By Víctor M. Hidalgo
Towards an aesthetics
On March 23rd, 2016, an Instagram user known as @sarahfuckingsnyder, who is currently followed by 1.2 million people, posted a photograph on her account wearing a DHL T-shirt and sitting on the mudguard of a courier van of the same company.
Since then, the DHL T-shirt has become one of the most talked-about recent phenomena in the world of fashion. The re-appropriation of commercial symbols is nothing new and it takes us back immediately to a Warholian approach, critical but at the same time immersed in mass culture. The difference in this case is that such an approach steps from a different place: the extinct Soviet block.
Demna Gvasalia is thirty-five and is a fashion designer from Georgia, and the visible face behind Vetements. This brand positioned itself as one of the first collectives taking anti-fashion to the catwalks: “Down to Earth is the new black”, according to their own statement. A fast and furious rise to fame that had its peak on the first show for Balenciaga in 2017, the maison he is creative director of since the end of 2015.
Among Demna’s usual collaborators, who directs the brand with his brother Guran and four more friends, are other personalities who in a couple of years have become well-positioned as bastions of a new approach towards contemporary fashion. Their power lies within the transformation and re-packaging of pop elements: the nearly impossible mixture of haute couture and street, a suit and a tracksuit, to give but an example. And almost all of them come from countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.
It’s obvious that today an archaeological revision of the nineties is taking place in fashion, but what is the vision of someone who lived them when they were only ten years old and their country was just immersing itself on capitalism for the first time? If there was something eminently Soviet, its roots were surgically removed and within the cracks emerged what is now Russia.
Society embraced luxury and opulence after nearly seventy years of austerity, and this transformation of values took the country, one of the last European ones to write their first Constitution, towards hyper-capitalism.
What they call post-soviet youth
Anastasiia Fedorova writes for magazines such as DAZED, I-D or BROADLY. Last November she shared an image on her Instagram account stating how difficult it was for Eastern people to keep a long-lasting friendship. The same thing I felt last summer in Kiev, in front of the Friendship’s Arch. These ghostly sets of union between peoples with such diverse social identities have become mere elements of atrezzo, monuments visited by hordes of tourists interested in the glory and fall of the USSR.
Fedorova also published, on the occasion of American Apparel shops closing down in Europe, an article on how her perception of the female body had changed thanks to the brand’s ads, not denying that they represented an objectification of women, but also adding that they appealed to the logics of sweatshop free work and LGBT rights, and used models that looked like real people.
Twenty years after the turbulent dismembering of the USSR, a new wave of freedom and fresh air is born. George Keburia was also born in Georgia. His A/W-16/17 collection reflected the civil war the country lived between 1988 and 1993 and the current homophobic climate to create and anti-war and openly queer campaign. The Tiblisi Fashion Week has become one of the reference catwalks to follow and as you might have guessed, this is not by pure chance.
But what does this phenomenon say about Russia? What other elements of Soviet aesthetics and society are undergoing a post re-evaluation?
Trying to find traces of contamination between the West and the Soviet block, this image by Aleksander Kosolápov, painter and sculptor born in Moscow in 1943, came to mind. Kosolápov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and since then he has worked and lived there, being very critical not only of his own country of origin but also of his country of adoption.
Kosolápov is the painter of the Perestroika. Through the use of capitalist, Soviet and pop culture icons, he puts on the same level the power of capitalism, Christianity and communism during the eighties as if they were the same thing. But we should ask, inside that iconicity, is there an underlying beatification of the symbols? If Kosolápov turns tyrants into pop icons similar in their dimension to Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, let’s have a look now at this T-shirt sold by Vetements.
What underlies inside symbols when they no longer symbolise anything? In these waters of semiotic contamination is where Vetements and other contemporary designers swim freely.