Soviet Kitsch                                                                                                             

Whether in anticipation of another white winter or in homage to the nationality of more than a few models, A/W 2011 has seen the fashion world display a hefty preoccupation with the great land of Russia.

This Eastern European influence was perhaps most apparent in the prevalence of fur – both faux and real – on the A/W catwalks, as taken to extremes by Giles where constricting corseted bodices battled against lush, long-haired fur skirts in a fetishistic merger.  Similarly, several gorgeous fur coats of various lengths appeared at Emporio Armani as part of an almost entirely black collection which emphasised the comforting and luxurious textures of the pieces.

If, however, your budget doesn’t stretch to that of an oil-oligarch’s wife, the high street is resolutely cloaked in a dense collection of faux-fur items.  From the top-down, this begins with the copious Russian style hats on offer.  These come in two distinct styles- the more masculine Ushanka, or ‘trapper’ hat with over-sized ear flaps or the pretty Zhivago-esque dome, often described as a ‘Cossack hat’.  ASOS is offering over 11 different styles, ranging from a neatly clipped classic black to a half-knitted white Cossack hat speckled with tips of grey- strictly for the wardrobe of Anastasia girls.  My only advice is to avoid anything with additional ears, particularly ASOS’s terrifying Bunny Ear Ushanka which is more Donny Darko than Jessica Rabbit.

Elsewhere, Topshop has taken the lead from Prada and created a range of faux-fur stoles, collars and hats in delicious hues stolen straight from a Tsarina’s jewellery box.  Teal, emerald, rust and dove grey all look seductively snug, whilst the sparkling colours add a decidedly modern pastiche to these traditional items.  Zara continue this take on the trend with some leather and sheepskin gloves in a gorgeous grape or dark, gothic blue.

It is worth noting that this isn’t an entirely new influence in fashion.  The cosy Cossack hat has been seen on the British streets for the past few years, but until the high street caught up this winter these were commonly sourced from vintage stores or, personally, from the deep reserves of Grandma’s wardrobe.  Chanel’s most adventurous foray into the lands of snow and ice came courtesy of their A/W 2010 collection which transformed Paris’ Grand Palais into the insides of a snow globe, complete with authentic Scandinavian iceberg.  All the fur used by Lagerfeld was fake and found its way into skirts, jackets, boots and- maybe over enthusiastically- trousers.

Whist it is possible to marry your fur items with sophisticated tea dresses, pearls, silks and all the other hallmarks of a St Petersburg pre-war socialite, as at Miu Miu, the crux of this style is to look more towards the folk or peasant traditions of Russia.  Instead of rose petal satin, couple fur with chunky knits in abstract or kitsch patterns and plenty of rich primary colours like the paintwork on a Mary Katrantzou Russian doll.  An oversize black and white snowflake-print cardigan with a liberal edging of ebony faux -fur at Topshop encapsulates this concept perfectly.

Vogue also captured this aesthetic in their recent Mongolian photo shoot.  Aside from the fabulous Yak photo in which the model is clothed in more fur than the yak she is sitting upon which created a stream of comments on the internet, Tim Walker’s photos show clothes saturated in colour which appear both delicately beautiful and sensibly solid.  The combination of Russia-into-Asia which Mongolia lends to the photographs is an inspiring place to approach this trend from.

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