Sunday, 6 January 2013

Fact and Fiction

“You look very Russian.”
It was an apt appraisal. Take one furry hat, place on head and – voila – comparisons to Anna Karenina are inevitable (the velvet helps). The recent film release has also helped to spur the re-emergence of words such as ‘tsar’, ‘cossack’ and ‘oligarch’ into fashion’s lexicon. Like the trends themselves, the vocabulary used by magazines and commentators waxes and wanes – ‘winter brights’ replacing ‘camel’ which replaced ‘seventies’. Each new season heralds another selection of descriptions to dislodge the old ones.
What I find fascinating though is what these words actually mean. Take ‘Russian’ for example. What is being evoked? It seems to me to be a mythic combination of warmth, opulence and wealth. It suggests snowy wastelands and colourful spires, chandeliers and satin, ice crystals and fur. When used within a fashion context, ‘Russian’ has only a shadowy resemblance to what it claims to represent.
This isn’t to play the language police or criticise use of the word. In fact, I wore a Russian themed outfit for a New Year’s Eve fancy dress party, with the largest, fluffiest grey hat I could find. But I'm nonetheless intrigued by the relationship between the way we label style and what those labels represent.
I’m studying Russia in my A2 History course at the moment. The syllabus starts in 1855 with Alexander II ruling.  A large percentage of the population at the time were serfs – quite literally ‘souls’ to be bought, sold and worked by wealthy landowners. The rich image we now conjure of  historical ‘Russians’ is one of St Petersburg society or the opera in Moscow rather than peasants so poor that some wore wooden boots, bare feet insulated only with straw. We tend not to acknowledge that the incredibly privileged minority sat atop a large, poverty-based majority. Of course we don’t. The glitter, the furs, the culture – all of this appears more alluring than the hugely unequal society or economic reality. And yet, such extreme affluence was only possible due to the existence of this class system that favoured a chosen few.
It’s not just exclusive to Russia though. We do it all the time – picking and choosing the bits of history we’d like to be inspired by. I, like many others, love stately homes and costume dramas. The stories attached to these grand buildings and their inhabitants are a source of endless interest. Think of the Elizabethan court, or Marie Antoinette’s lifestyle or opulent Balls in the 20s and 30s. They all intrigue. But why? I suppose the short answer is that we tend to aspire beyond our immediate environment – idolising what we're unlikely to experience ourselves. I certainly do it. But I occasionally catch myself, wondering whether it’s right to celebrate those stories of excess. Lift up the taffeta and one inevitably finds the suffering of others hidden beneath. Of course there are countless books, TV shows and studies that have explored the lives of the supporting networks – the servants, the peasantry, the farmhands – but they tend not to excite in a similar way, despite often being just as interesting. 
Maybe they still need to be acknowledged though, awareness tempering the seduction of luxury. But in using ‘Russian’ as a descriptive term, the concept remains merely another form of escapism. It may once have been rooted in reality, but it has budded fantasy. 

The ever-fabulous Florence Fox took these photos of me in my second hand sourced garb. This is one of the first set of photos posted here from a very exciting new venture between the two of us. We have started up a collaborative blog called 'Renard et Rose'  where we are showcasing our photography projects. Comprised of sneak previews and technical discussions of each shoot, followed shortly after by the resulting photos, it's a platform for us to publish our shared ventures. We have plenty of ideas brewing for the year ahead. You can read more about the project here


Sacramento Amate said...

Beautiful inspiration beyond any words.
Happy 2013.
Love and admiration always, my dear Rosalida.ROSA-LINDA

Marla Robinson said...

I love black and white photos. These pictures are lovely.

Sam said...

Beautiful pictures, as always! I love going Russian in winter :)

Sam Muses xx
£250 Boohoo Giveaway

Anonymous said...

Those photos are stunning _ I love the shot where the shawl is blowing in the wind. Your collaboration sounds very interested in seeing it progress : ) x

Anupriya DG said...

Interesting thoughts, as always! :)

And you look so gorgeous, dear Roz! I wish I could have you modelling for my brand one day! *sigh*

Emalina said...

Such magical and heavenly photographs! It's a beautiful outfit, and you carry it off with such grace. You and Florence have a great talent for photography, I will keep an eye on your joint blog with interest.

You talked of finding inspiration in stately homes and beautiful landscapes, so you might like to see my post of Country House Hotel which shows the stunning place we visited recently. Happy New Year to you Roz!

Maxens M. Finch said...

I love how you're almost draping the shawl around you in the first picture!
Great write-up as always. It's interesting how when there are collections inspired by clothing history, it has little to do with what most people wore during this era. It's only fashion history, which was made by the rich. Though recently I noticed a, hmm, noticeable number of new fashion houses in France had been launched by women who came from the working class in the beginning of the last century, probably because sewing was an expected and good job for working class women back then, even though they could access other jobs that were deemed less good. (that was while reading La Fabrique des Filles, but a bit unrelated and it makes no sense because I'm tired! stuffs lack in my reasoning.)
Still, at this point, they ended up making clothes for rich people.

Isa said...

I wasn't thinking Russian at first, but now that you mention it, I suppose you do. I think it's the velvety feel of the dress - you always think of Russians as cosy (as I guess they have to be!).

Closet Fashionista said...

I love these photos! And yes, it is quite funny how we pinpoint certain things about cultures to remember.
And I am always thinking I would love to live in the time that Pride & Prejudice took place, but we forget that back them women had nothing and there was so much illness and other bad stuff going on. It's like in Midnight in Paris, the main character loved the 20s and then a character he meets wants to live in the 1890s...

Willow said...

Another brilliant write-up, I have often thought about this (and I also sometimes catch myself doing the same thing) and so I found this very interesting to read. I also loved reading your post below, too.

Ah, those images are breathtaking! The first and fourth are my favourite. What an amazing photographer Flo is, and you are such a gorgeous subject (how I would love to be behind the camera in a shoot with you) so of course you both collaborate wonderfully (both behind and in front of the camera) in 'Renard et Rose' - a very fitting name too. I loved the post 'You crawled out of the sea' the images are stunning (that one of Flo on the steps is so amazing) and I love Laura Marling's music.

Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog, how wonderful to see Dylan Moran live! I definitely agree, he's a comic genius. Ah, yes, Black Books, one of my favourite series (among Doctor Who, Coupling, The Young Ones, Absolutely Fabulous, etc.) I love how there is just three main characters and barely anyone else, and it works so well (although I wish there were more than just 3 seasons.) I also enjoy Bill Bailey, but haven't yet seen all that much of his stand-up comedy.

Katia Pellicciotta said...

I do struggle with this romanticising of the past. As a lover of stories I naturally love history however the truth is that in a lot of respects our reality is much better than that of those past. We cannot ignore the suffering that was so common to so many. So if you think about it, in some ways it's funny how we yearn to be in another time. To translate our positions as 'normal people' of today into then would most probably put us into great poverty. So while I suppose it is a craving for what we can't have, I dare say that if we were living under the people of those riches we find so enchanting now we'd maybe even resent what they had.
On that note, I think it's difficult to understand something (to use your example of what 'Russian' means) if you haven't fully examined as best as you can where it has come from. So I commend you on doing just that.

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

That's interesting! To me, "Russian" sounds like cold, alcohol and lost wealth. I guess everyone has different associations with countries.
You look gorgeous, as always.


it's great that you are being inspired by your current curriculum. I also agree, we are all often intensely intrigued by other eras beyond our present environments ... when it comes to fashion especially, I suppose for a personalised vogue fantasy at times. Beautiful black & white images! Happy new year! :)/Madison

Melanie said...

I've been giving this topic a lot of thought lately. Are these stereotypic labels harmful or benign or even positive? I know that I enjoy seeing models because they represent an artistic ideal, not always a realistic one. Similarly I often automatically associate "Russian" or any other culture/people-specific epithet with an aspirational image reinforced by popular media. Deep topic.
On a lighter note, I love these photos of you - so minimalist yet packed with sensory excitement.

*Dark Angel* said...

Beautiful shots. Lovely blog :)

* TaLk-SicK! Dark Angel! *

The Photogramps said...

Beautiful Blog, Lady.

The Foolish Aesthete said...

You make a lovely czarina!

I must admit that as a child, "Russian" meant a sumptuous fur hat and ice skating with fingers nestled inside a cosy, fur muff. Then I got older and fell in love with Dostoyevsky and Kafka, etc. My old notions were quickly disabused. That's when I discovered far richer associations for the word "Russian"!

Congratulations on all your new projects. Seems like the year is a whirling one of new ventures for you. - J xxx

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