Has Soviet fashion hype eaten Eastern Europe?


by Ieva Zu

Yesterday I finally dedicated the time and read an exhaustingly lengthy Opinion piece on my favourite fashion news and analysis source The Business of Fashion by a mysterious author J.E. Sebastian. Could it be this guy?

I have never criticised a particular piece of writing before, only collectively, when I was questioning fashion media’s generalisations with regards to the ‘Eastern European Aesthetics’ and Soviet fashion hype. This time, however, the glass has been overfilled (that’s a Lithuanian saying, with quite an obvious meaning). And I, as a Lithuanian, feel rightful to mend what is broken.

An opinion of 4.2K words (that’s about 8 pages) titled ‘The Cynical Realism of Demna, Gosha and Lotta’ is well written and has a philosophical feel to it (I was taught to start a critique with positive aspects). The author is used to writing. The author knows hot trends of the fashion industry and follows them. He also knows, obscurely, some history.

Demna Gvasalia Vetements Google Search Fashion Bloc Fashion Agency London
DHL T-Shirt by Vetements and not ©Google

What Mr. Sebastian refers to in his analysis is a Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, a Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia and a Russian stylist Lotta Volkova, who works with both designers. His aim is obvious, to counter-argue the hype that surrounds these three current ‘it’ names. In short, the author argues that the soviet fashion created by these three names are cynical, temporary and not exactly what the Western World thinks of. He says that in 4.2K words.

The beauty of this supposedly serious analysis, though, is that the expert doesn’t have a clue about his subjects (designers) or a bigger context he is analysing.

“Whether or not this ideal is, in fact, expressive of all three of their separate experiences as Russians (they come from very different parts of Russia, and different upbringings both inside and outside of fashion” 

To anyone who knows what is Russia, they will see the irony in this paragraph straight away – Mr. Sebastian, explicitly analysing the backgrounds, reasoning and upbringing of the designers and their creative expression, thinks that they all come from Russia. To begin with, Georgia, dear author, is a separate country. I’m not even arguing that country per se is a weak starting point for an argument. I assume, dear author, you are talking about the regime that has partially formed the artistic expression of these creatives.

There are more names that are emerging from South-Eastern Europe, there are other Eastern European designers that are big names in fashion, remember Roksanda Ilinic, David Koma. Do they also bear some sort of an imaginary Russian heritage?

  1. The author hasn’t been to Russia or any of the post-Soviet countries
  2. The author doesn’t have a clue what was Soviet Union (it was not a union, to begin with)
  3. The author didn’t like his Geography teacher
  4. The author hasn’t seen a single Vetements show (in photos, video or live)


Hammer and Sickle Soviet Symbols

Reading further you will meet repetitive references to Russia as if a source of the Vetements and Rubchinskiy’s success. What, I guess, Mr. Sebastian is supposedly talking about is the Post-Soviet heritage that these creators can play with to their benefit as the rest of the world is craving for the unknown.

And yes, the author explains the reasons Westerners adore the street-style inspired fashions of Gosha Rubchinskiy and kitsch couture of the Vetements. However, it is quite obvious, as he agrees with himself, the author doesn’t know, understand Russia or any other post-Soviet countries.

Mysterious as Russia remains to us, this part of the new aesthetics’ appeal has had to rest pretty heavily…”

Well, that’s a mystery to you, Mr. Sebastian is a reality to some of us. As I once pointed out in the interview for The Guardian, the hype of the Soviet fashion mystery can sometimes be a sensitive topic. But the fact that an author assimilates a major part of Europe with one country, which was an occupant of their territories for decades, is another dimension.

Fashion, as I always emphasise, is and should be political. However, it has to be treated responsibly. I believe that a self-respecting media as BoF shouldn’t publish such misleading write-ups and promote. I understand it is an opinion piece and don’t take it for granted, but what about others, who doesn’t know a thing about the New Europe and it’s old enemy?

I could go on and on, I could question many more things (such as, how does dear author know what was the childhood like for Gvasalia), but in fact, no one reads lengthy essays on the Internet.

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