The “Cross of Officer of the Order of Queen Isabella” is a Spanish civil order granted in recognition of services that benefit the country. The Order is not exclusive to Spaniards, and many foreigners have been awarded it.
Russell has inspired numerous young Spaniards with her work, leading to many using her name to open boutiques. She has taken Bangladeshi culture to Spain in the form of fashion shows, such as “The Colours of Bangladesh” in 1997, as well as her clothing lines.
The ceremony was observed by a handful of diplomats, including the French and Italian Ambassadors, whose eyes were all transfixed on Russell, sporting a blue sari with khadi shoes, all made in Bangladesh.
Speaking after the presentation, Russell talked of the values instilled in her during her childhood, “I was born in a family who taught me about our culture and heritage, our music, our art, our literature. My parents always taught me to respect people. I was not afraid, but I respected others, and I always wanted to learn.
“When I went to London to study in the London College of Fashion, teachers told me that I did not know anything. My response was to tell them to teach me and show me where I was going wrong. I never took it as an affront, but saw it as an opportunity to learn,” she said, visibly pleased at having received the award.
She went on to thank those who helped make her success possible. “The people of Spain and France have supported me a lot. After my exhibition in France in 1996, every TV channel had a documentary on me. The first people to believe in me were the former Director General of UNESCO Federico Mayor and the Queen of Spain. They recognized me because, although I am a fashion designer, they knew that in the long term, my aim was to empower Bangladeshi villagers with sustainable income, health and education.”
Anyone who has followed Russell's activities will know how close the plight of the villagers is to her heart. The craftsmanship in Bangladeshi villages is unparalleled, evidenced by the fact that all of Russell's creations are born in Bangladeshi villages before travelling the world to receive acclaim from the fashion cognoscenti.
She has won many awards and treasures the latest, but it is testimony to where her heart truly lies that above all she treasures being made a Fellow of Bangla Academy earlier this year. Time and again she has won international acclaim, but she remains in her native land to further the cause of her people, an example if followed by others the country will be well served. For now, let us rejoice in her triumph.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
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