An invitation into a private sphere always makes the mind wander. As I found myself strolling along alleyways in the older, less discovered parts of the Parisian Marais, away from the fashion crowds, I reflected on the lack of personal connections we often experience in this industry of ours. Sent here by our Editor-in-Chief NoéMie Schwaller on a mission to unveil the story behind the precious body of work by Lana Siberie, I marched on to meet with its Creative Director. Suddenly, on a small corner, I spot a curious array of perfected linen jute garments, playfully draped in a modest shop window. As I venture inside I enter an intimate living room setting. Here, the label’s designer Iulia Filipovscaia awaits. Calm, composed and with an open gaze. Straight off the bat, one can sense her sincere, curious and welcoming nature. No need for introductions. An encounter – connected, undisturbed – that paved the way for more dialogues. Upon my return to our Bergen studio and with Iulia back in hers in London, we caught up with each other, triggering her inner rebel, an adventurous perception of art, the importance of motherhood, all whipped up with a dash of profound soul searching. A personal tirade, bang on point!
Ground. Iulia, how would your depict your youth?
From the age of 10 until 16 we moved away from Siberia and the American missionary school all the way to Moldova. My youth there was a ‘typical’ post-Soviet one in a Third- World country that quite understandably did not want to respond to me, as I was Russian. It was not much fun not getting served at the local shops. One of my childhood friends, with whom I did all the usual mischief, like jumping on top of containers or stealing fruits and flowers from neighboring gardens, was a true local. As it happens, she also lives in London now. Even though I did learn the Moldovan language in the end and always nicely worked on my homework, my essays were never as good as hers: Bless you, Valeria!
At the first school in Chișinău, I got asked to leave. Funnily enough, its director was my mum’s best friend’s mother. I used to call her aunty Aglaia. What can I say, I got into a fight with a girl. Now that I think about it, I was actually quite the rebel. Perhaps I might always have been one, as hierarchy, nationalism, racism etc., do not resonate well with me. During these years, my mother travelled abroad a lot; she would go to Germany and pick up these avant-garde pieces that would not become available here for some time. In class, a lot of girls envied me because of this. As I grew older, I also drew the attention of boys. It did not help that I was rather boyish myself and thought they simply have way more fun! You could say we lived a high-class life, with a driver and managing several businesses, but this was high-class life in a poor country. The contrast was very stark and of course made it harder for me to integrate.
Erratum. So what about discovering style and your independent sense of creativity?
My mother obsessed about clothes and she would literally cross borders to get her hands on the new delivery of Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji Yamamoto, Costume National, Comme des Garçons or Lanvin. I think it is great to be in a position to travel and buy what you love (not many back then would be able to, not many even have this privilege today). This is exactly what I want to do with Lana Siberie in the future – to embark on a world tour finding vintage textiles and objects. The fact that my mum had taste and an understanding of what Ann Demeulemeester stands for in the world of fashion is also quite amazing, as up until some years ago, I got to wear all these beautifully crafted clothes. Nowadays, I wear my own designs from head to toe. It is becoming more and more important to me to choose what fabric is touching my skin. With the garments I make for my label, I feel I have to connect to them as I learn, live and breathe what I do.
The traces of my creative path unfolded first, when back in 2002, I clicked the heels of my magic slippers and ended up in Kansas. There I took proper art classes for the first time and my teachers were most encouraging. During this time, I also travelled to a nearby larger city and signed up for my first photography class. This is where I picked up an analog camera and developed and printed my first images. By the end of this exchange year, I decided to apply for an art college. As I did not have a big portfolio of work with me back in the US and since most universities required one, we had to be a little creative here. Initially, I got an offer from a junior college in Santa Monica, for what I believe was a graphic design course. But the day I went to the American Embassy to apply for a visa, a letter from Central Saint Martins popped through the letter box, offering me to start a foundation course in Art and Design. That was the beginning of a big war (depending how you look at it)…..
Discourse. As you started to work on your art, some might say that art is subservient to fashion, albeit they often collide. Your work as an artist surely must connect to your other self as a designer of garments…
I strongly disagree! Art encompasses all types of creativity: theatre, performance, sculpture, design – hence it encompasses fashion too. In my opinion, fine art is conceptually further reaching in the way that it has been explored compared to its subcultures. I believe there is a myriad of ideas and philosophical conundrums that have not been implemented and thus can be drawn upon. Art naturally has it faults; it prides itself as elitist, completely non-commercial and having a non-functional function – if we choose to omit the investment approach. Even more so, it heralds the emotional and educational aspects of its existence.
Basically, I do have this romanticised idea about art, but what is more important is that both art and fashion can be authentic and magical. I sincerely approach my fashion in the same manner as I approach my art. We either use vintage, antique and bio-materials (seeds) for everything we do and these are the same materials I use in art: cloth and furnishings. And yes, everything starts from a thought, so is it art or fashion? My fashion is art and my art is touchy. If we go back to 2013, when we worked on an idea to find a way to knit by avoiding printing. A marble pattern was developed from a series of collages called ‘The Mineral Man’, where I assembled portraits of friends with different minerals as their heads, depending on their individual character traits and personality. I come from a diamond-mining town, minerals have been my everyday for as long as I can remember. If I had to sum it up: art or fashion, any creation is God as it stands at the heart of the expansion of what we call life. It is though our ideas we create, we move to the next and onto the next. That moment of when an idea occurs to you, that is simply it!
Exterior. Nature, roaming the taigas, touching diverse structures, vivacious fabric. What do these mean to you?
Nature is everything, I bow. Many times, I wish I had understood this earlier. It seems odd that I only discovered this central fact to my work so recently. A bizarre but true contrast, but everything happens in due time. Here, I sing fashion’s praises, as a desire to work on a family business and leave behind a heritage, led me to think in garment terms. This together with the realisation that I am obsessed with texture and tactility, which is visible in both my photographic and mixed media works. Things in this universe do find an interesting way of revealing themselves to you, I tell you! Everything is connected and in a way I do not differentiate, cloth to me is as true as the skin of a lychee, although bear in mind the cloth I choose is plant-based. Another element that is important to me is spaciousness (maybe that is why I cannot live in a conventional way and chose a former gym for my new home), freedom and wildness, the power and beauty, the absolute magic of nature is so alive, glorious and needed. I rejuvenate at the sight of a mountain peak, I melt at the design of a leaf. I love, adore and truly cherish nature.
Interior. Mother. You and her. She is a foundation to so much. Could you tell me about your unique connection to her?
My mother is a woman I am most grateful to to such an extent that I would not be able to find words for it. So, so grateful. I can’t explain this unique feeling for her. Mostly by providing a sense of contrast, Lana (ed. Iulia’s mother) has taught me a massive range of things. She is my best teacher. If you are able to attend or absorb and grasp your relationship with your parents, you simply go several levels up. That understanding was and is the best thing about doing things together. The best! The one thing my mum always did, which has stayed with me forever, is to express that, in any relationship, the closer the better. She focuses on the source, or takes part of the equation, by looking straight at my core. She believed and believes in everything I do. If I can take her example and implement it in my life for the number of years that she has done, I would be the happiest person on this planet. I would see through even the hardest of times, allowing me to focus on love. Do this with your partner? Haha. That is the easy way out, isn’t it? And do not say this is about motherly love, as no mother is the same.
Technique. You told me she also is a very keen knitter. Are you able to construct as well, or is she the driving force when it comes to the studio work?
The force is with me (sorry, I could not help myself). Lana is so good at executing the knits; I do all the rest, as well as overseeing the making of. I am not a machinist though or a pattern cutter. I am simply the one behind the wheel and she is the one passing me the shades. Again, also when we work together, this is done in perfect harmony.
Ownership. Creating out of what we already have. Your garments are reworked surplus stock, vintage pieces, selected carefully and approaching materials in a new way. How do you go about this process?
Oh, that is so much fun! Selecting the fabrics. Marrying them with a drawing. Gosh, I do love this process. We source in Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia etc. At auctions, in villages, fairs – we simply look everywhere. It is so imperative for me that each piece:
- Is made from what it was
- Originally has been made by hand (on a loom or hand-knitted)
- Is plant-based
A phrase from a famous Russian film says: “Please, read out the full list”. After these kinds of criteria you are left with a very certain type of materials in your hands, which are predominantly of a vintage or antique nature. Most of our linen, hemp and the mix of those two are at least 50 years old, sometimes even 100. Who can beat that? Think about the woman who was making it, think of her heritage, the tradition of dowry and creating all your household textiles with your own bare hands. You are wearing art and here I want to raise a question – why would you ever want more than, say, ten pieces of the same? I would not want two – one of a kind is good for me. The preciousness and value of these pieces is impeccable. What is more important is that with some awareness comes forth more awareness. Soon, it will become a point of connection for those who are dwelling high in the higher realms. You will choose a cleaner, more natural path of wearables.
Attachment. Do you feel connected to physical items or do you see yourself more as an independent wanderer?
I am an absolute wanderer in that sense, as everything I have I am happy to let go of. I am not attached to things, beings or bodies. Even though you will see me move around with many possessions, as one opens my drawers he or she will discover a collection of dry leaves and flowers, seeds of all sorts and so on. None of this will be regarded as valuable by most earthly beings. These are only of value to me as they are the elements I create with. I have a tendency of gifting above one’s expectations and at certain instances have had to backtrack a little. Most of my friends have got at least one gifted artwork by me.
Empowered. In what ways do you wish for your work to improve and enthrall the world we live in today?
This is a big one. I want to raise awareness and bring focus to one’s choices. It is a way beyond “being cool”; it never has been – quite the opposite. Because it is 100% clear that everything you do: eat, live, speak and in this instance, wear, is a reflection of who you are and what you stand for. Every action you take is a choice. So why not start listening to what feels good and attend to that, whilst seeing where it takes you. The more you do it, the happier and clearer your path to inner guidance will be. I want to build a 100% sustainable living and workplace in the centre of London.
At large. How do see this sustainable discourse in practice?
Well, I want to create a workplace environment for people where they will make magic happen. I want to travel the world in search of untapped old, natural and authentic textiles and antique objects and then transform these into art and fashion of high value and true beauty. Here I think of literally one of the biggest holes in the world – I am talking about the diamond mine in the town where I was born. When I think of this I want to realise a project that has been developed by a girl from my birth town during a residency at an architectural company in Moscow. Her idea was, by 2020, to build an eco-city inside the crater with a diameter of 1km and a depth of 550m. I want to take part in this! As an instigator, I would like to be in a position to lift projects like that off the ground one by one.
Engage. Spreading, engaging and expressing. What would be the ideal path in order to transfer your vision to others?
That more and more people hear my codes and open up to this journey in their unique way. Everyone may participate differently; through talking, writing, sharing, wearing, buying, appreciating, collecting etc. The transformation is then taking place. Experiences change. The universe expands. Personally, I do not know anyone who is making what we are making, considering the specifics of what I described. The ideal path is to allow what we do to speak for itself. I want the product to be reachable on a planetary scale and for the world to know that we exist.
Youth. You find it relevant and important to connect with new generations. As a former CSM graduate, how would you advise new creatives wishing to make their mark?
Listen to yourself. You know what is best. Tap into your feeling and inner guidance, practice to trust them every day. If an idea sparks up inside, inspires and moves you – do follow through! If not, life will become a constant state of flux, floating from idea to realisation. Do not wait till tomorrow. Now is the time.