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LCF researchers organise post-Soviet fashion symposium with Calvert 22

Written by Rosie Higham-stainton
Published date 22 March 2018

A post-Soviet aesthetic is in no doubt having a moment. Why this is and what it says about society, was the leading question of New Borders, New Boundaries: Fashion in a Shifting World, a symposium at Calvert22, organised by LCF researchers, Calvert22 Foundation and ICA, to mark Calvert’s current exhibition Post-Soviet Visions: image and identity in the new Eastern Europe, which is open until 15 April.

That frenetic contradiction of a post-soviet landscape – looking in part to the West, and in part to the East – has inspired a handful of designers, photographers and creatives from those territories in recent years, most evident in Demna Gvasalia’s vision for his brand Vetements – collections featuring Soviet romantic grandmother apron dresses, juxtaposed with hooker boots and highly sexualised ideas of the West.

Symposium Chairs included Professor Paul Goodwin, from UAL research group TrAIN, Dr Serkan Delice Lecturer and Research Coordinator at  LCF and Dr Vlad Strukov, University of Leeds, while Anastasiia Fedorova interviewed fashion designers including Ilija Milicic of Hvala Ilija and LVMH nominee Marta Jakubowski, who also teaches at LCF. Keynote papers came from the likes of RCA’s Zowie Broach and LCF’s Djurdja Bartlett.

Patrick Bienert and Max von Gumppenberg / Right: Jedrzej Frenek, featured in the accompanying exhibition Post-Soviet Visions: Image and identity in the new Eastern Europe

What we learnt about Post-Soviet fashion

Socialist ugly has become the West’s beautiful

“Historically, fashion was viewed with suspicion in the socialist world while socialist fashion was frowned upon in the West” said Djurja Bartlett in the opening keynote paper ‘Ways of living at home or abroad at home’, “socialist fashion existed in a different timeframe than mainstream fashion and the West was not interested in the mass produced, ‘ugly’ style of socialist fashion.” So why, she asks is the West now interested in fashion designers from the region that draw on this aesthetic?

“Demna Gvasalia and Gosha Rubchinskiy direct their energy into shrewdly translating the Soviet ugly into new western beautiful.” Djurdja Bartlett. “Designer Gosha Rubchinskiy draws on various elements of Soviet aesthetics but they differ from the usual western interest in the heroic Bolshevik period and its grandiose hopes.”

Vetements’ “cheap looking Russian style, dresses with loud floral patterns, fake leather, polyester, do not belong to the West. Originally they were cheap copies of western fashion trends which eventually turned into familiar sartorial tropes in Russia.”

“I think it comes from the lack of diversity in my youth – everyone dressed the same because there was no choice.” – Demna Gvasalia.

“I was surrounded by so many tracksuits and socks and stuff from welfare that I always tried to, in my mind, make it prettier. That’s what brought me to fashion. I had this urge to make my jeans prettier and stuff like that.” Ilija Milicic.

Blurring of borders will generate creativity

“The world is at a key moment of collaboration and collision and new thinking. Questioning is vital. Values need to be debated and established.” said Zowie Broach in her keynote manifesto “Will there be a new Border?”  Continuing with “The expectation out there is restless and we’re no longer beholden to boundaries.”

“All my friends are from different backgrounds, I’m so used to it.” Marta Jakubowski.

Grigor Devejiev / Overleaf: Masha Demianova, featured in the accompanying exhibition Post-Soviet Visions: Image and identity in the new Eastern Europe

About appropriation and its cost

“Appropriation becomes problematic when there are gross inequalities of power between the cultures, especially when a more powerful culture has the motivation to dominate a less powerful culture.” Sercan Delice.

Is a $500 Vetements hoodie, reflecting post-soviet joblessness, and which can only be afforded by US or UK fashion pack, become a form of ‘class tourism’?

Sercan Delice asked, “but are the conversations around Post-Soviet appropriation symptomatic of something else? And where does this sense of cultural ownership come from?”

“It assumes that culture can be owned by a specific group of people.”

“Culture is not monolithic” says Edward W. Said, in Culture and Imperialism.

Sercan reasserts this when he talks about the “interdependence and overlapping of cultural terrains.”

Paulina Korobkiewicz, featured in the accompanying exhibition Post-Soviet Visions: Image and identity in the new Eastern Europe

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