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After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, post-communist Russia has become a powerhouse of fashion giving us iconic ‘thinkers’, who are changing the way we look at dressing. Growing up with the Iron Curtain, unfamiliar with Western world, once the disintegration took place, the Russians introduced ordinary people through street-casting with normal bodies, termed as “models”, by Vogue UK, in their offbeat shows with unconventional offering mocking the tenets of fashion, and are now ruling the catwalks of Paris. Here are four original innovators:
Demna Gvasalia: Going down memory lane, Balenciaga in 1968, had shut down in Paris, after 31 years, he had till then won loyal clientele who loved his harem dress and cape, sack and baby doll dress and the memorable cocoon coat, as the legend was known for his love for the diaphanous gazar!
Demna, a Georgian-born designer, became the artistic director of Balenciaga, in 2015 and has forever changed the way we look at couture. He had an illustrious legacy of Cristobal Balenciaga, “the outsider” in fashion to carry on his shoulders, but Demna has not only been profitable for the famed fashion house, but also made it most revered, in the last seven years, since he has helmed it.
You can call it fashion forward, but many term it as a game changer, with his metallic medieval boots, launched via a video game, Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, as he sees clothes as “modern-day armor”. Then there was a pre-summer, 2021 line that came with a short film, and the Corey Hart Song “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” and everyone in it wore shades at night!
His ingenious thought process didn’t end there. Where you have lengthy 20-minute physical fashion shows in super hectic fashion weeks, Gvasalia presented his spring 2022 ready-to-wear collection in a 10-minute episode of The Simpsons. Many call it gimmickry, but Balenciaga’s sales reached $1 billion, in 2019 as he combined the artistic history of the past Balenciaga favourites with his super modern style. His couture hoodies, five-pocket jeans, Japanese selvage denim comes with a clear message to expect irreverence.
In his most recent show of thirteen minutes, there was no music; only one could hear clothes moving, with silence in the room, to which he said, “a moment of silence to just shut up for a minute” and to take a break from all the “noise of the fashion industry”.
“Fashion to me is a mirror, a reflection of what’s going on around us,” Demna told Vogue. He is inspired by the ordinariness of life and he adds, how he selects his models, “These are people we look for all year round. People we scout on the street, who our friends, people close to us, and collaborators spot on the street, but also on Instagram.”
It is this philosophy that gets translated to the way he views the label--- Balenciaga x Crocs entered into a massively popular collaboration, as everyone knows they are the world’s most comfortable shoes, but Balenciaga’s price was $850. Demna is a designer, who likes to have fun with fashion, having no exposure growing up to it, in Russia, so the Ikea Frakta bag came with a price tag of $ 2145, pedestrian, but elevated to high fashion, the real one is for $0,99!
Now consider his fall-winter 2017 Balenciaga runway show, when Donald Trump won as the 45th president, but Demna paid a tribute to the socialist, Bernie Sanders, with his classic logo art. His basic Tennis Speed Trainer, $495, the oversized Parkas 7 in 1, priced at $9,000 and here is the cherry on the cake, completely destroyed Paris high top sneakers, $1,850, and devotees wait in line to buy these, such is the popularity of the label.
On a parting note, Gvasalia escorted the social media sensation Kim Kardashian to the Met Ball, both were dressed in black and their faces were hidden, but the paparazzi recognised them. The unconventional designer believes Kim is a star; she doesn’t need to announce her stardom with a luxurious hand-made gown glittering with sequins!
Vetements: Vetements, means “clothes” in French, is the label Demna started in 2014 that paid homage to streetwear hoping to woo millennials with his brother Guram. The mainstay is hoodies, DHL-branded T-shirts which are a rage all over the world, as well as second hand jeans that are being bought hectically, as the brothers hope to channel sustainability. The label also broke away from the set rule that labels have to show twice a year, they decided to break free and create only two collections annually. Their $800 hoodies, with Beverly Hills 90210, written on it, reviving the past shows of American sitcoms, which were a rarity in a Communist Russia.
They made a whole business out of a hoodie, with their $885 one, there was the Titanic theme or a Thrasher-inspired, an ode to the magazine and skater chic aesthetic. Guram always draws from personal experiences since he has taken over the reins of Vetements, as a creative director. His latest line encapsulated the trauma he faced of witnessing wars, displacement from his home and aspiring for things he could only dream of as a child growing up in Russia.
“There was this one toy I had when I was a child, everything else got destroyed during the war. That one toy was a deformed version of a teddy bear, that was old and patched, as a patched brown shearling look in the show, after getting replaced by a troll figure in the pink-red dress. There are check blankets similar to those we got at the refugee camp to wear instead of outerwear, as we couldn’t take anything with us. They were what kept us warm when being forced out of our homeland,” he confesses about his SS 23 line to Numero magazine. Born in Sukhumi, the capital of the Georgian province of Abkhazia, they had to run away 1990s, forced to live in refugee camps as a family, never got an opportunity to study in fancy design schools, but worked nights to pay the bills, thus, his advice has been to “believe in yourself”.
Pulitzer prize-winning writer Robin Givhan wrote in the Washington Post last Paris Fashion Week, “It is a trick to create a hoodie that has a second neck opening that allows the wearer to turn the thing around and transform it into a sweatshirt. And if a garment can do all of that, isn’t it special? Rare and valuable? Even if all it is doing is transforming from one basic throwaway item into another?” of the Vetements line.
Lotta Volkova: Born in 1984 in Vladivostok, Soviet Russia her father was captain of a cargo ship, so he would get her various Western items. Her name was inspired by the Led Zeppelin song Whole Lotta Love and she loves the punk, 80s, rock generation. Encouraged by her mother, Lotta was exposed to the world of London and Tokyo at the age of 12 on various shopping trips.
Russia was a cocoon, growing up, but there was internet, and it was the saviour, so she moved to London at 17, to study at Central Saint Martins, where she understood the nuances of photography and fine art. She was known for her punk-inspired outfits showcasing at Dover Street Market, winning acknowledgement from the iconic Japanese artist/designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons.
She moved to Paris in 2007, and started styling, inspired by subcultural references, like Christian churches as well as Russia’s changing landscape. Her fame grew wide and she won a collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier, where she introduced corset lingerie, velvet cone dress, butt-less skirt reimaging iconic pieces from his archives that have been celebrated for generations.
Miu Miu the label run by the legendary Miuccia Prada invited her to style the Fall/Winter 2022 runway show; for Adidas she offered tracksuits and retro-inspired sneakers. The Russians believe in heralding austerity so models were street-casted, including normal people with ordinary structures, thus the term “models”came up, a moniker given by Vogue UK. Lotta also collaborated with Kanye West and some say helped him with the Yeezy projects.
Gosha Rubchinskiy: He burst on the scene with his eponymous label in 2008, with simplicity being his forte and sportswear his trademark something he predicted would rule the runway due to its ode to ease, almost ten years ago and look how the world has adapted to it! He struggled to get a foothold in an industry, where it is only survival of the fittest.
In 2012, an agreement with Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons, the company now manufactures and distributes Rubchinskiy’s collection in Europe giving him the much-needed relief. Based in Moscow, this graduate of the Moscow State University of Design and Technology, was known as a fashion photographer and his 2008 collection was titled “Empire of Evil”, introducing menswear, mirroring the anti-Russian sentiment in the West, fashion they believe is also political and greatly influenced by societal changes.
Rubchinskiy has collaborated with Burberry, Reebok, and Adidas and has been applauded for being inspired by the young generation, encouraging a direct contact with teenagers their thought process and aspirations. He is a designer who understands the market thus with the British brand Dr. Martens, he turned them white giving them a 360-degree makeover; with Levi’s he made jeans and cut out of denim patchwork of varying hues, paying homage to post-Soviet Russia, what he grew up watching and absorbing how to recycle and upcycle in a culture where less is always more.
Asmita Aggarwal has been a journalist for the last 30 years having edited publications like– HT City, Cosmopolitan, L’Officiel, Patriot and Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle. She recently won an award from the FDCI for her contribution to fas ...
hion journalism and also put together a book titled “Chrysalis” for Anand and Anand, a law firm released by designer Manish Malhotra at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
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