Dear Shaded Viewers and Diane,
Something you notice when you spend a few days with the right crowd in St Petersburg is that when the Russians recount tales of the underground, they most often actually mean below ground level, and that this is where, beneath the surface gloss, the city’s own pulse does beat. Tiny alcoves of smoky bars, tucked right behind a fast-food joint or through a nameless door in the courtyard of this or that residential building, serve you alcohol in china teacups – the locals call them speakeasy, as if this was Manhattan in the heart of the prohibition era, and not half a stone's throw away from Nevsky Prospect, some ninety years down the line. In Soviet times, places like these might have offered respite from the favoured puritanism on the upper levels. Now, though the values promoted above would be very different, they may very well offer just the same.
The CBET by Eclectic: New Russia show, curated by Eclectic Magazine for St Petersburg Fashion Week, means with New Russia exactly this: a new generation of underground creatives who work against the shared hypocrisies of the general public. A collaborative runway featuring garments by Anna Bezmen, Artem Shumov and Aloe Not, and accessories by Diana Law and Token Paris, the show took place on Sunday night at The New Stage of the Alexandrinsky Theatre, which was dolled up for the occasion to look just like one of those clubs: kissed by strobe lights and vapours, with a half-live, half-skyped performance by Estonian trap rapper Tommy Cash and his St Pete-based producer Danny. While Aloe Not upcycles and “embraces what everyone claims not to be”, Anna Bezmen was inspired by Orthodox priests for the cut of her jackets. They were worn by youth street-casted in town, or underneath it, and models from unconventional agencies like Lumpen. Short for lumpenproletariat, lumpen literally means lower class – and also means rags, in German.
In London, Paris or New York, we might have come to accept this aesthetic as simply streetwise. In St Petersburg though, where it’s all the more authentic, the shocking factor of it lives on – and comes to the forefront when you spot, for instance, an actual priest sitting front row, while on the catwalk girls and boys dance, crawl, lose clothes and shoes and feed one another Monopoly’s dollars.
Backstage portraits by Dimitrii Tolstoi.