experience I’ve lived through, as they have all shaped who I am now.

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