Remember password

eng / rus

Two Katyas. INTERVIEW. 1989 год.

Stick out your arm for a taxi in Moscow and almost any vehicle on the road might stop, from the smallest two- seater Moskvitch (with a lawn-mower engine) to the largest eighteen-wheel converted missile carrier (with a small picture of Joseph Stalin propped up on the dashboard). Soviet cabs tend to whiz past; private moon­lighters are more polite, and the ride's generally more interesting.

On a freezing late November day, I hoist a camera bag on my shoulder and head for Kutuzovsky Prospect. An old gray Volga picks me up. The driver’s friendly; we speak in German. He thumbs through a black address book thick with names from Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague and stops to read me his mother’s address in New York City. We talk about his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. Our vocabulary stalls. “JudenV I finally ask. “Hein. Juden kaputt’ he says, drawing a finger across his throat. “Alles tot." The Jews are all dead.

A little shaken up, I pick up Misha K. and we flag down another car. This one is a big black Chaika limo with official plates. Inside, a stereo pumps out American disco from the mid-’70s. We tool in style past the numberless, numbing apartment blocks at the city's rim to the tune of “Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your booty." We pull up at Ulitsa Pre-Brezhneva, home of Katya Filipova, a leading fashion designer of the Moscow “unofficial” fashion scene. The driver asks for Marlboros.

Katya’s apartment, high above a frozen canal, is filled with models wearing black leather and makeup. Lazy, slow turboprop planes buzz by at voyeuristic eye level; Sheremetyevo Airport is nearby. Below, people are fishing on the ice. Inside, Van Halen blares (David Lee Roth sneers from a poster on the wall) as Katya adjusts her models for a photo session. “I'm going in several different stylistic directions," she explains. “One of them I call Red Square’; another is Economic Achievements Style.' I com­bine almost anything you would desire to create these styles. They are a monument to Stalinist aesthetics and Stalinist sym­bolism. You might say I'm being ironic in this, but I think it’s an irony that this symbolism is depicted everywhere in a dishonest way. I'm being more sincere in my irony than the official artists are in their cliches.”

Filipova is one of two Katyas at the cutting edge of Moscow “unofficial” fashion; the other is Katya Mikulskaya. Filipova's work is designed to shock: black leather “tri-kinis," garish red military marching-band uniforms, parodies of collective-farm wear drenched with hammer-and-sickle symbolism. Mikulskaya's work is generally more sly and elegant; she uses furs, lace, silk, and net stockings. Both of them scrounge around in “commission shops* and rework antique clothing. Both tend to lampoon the ritualistic Soviet obsession with ceremony; this is “Sots-art," where ideological signs and signifiers are de­constructed, then rebuilt: a parody of perestroika. “It's a Soviet style because I think our work expresses Soviet life, our Soviet life without traditions, incorporating the architectural orna­ments of the city,” explains Mikulskaya. Neither of them, she says dryly, makes clothes “practical for the street."

After many photos, Katya Filipova sits down, surrounded by a bouquet of models. “My main principle is absurdism. It’s one of the consequences of a totalitarian state," she says. “You could call it a protest against totalitarian reality. It doesn’t mean, though, that I’m against the state; I was born here and I love this country. It's more a protest against the cultural climate, not the political system.” I ask if things have changed for her since Gorbachev took power. Yes, she says, her fashions are now get­ting exposure in the official media—there have been shows in cafes in Moscow and Riga, and her work has even made it to national television—but materials are still hard to come by. “I don’t think it's realistic to expect to be employed at a job where I can use this kind of skill," she adds. “Anyway, I don't like the control that official activity brings. There's always a committee saying nyet."

A few days later, Katya Mikulskaya, who spent two years in Paris in the late '70s when her father worked for UNESCO, ex­plains some of the problems with designing antifashions in the Soviet Union. “The biggest problem is money for the clothing, and for the girls when I try to show my work. It’s not cheap. I’d like to have a studio, for example.” Mikulskaya, who is in her senioryear at the Moscow Institute of Architecture, is well aware of Sasha Brodsky and Ilya Utkin’s paper architecture. I ask why she chose to concentrate on fashion design. ‘You know, it's impossible for a woman to be an architect here,” she says, “absolutely impossible.”

Her aims, though, are similar to those of the paper architects.

“I want to create an absurd theater with abstract phrases and abstract texts. My dream is to create a group of artists and designers, to make a studio for progressive architects andl artists.”    Michael R.Benson


« go back
© 2006-2012. Kompost. Sitemap