Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I recently had a brief conversation about a Russian interior design magazine that has led me to think about the advantages and disadvantages of international fashion. Someone had brought the magazine into the workplace of an acquaintance and she was struck by the colourful, foreign opulence of the photographs she encountered. The style was entirely unexpected in western kitchens but aspirational for those of a different culture. The sudden culture shock of an aspiration that is at odds with an underlying expectation is rarely discovered in fashion. Although clothes shock they usually do so in the moral sense rather than in a structural or aesthetic way, it is expected that contemporary clothing will push boundaries. Reference to culture is appropriated with such regularity that often features created in one society cannot be traced to an individual nation with any ease. We are used to photographs of men in large hats wandering through Red Square and that is our vision of Russian clothing in the west.

It is initially surprising that clothes created by Russian designers can be read with such easy familiarity. The designs are similar to those we see in ready to wear fashion and the more expensive high street shops. At present the most readily available and most heavily publicised brand is Kova&T, stocked by Harvey Nichols and gaining a lot of press attention at the moment. The clothes are co-designed by Dasha Zhukova who is of Russian ethnicity but went to school in Los Angeles and her work has clearly been influenced by international fashion rather than her home culture. In a sense that is what makes Sunday's Observer article so odd. Nationality in 2007's fashion industry is an extremely ineffective way to group and explore the designs that are being produced. Designers are generally influenced by their own industry, the trends of a specific season, the success of a fashion house, the designer or house they have worked for, only in rare cases do specific cultural norms come into the frame, that is why Olowu is so exciting. In that sense it is to be expected that there is very little to link the clothes of Kira Plastinina with those of Dasha Zhukova. That their fathers made a lot of money is their common ground and as The Observer points out Plastinina - dubbed the leading light of the new 'spoilt bratski' generation - opened a chain of shops last year with a gift of £50 million from her father.

Kira Plastinina's website is written in Russian rather than English. Her clothes are reminiscent of Harajuku or Topshop rather than the muted tones and stylings of Kova&T, this makes them no better or worse but it does suggest that even in simply looking at the clothes the suggestion of national background is useless.

Viv Groskop’s article basically tells us that people in a geographical area are emulating and aspiring to be designers and the fashion industries darlings. Igor Chapurin is apparently Moscow’s Tom Ford and his clothes are built by people in the media, lawyers, bankers, the same type of people who buy this price range in the UK, so shoppers in Moscow spend money in the same way as people in London. Alla Verber was a buyer and now she’s apparently bringing luxury to Moscow but I’m not sure how because it’s never clearly stated. Groskop has penned three articles and slapped them together, one about designers of Russian ethnicity, one about consumerism in Moscow and one about fashion culture and the way it’s changing in Russia’s cities. I would like to know what Verber does, more about the clothes that Zhukova and Plastinina design, anything concrete about Chapurin but this is an article that doesn’t work because it is about the Russian fashion industry. There is no Russian fashion industry, at this kind of level there is only an international fashion industry with Russian designers, buyers and journalists and the way that this is effecting the consumerism in some parts of the country.

Incidentally a cleaner article, lacking a lot of the assumption inherent in the Observer's and bringing across similar points was published in The Times and apparently written by Donatella Versace today.

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