What is Russian about Russian style today?

What is Russian about Russian style today? Working in the shadow of such incredible, complex cultural heritage contemporary Russian designers often seem uncertain about expressing national identity. Does one have to? What for? How? Practical answers to these questions and the Slavic creative ethos itself are evident in the work of British-Russian designer Nadja Solovieva. Perhaps this clarity became one of the reasons behind Nadja's triumph at BFC/ELLE Talent Launch Pad this September. It was great to read the list of four winners and note one familiar word – Vassilisa.

This traditional Russian name sounds extra fine when pronounced with an accented “S” by international fashionistas. Brand Vassilisa offers them magical, authentic, ethereally feminine images woven from threads of historic, aristocratic and artistic traditions. This ideal of a strong graceful woman, steeped in Russian folklore, has by now graced the pages of Vogue (UK, Russia), ELLE (USA), Tatler (UK, Russia), Women’s Wear Daily and can be found on display at some of the world’s most exclusive stores in 15 countries. «My heart flutters every time I wear them». This comment on Vassilisa's signature scarves by retail editor of Vogue UK made them instant bestsellers. Twice a year Vassilisa supplies full womenswear line up to its distributors and fans. The Tatler UK retail editor has named Vassilisa “the best kept secret in fashion at the moment”. Gwyneth Paltrow remarked “it is beyond cute”. Vassilisa’s growing client list and professional industry experts at BFC/ELLE Talent Launch Pad seem to agree that the brand, created by this one-time Moscow resident after her graduation from the iconic St. Martin’s in London, should be very optimistic about its future.

The British Fashion Council and ELLE Magazine established Talent Launch Pad last year to introduce emerging designers to worldwide retailers. This year’s winners – Claudia Catzeflis, Saloni, Sophie Hulme and Vassilisa – also received an invitation to present their collections at London Fashion Week. Carolina Rush, CEO, British Fashion Council, thus explained the criteria for judging the candidates: «This year's winners are all women with strong individual style which is reflected in their individual collections».

Nadja, how did you come to participate in BFC/Elle Talent Launch Pad? I was having tea with a fashion editor friend who has been wearing my items for years and over a gluten-free cake she told me that maybe I should try and venture out more into the fashion world. She really convinced me that Vassilisa could use more of a buzz around town. What were the stages of the competition? I looked at the London Fashion Week website, filled out the form with information on my clients, images of the collection items, and reviews. Then I received a letter - they narrowed the field to about 30 candidates who were invited to present in the front of the jury. When I walked into that room there were more then 20 judges: editors, retailers, boutique owners. I was extremely nervous. However, they liked it.

What do you think of the work of your three Talent Launch Pad colleagues? Hard to say, but I especially admire what Claudia Catzeflis does because she uses eco-textiles.

Can you talk a bit about your background as a designer? I graduated from St. Martin’s and for almost 3 years rather quietly supplied high end boutiques with my luxury items. I was focusing on the kind of client that values exclusivity other publicity. Now there are several partners who absolutely love what I do. I am happy with the way it all worked out. In the writers' world a copy of one’s first published book is supposed to somehow always provide emotional support and encouragement of future work. Do you have something like that? A scarf is my best selling item. It is also a very important historical symbol in traditional Russian culture. That may be close to what you are talking about.

How would you define the Vassilisa woman? I have noticed it is typically a woman with a distinct strong personality, most often very successful in some area of her life. Among our clients we have editors, entrepreneurs, socialites, creative business owners. Those who can afford it, because Vassilisa price range is quite high. What does your creative process and workspace look like? I work by sketchbook method. Usually for a muse I get a theme, an event or an idea which emotionally inspires me. And my workspace... Oh, it is a never-ending pile of scraps, papers, sketches, swatches, because I collage a lot. It is rather messy, my table.

Do you have favorite colors or materials? Vassilisa is known for its signature prints. We use plenty of authentically Russian floral, animal, and geometric motives. Many of them I develop from research in various archives. Colors depend on the collection’s storyline and we match them very carefully so they work well with various skin tones. When it comes to materials, I primarily use natural luxury fabrics like silk, cashmere, wool. This season I am into a very soft blend of Cashmere and Modal. Modal is considered to be ecological, because it is made of beech trees. Do you have a professional credo? Embrace your own uniqueness. Each person is unique and it does not matter how other people think you should be. My work is more luxury than fashion, because I think and create outside the season and trend cycles. Individuality should always be celebrated and is always in style.

Indeed, «Vassilisa is a luxury fashion label» is the opening line of the brand’s «About Us» page online. However, it seems that Vassilisa’s type of luxury is far from the red carpeted celebrity hype. It appears rooted in mythical archetypes and legendary authentically Russian traditions of fine living. It cannot be confined to ancient chests and books. This kind of rare treasure is meant to be shared. Interviewed by Artem Mozgovoi specially for DEPESHA.

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