From Russia with lots of love!
How can it be possible not to fall in love with Russia? The architecture, folklore, fashion, colors, landscapes, food, and textiles, which in my case I am completely biased since I am a Textile Engineer for a living.
As fashion designers, textile researchers, and developers, we all search for a point of reference from which we identify ourselves. That point of view can be easily seen throughout your career, in the form of sketches, inspiration boards and research tools, such as magazines, blogs, newspapers, and history books.
I still remember my first lesson in 4th grade about the beginning of Russia as a nation through the conquering of the East Slavs, who had emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD.
Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Russia arose in the 9th century. The elite were known as Russia’s true warriors. Resembling Vikings, they were known for their elaborate armory and colorful and intricate fabrics and prints.
It was only in 988 when Orthodox Christianity became the religion of the Byzantine Empire. That is in fact a very important moment in time for most of Russian style, since it was a synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. The Byzantine Empire provided the ornamented silhouettes found in the architecture and garments of the Orthodox Church. Religion brought a conservative and proper manner of shielding oneself from the impurity of the world. The “garment of salvation” as it was called, was embodied by delicate lace, beautiful brocades trimmed with galoon, and a long velvet robe that was worn by women. This garment was inspired by the higher priests of the Orthodox Christian Church and is still worn to this day. Like all the traditions surrounding the Orthodox worship, vestments serve as an embodiment of their theology.
Many important influences came from Russian culture, such as the Golden Age of Russian Poetry led by Alexander Pushkin. Known as the Russian Shakespeare, Pushkin touched on subject matters like love and revenge. It was the first time that women could possibly dream of a romantic novel and dress up for balls and parties at the time.
It wasn’t until 1689 that the Tsarist Control over Russia ended and the Orthodox faith left little room for imagination from the western society. However, Peter the Great defied the Orthodox Christian church and introduced the ballet. Today, the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Ballet companies have created a huge impact on the beauty that lies underneath this performance art. Ballerinas became a symbol of femininity and their costumes an inspiration to many fashion houses, especially to haute couture brands.
Yekaterina Alexeevna, or Catherine II, was known as Catherine the Great and the most influential and renowned leader of Russia. Her reign was called Russia’s golden years, due to the revitalization of the country, ending of wars, crushing of empires, constructing nobility and luxury, and providing women with access to a higher education. From that moment on, women became independent and ventured on creating their own businesses. The fashion and garments changed and became more similar to the West. Fabrics were finally being outsourced and inspiration was created from fashion trends around the world.
Russia had, and still has, a very important influence on how we dress on a daily basis. Influence that includes ornamented stitching, brocades, delicate laces that contrast the heaviness of wool and velvet, and last, but not least, jewelry. Tiffany, Cartier, de Beers anyone?