The new Russian aesthetic

13

Author: Ben Tuthill

Vika Gazinskaya and friends have all the answers

This past summer street-style photographer Tommy Ton took a picture of a lady stepping out of a car in Paris wearing a couture white a-line dress  and, sort of obscenely, a Nike baseball cap. I’m usually pretty indifferent to street style, but that one instance stuck with me. I hope for the sake of my own dignity that I didn’t actually gasp when I saw it, but the reaction was almost visceral. It was just wrong. It was an insult to the dress. I hated it. 

A few days later though I was still thinking about it. Not so much about the hat, but about the dress: even though the hat undercut its formality, the dress still looked amazing. I took another look and realized that it had a giant swan-tail bow in the back and that it was paired with a disgustingly large diamond necklace. It was an outrageous piece of clothing, and the hat added another level of absurdity. Blogger Rachel Seville at “Pizza Rulez” called the look “transcendent.” I don’t know about that, but it was something, and whatever it was stuck with me for the rest of the summer.

As it turns out that lady’s name is Vika Gazinskaya, and she made the dress herself in her Spring 2012 collection, one of my favorites. That’s ancient history by now, but the show is still well worth a look. Vika takes traditional silhouettes, sharpens them up and throws on next-level additions three-feet-wide back bows and head-sized shoulder ties. Then she covers it all in hand-drawn prints that range from trompe-l’œil sketches of massive jewelry (the necklace in the picture was fake; I’d been had) to multi-colored scribbles. Overall, it’s a mix of laziness, couture-level tailoring, postmodern screwing around and traditionalism, and it’s absolutely awesome.

All of her shows are like this. I don’t think I’ve ever found a designer with a better track record. Fall 2012 made me rethink muffs. Fall 2011 made me rethink peplums. There were things happening in Spring 2010 that I can’t even begin to describe. She exaggerates and angles classic forms in ways that make them relevant without taking away from what made them classics in the first place.  

It’s weirdness on a Thom Browne level, but you can actually wear it, and you can actually look good doing it. So many designers today spend all their time playing with classic forms, but Vika respects those forms and works within their restraints. That doesn’t mean she follows the rules (scribbling on your going-out dresses in magic marker is definitely not orthodox), but she never loses touch with her roots. Classic wearability comes first.  Once that’s locked down she goes wild, but she never forgets what makes good style work.

Vika is part of a larger movement of filthy rich, beautiful Russian women whose style publications are throwing around names like The Russian Mafia and the New Russian Aesthetic. All of them are thinking along the same general lines about classic style. Fellow designer Ulyana Sergeenko debuted her couture collection this summer, specializing in ultra-traditional, obscenely luxurious Russian formalwear (fur gloves, fur skirts, fur gowns, fur hats) that was so out of touch with modern sensibility that it somehow worked. Freelance fashion writer and former editor of Harper’s Bazaar (Russia), Miraslava Duma mixes classic high-end glamour pieces with sloppy weekend clothes so well that you don’t even think twice about a fur vest being paired with an “I Heart New York” sweatshirt.

The rest of the world should pay attention. Experimenting with style doesn’t have to mean Prada-syle anti-fashion or idiosyncratic color combinations or drop-crotch harem pants. Even menswear, which has been falling into some problematic territory lately (I’m thinking herringbone sweatpants, camo blazers and pretty much anything endorsed by Lawrence Schlossman) could learn a thing or two here. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make something new; sometimes all it takes is a bit of new perspective and some genuinely great tailoring. 

Take a lesson from these kids; I think they’ve found the perfect balance. They know what needs to stay, and they know what they can play with. Is that the key to good style? Probably.  Is that the key to happiness and world peace? Sure, why not? Vika’s Spring 2013 collection is dropping any day now, and if Instagram photos can be trusted, it’s about to be amazing. If all the world’s problems are solved within the next week, you’ll know why. 

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