Right now, as everyone you know is just dying to drown in the oversized fit of Vetements’s Titanic hoodie, Lotta Volkova is swanning around in hers like the thing was made for her. And that’s most likely because it was. After all, along with styling the show, Volkova has walked in it for the past two seasons. So she’s basically the coolest stylist in the industry right now. Hell, even her name is cool. “My mom named me after a ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin. In [the] Soviet Union!” says Volkova, on a break from posing for the Innovators shoot for Vogue’s March issue, wearing a BDSM-type collar that she bought at a sex shop, as well as a tiny Russian Orthodox cross necklace. “It came really strange and randomly.” But after you spend some time with Volkova, little about her meteoric rise to the height of fashion seems random.Expand
Photographed by Inez + Vinoodh, Vogue, March 2016Volkova, along with Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia, is part of a groundswell of post-Soviet Union–bred Russian speakers on the rise in the industry who either live or spend plenty of time in Western Europe and incorporate their own unique, Soviet-influenced experience of the ’90s into their work. But beyond her crew, the stylist is in possession of an attitude and a look that is both red hot, hard to cop, and right in step with the Vetements bad-taste-meets-good-taste aesthetic that’s taken over fashion. Volkova’s Instagram account is a perfect example of the look: It’s a pixelated post-Soviet universe, one that focuses on fresh, newfound freedom, complete with saliva-swapping teens in Adidas track pants dragging on cigarette stubs in the hallways of apartment complexes. It’s the type of dirty and carefree space that spirals into a hot hoppy world of newness, focusing on a naive perception of luxury and labels only native to the post-Soviet Union. It’s something that the West has never experienced, and so for us, it’s all a little underground, it’s all a little fringe.
But this sort of gritty imagery is nothing novel for Volkova—she’s always been hovering on the fringe, always just out of the underground. Even during the Soviet times, she was exposed to foreign cultures, a rare thing for the time period. “My father was a captain on a ship, so he was constantly traveling. Even when it was [the] Soviet Union, my father was always bringing presents, like clothes from Japan and Germany,” says Volkova. “He used to bring videotapes of Tina Turner. My brother was the first one to wear denim in the ’80s, while my mom was the first one to drive a Japanese car in my town. We have always been quite lucky in that sense.” Expand
Photo: Courtesy of Lotta Volkova Adam / @lottavolkova
When the Soviet Union fell and Western media started to permeate Russian borders, Volkova was exposed to a surge of new media along with everyone else. “There was this almost revolutionary feeling. We had pro-gay marches in Moscow, and you learned so much about Russian art in the ’90s. It was superstrong—groundbreaking in a way,” says Volkova. “I look back on the time and it was like an explosion of information, which was really exciting for a child—and for me as a teenager, it was really inspiring.” There were also new introductions to fashion by way of pirated television. “The first time I learned about fashion was through the series Eurotrash, that program with Jean Paul Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes,” says Volkova. “I was watching Jean Paul Gaultier naked in a tree, interviewing someone else naked in another tree. It was so fucked up and so much fun.”
When Volkova turned 17, she left her hometown of Novosibirsk to study art at Central Saint Martins. Once there she fell into the club scene, spending most of her nights out, for which she would create her own clothes. Soon, her friends began asking Volkova to make their outfits, too. From there, she created her own label, Lotta Skeletrix. “It was sort of streetwear inspired by punk, New Wave, and post-punk culture,” says Volkova. “It got picked up by a few buyers, so I started selling it. Then I had my first show, and I started selling at Dover Street Market in London—and I met Rei Kawakubo. It was a very natural process. I never aimed at becoming a designer or anything like that.” Eventually, Volkova made the move to Paris, where she shifted from design to styling. She met Gosha Rubchinskiy on a shoot, and the rest is history. “It felt like we knew each other forever. We both were born in the same year, 1984, so we have the same references, and mentality, in a way. We understand each other so well.” A few years later, while out clubbing, she met Demna Gvasalia and was approached by him to work on his collection. “Again, straightaway, we understood that we have a lot in common.”Expand
Photo: Courtesy of Lotta Volkova Adam / @lottavolkovaNow Volkova is smack-dab in the midst of the serious, industry-shaping buzz surrounding Vetements. “I think it is one of the first times people have really paid attention to [post-Soviet culture]. There have been shoots in Russia before, but there has never been so many Russian people working and being inspired by where they came from. It’s a different style, and visually such a strong aesthetic, one that as Europeans or Americans we aren’t used to or know much about. It came quite natural for us because we grew up in that era, and to be honest, it was so different and special.” But as with all of fashion’s momentary fixations, there’s the risk of overexposure and then a sort of fad-related fatigue. Not so with this movement, says Volkova. “I don’t think it suddenly became so trendy. I just think people never really talked about it before as much, or showed it in that kind of way,” says the stylist, and she doesn’t consider this wave of post-Soviet visuals to be a trend, anyway, but rather a movement based on a new voice from a different perspective. “I’m interested in looking at things differently. I’m interested in looking at something that we aren’t necessarily used to being considered beautiful,” she says. “I’m interested in showing another side of things which I do find beautiful, which I do find real and interesting. I’m not necessarily interested in bad taste or kitsch, either—it is just something that I look at differently.” And thank goodness for that. Expand
Photo: Courtesy of Lotta Volkova Adam / @lottavolkova
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