Inspiration from the past
[b]Styled national costumes in fashion[/b]Every nation has its own traditional costumes. The Scots are known for their tartan kilts, the Japanese for their silk kimonos and the Bolivians for their hats with feathers. Historically, Belarusians have worn white peasant’s clothes, with red embroidery, and straw hats. However, this is not the only historical costume of Belarus, as Yuri Piskun, an Associate Professor at the Belarusian Arts Academy’s Costumes and Textile Department, points out. He also works as an artist for the choreographic ensemble Khoroshki. He is perhaps the first to design reconstructed costumes, proving that Belarusian national clothing is more richly diverse than some might imagine.
Every nation has its own traditional costumes. The Scots are known for their tartan kilts, the Japanese for their silk kimonos and the Bolivians for their hats with feathers. Historically, Belarusians have worn white peasant’s clothes, with red embroidery, and straw hats. However, this is not the only historical costume of Belarus, as Yuri Piskun, an Associate Professor at the Belarusian Arts Academy’s Costumes and Textile Department, points out. He also works as an artist for the choreographic ensemble Khoroshki. He is perhaps the first to design reconstructed costumes, proving that Belarusian national clothing is more richly diverse than some might imagine.
“This is a peasant’s costume, chosen as an identity for the nation in the 20th century,” explains Mr. Piskun. “It became as recognisable as our emblem or flag. However, apart from peasants, other social layers existed in Belarus. Accordingly, other costumes were also common. I’ve studied works of fiction, archives and portraits of Belarusians rather than making up designs. From the 14th-18th century, the gentry ruled the state but, after the 19th century rebellion, they were prohibited from wearing their traditional clothing. As a result, people began to imagine that only peasants had ever worn such clothes.”
Members of the gentry tended to wear a zhupan (a style of jerkin in Poland and Ukraine), a belt, yellow boots and a richly decorated fur hat. Traditional costumes were much valued and passed from one generation to the next. Regardless of income or status, the gentry, urban citizens and villagers took pride in their appearance, with common people weaving clothes from linen or wool. The rich bought them from abroad — in exchange for food and furs; in Holland, high quality broadcloth was purchased, while velvet was bought from Italy.
“It was difficult to restore these materials a decade or two ago,” says Mr. Piskun. “We had to invent techniques, taking the correct kind of cloth as our basis and placing new appliquй or embroidery upon it. At present, there is no problem with cloth.” According to Mr. Piskun, Belarusians were true fashionistas, being the first to sew gathered sleeves and to fix skirts to bodices. They created the zhupan (narrow in the waist and wide below), pleated skirts and aprons. Moreover, they used unique decorations and colours. The Belarusian gentry loved red, especially ‘cold’ red — with purple tints. Cloth of this colour gave its name to the gentry — crimson. As regards yellow boots made from goat skin, the gentry wore them for almost three hundred years.
The history of Belarusian costume is very rich, being a fount of motifs and ideas for modern designers. Famous designer and initiator of the Fashion Mill festival, Alexander Varlamov, believes the stylisation of a national costume is a wonderful path for modern Belarusian fashion development. He proposed this topic to designers for the forthcoming 19th Fashion Mill. “It would have been wrong to further develop and ‘re-design’ European fashion and the experience of other countries. We have our own rich fashion history. A designer only needs to choose what is to their taste from the diversity of forms, while studying the true materials for reinvention,” says Mr. Varlamov. He believes that our present world embraces eclecticism, which is why costumes can combine historical and modern motifs. The only issue is who is willing to do this. No doubt, only a professional can create a high quality costume. “Wonderful designs appear from national costume motifs,” he notes. “Belarus was and, judging by the collections of our designers, will remain a unique, intelligent and cultural land.”
The Parfenovich sisters are Fashion Mill participants who long ago began addressing national costumes in their collections: initially in 1999, creating an avant-garde series from straw, with a straw spider (a Belarusian amulet). Since then, they’ve continued to use national motifs in their work. It’s no wonder, since they graduated from a folk culture department. “We make ethnographic and stylised works,” says one. “I work at the same department where I studied. Jointly with students, we use books and photos to fully reconstruct historical costumes. We search for information and then draw sketches and sew clothes. As a rule, these costumes are primarily used at exhibitions. However, for me, it’s more interesting to create garments which people can wear. Moreover, it’s now possible to make even old and forgotten motifs and elements popular again.”
When making a stylised costume, it’s necessary to understand its original form: colour, composition and ornamentation. A designer chooses certain motifs and tries to reveal them in their own way. There’s no need to make cloth as it was before. For example, the sisters use linen, wool, silk and, even, synthetic fabrics; they sometimes decorate their costumes with plant and ceramic elements. “Importantly, a costume should be light and modern,” says Olga. “Slim young girls don’t want to wear long dresses as they existed in ages past.”
Designers adjust their collections to reflect our modern lifestyle, creating short skirts and open tops. These clothes can be worn easily every day, being convenient and stylish. “Globally accepted practice is to draw inspiration from historical costumes,” stresses Mr. Piskun. “Think of the Russian shirt (with collar fastening on one side) and women’s knee boots.”
Accordingly, the use of national costume motifs is no mere tribute to the past. It opens huge possibilities for modern Belarusian fashion.
By Lyudmila Minkevich