Kosovo shops celebrate Hillary Clinton and her style

As the US heads into Super Tuesday, the family-run “Hillary” boutiques are a symbol of Kosovar support for Clinton.

Kosovo''s Hillary boutiques
Pristina's 'Hillary 2' is the second installment of a family-run women's clothing boutique business named after Hillary Clinton [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

Pristina, Kosovo – Tucked away inside Kosovo’s largest Communist-era housing and shopping complex, one store stands out.

Behind mannequins in trouser suits and shiny gowns sits a framed photograph of Hillary Clinton with a beaming young woman. The store is called Hillary 2.

The woman in the photograph, Elda Morina, 33, and her brother, Besian, 31, help to run the women’s clothing boutiques started by their father, Feim.

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In 2002, when the Morinas opened their first store, Feim, 69, decided it would be fitting to call it Hillary.

He had always admired Clinton’s taste in fashion as First Lady and “wanted to also thank her and America in a way for everything that they have done for us”.

The first boutique opened for business a few years after the brutal war in Kosovo ended in June 1999 when 78 days of NATO air strikes drove out Slobodan Milosevic’s security forces from the tiny province that was then part of Serbia and mostly inhabited by ethnic Albanians. 

US President Bill Clinton launched the strikes to prevent another genocide from unfolding in the Balkans, as had happened in Bosnia a few years earlier.

The Hillary boutique, located on Bill Clinton Boulevard, has changed premises since it first opened but remains on the same street.

Fourteen years after the Morinas started their family business, Hillary remains the “go-to” place for women, mostly working professionals in their mid-20s to 40s, seeking the latest styles from Istanbul.

“We have customers who come from all over Kosovo; they like the name and the styles,” said Besian Morina, who runs Hillary while his sister manages Hillary 2.

The storefront of the 'Hillary' boutique in downtown Pristina; the Bill Clinton statue can be seen in the distance [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
The storefront of the ‘Hillary’ boutique in downtown Pristina; the Bill Clinton statue can be seen in the distance [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

Regular Hillary customer Merita, who did not want to give her surname, a blonde, curly-haired woman with oversized black sunglasses, described Clinton’s style as “elegant”, citing it as one of the reasons why she visits the shop at least three times a week.

“I believe that it’s an inspiration to all women,” she said of Clinton’s style.

As it is in the US, 2016 is a presidential election year in Kosovo.

In 2011 the young country elected its first female president, Atifete Jahjaga, whose term ends in April.

Morina and his family are closely watching the US elections, and it remains clear that they, like many Kosovars, would like to see the Clinton legacy live on.

“We have a big sympathy for that family. We think she is a woman with a big vision for [America’s] future. We think she deserves to win,” Elda said.

She greeted Hillary Clinton in 2010 when the secretary of state paid a surprise visit to the “Hillary” store, as captured in the framed photograph which sits in both stores.

A group of young women walk past the 'Hillary 2' store, in a shopping mall built during the former Yugoslavia in the early 1970s [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
A group of young women walk past the ‘Hillary 2’ store, in a shopping mall built during the former Yugoslavia in the early 1970s [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

Kosovo’s unilateral independence is still not recognised by all of the international community, including key UN member states such as Russia and China and five European Union countries.

Elda says Clinton’s unwavering support for Kosovo has helped put the country on the international map.

Hillary and Hillary 2 are now among the tourist attractions in the capital of Europe’s youngest nation, particularly Hillary as it’s only a few steps away from a 3.5m statue of a waving Bill Clinton, another landmark in the city, unveiled in 2009. 

Curious visitors from around the world, from China, Russia, Albania, the US – including American soldiers stationed here as part of the ongoing NATO peacekeeping operation – and even Serbia, often stop by the boutique on a nondescript street, nestled between an optics store and a closed-down pinball cafe, to take a peek inside or pose for a photo in front of the store.

Post-war Kosovo saw a rise in shopping malls and women’s stores selling clothes imported from China and Turkey at discounted prices.

But none seemed to match the more upmarket styles sold at Hillary – particularly the famous trouser and skirt suits – which Elda Morina considers to be the style that most exemplifies Clinton and which has made the store famous for fashion-conscious women seeking professional clothing.

Inside the boutique, an array of tomato red, dark navy and cobalt blue trouser and skirt suits hang on racks, reminiscent of the 1990s when Clinton was the First Lady. 

“We’ve always had a section dedicated to Hillary,” said Besian Morina, referring to the trouser and skirt suits, which cost between 80 and 100 euros ($87-$108).

Trouser and skirt suits on display inside the 'Hillary' boutique in downtown Pristina [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]
Trouser and skirt suits on display inside the ‘Hillary’ boutique in downtown Pristina [Valerie Plesch/Al Jazeera]

Apart from the suit ensembles, Morina also sells plush winter coats, floor-length sequined dresses and halter-necked evening gowns in a separate room inside the store.

Morina and his sister travel monthly to Istanbul to place clothing orders.

Selvije Haliti, 51, a nurse from Pristina with a neatly coiffed bob and a brightly coloured scarf, has been visiting the boutique since it opened in 2002.

She has been following the US election campaign and hopes that Clinton will become the Democratic presidential candidate.

“We are proud that we know the name of Hillary Clinton as a nation, and for as long as live we will always be thankful to her and her life,” said Haliti, during a visit to check out a red skirt suit.

But even for those who may never set foot inside the store, Clinton remains a popular candidate for the next US president.

“I know that the wife of Bill Clinton was for Kosovo, they saved us and we will never forget that,” said Dula Jashari, 76, a former policeman.

“If it hadn’t been for America, there wouldn’t have been a single Albanian in Kosovo.”

Back at Hillary, Besian Morina says he wants to expand the family business. 

“My dream is to have my own [clothing] brand, which is the Hillary brand.”

Source: Al Jazeera