Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko is inspired by fairytales: “My grandmother always used to tell me fairytales before I was going to bed when I was a child, those were the tales of beautiful princesses and great heroes,” she explains, “sleeping beauties and beautiful czarinas.” Her couture Spring 2013 show referenced fairytales, with a white snow catwalk and tear drops inked on each model’s cheek by Charlotte Tilbury. The collection uses cashmere, fur, silk, velvet and intense craftsmanship: one top of Vologda lace took fifteen people three months to accomplish.
Sergeenko’s own life is somewhat of a fairytale. Married to Russian billionaire Danil Khachaturov, she moved to Moscow from Kazakstan as a child. She was a photographer before becoming a designer, and has become recognisable by her eclectic and identifiable personal style, which has a theatrical couture approach. “When I’m dressing I always have some idea or image in my head: young Marlon Brando for example, Vivienne Leigh, but most often my own grandmother; all those images are mixing with myself, maybe I am the permanent component of my own look.” Here AnOther speaks to Sergeenko about her inspirations and Russian heritage.
What inspired you to be a couture designer as opposed to ready-to-wear?
Couture for me is something very personal, unique, almost impossible; it is a dream.
You cite your grandmother as your muse. What is it about her that you find so inspiring?
Kindness and her ability to give, to love unselfishly, to take care of all those around her. She is gone but memories of her are still alive in the hearts of those who knew her.
What aspects of Russian history do you take into your designs?
The subjects of my collections are always imaginary. I like to mix different epochs in imagination. Spring/summer 2012 was inspired by Brigitte Bardot coming to Mosfilm – Moscow Movie Studios. I imagined she was in Moscow and thought of what she would wear on the red carpet, how she would go to the Kremlin and to Russian analog of Cote d'Azur back in the end of the 1950s, and of course as a symbol of sexual revolution Brigitte could never come to the USSR. This summer we were thinking of Scarlett O'Hara and her move to the Soviet Union.
"I am proud that we could use some of the traditional techniques that can be traced back to the Middle Ages"
For the latest collection, we were inspired by Medieval Russia. I am proud that we could use some of the traditional techniques that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. We also had Krestetsk embroidery. Back in time, each province had its own way of stitching, which were named according to the name of the place where they cropped up: Krestsy, Ivanovo and Yaroslavl, for example. The Krestsy stitch was born in the Novgorod region where craftswomen transferred the whiteness of snow, intricate patterns on frosty glass and views of the winter forest covered with frost onto linen. We used this technique to create the sleeves of the cashmere dress (look 37) with corset. And then there was hand embroidery with golden canitille, corals and river pearls in the collection – techniques known for centuries and traditional to Orthodox church-wear decoration.
Text by Mhairi Graham