Lada Komarova grew up in old Soviet Russia, where she resided with her parents and grandmother until the collapse of the Soviet Union during the mid-90s. Her upbringing is intertwined with bittersweet memories of growing up in Russia, but also, filled with memories that led her to start her own brand, Delada. Komarova has managed to nitpick the fragments from her upbringing in old Soviet Russia and used them to create something beautiful through her brand as a homage and as an inspiration.
Her progressive and sometimes obscure take on wardrobe staples such as tailored jackets, shirts and trousers has led to Delada becoming a worldwide recognised brand that has paved the way for modern post-soviet fashion brands. We sat down with Lada Komarova to discuss her past, but most importantly, how one can draw inspiration from something bittersweet and how to make it into something beautiful.
Lada, I know you’re Russian, but where did you grow up exactly?
I was born, raised and grew up in central Moscow. I’m a Moscovite through and through, urban dweller growing up with all the culture and architecture of growing up in the biggest city in the Soviet Union brought with it, living in a standard Soviet apartment with my parents and my grandmother during all my young life from birth until my mid-20s.
That seems exciting. Can you tell me a little about your time growing up? How was it like?
I grew up in quite a normal and usual Soviet family as a single child with both of my parents working full-time, which was quite usual. My father worked in the energy industry and my mother worked in radio and the media as a journalist. As it was very typical for Soviet households with both parents working full-time, my grandma (or babushka, as we say in Russian) was really a central figure in my time growing up. She was really there more than my mother, teaching me Russian folklore, and of course, cooking delicious Russian food for me.
There must be several, but what are your fondest memories of Russia?
The fondest memories are really of that time growing up with my grandma in central Moscow while my parents were living abroad for a work assignment for a few years. It was before Glasnost, and while we did not have a lot of material things and lived in cramped quarters, life was careless, full of fun and energy, and most of all, full of culture, movies, and lots of good food.
We didn’t miss many of the Western things that much, maybe because we didn’t even know things like those were normal, so we did the best we could with what we had and enjoyed life. There was no capitalistic pressure and people had more time for each other and for culture in general. I remember being out with friends in the neighbourhood and parks until late every day, drinking and enjoying university life in later years. These are the times that I still remember most fondly.
Do you remember your first encounter with fashion?
Yes, I remember vividly when I first started to experiment with fashion. When I was at home, I would wait for my grandma to leave the flat in order to rummage through what we called ‘grandma’s trunk’. The trunk was a traditional item in Soviet households where families would keep family heirlooms, military outfits, and other special clothing and items that were often passed down from generation to generation. With no real diversity in fashion available to purchase in Soviet times, I remember rummaging through the trunk and playing dress-up with friends, putting on oversized Sunday dresses, scarves, boas, but also mixing and matching things up with my dad’s and grandpa’s military hats and uniform jackets.
I think this is when I really started to realise how much I liked dressing up and experimenting with fashion for the first time in my life. And this memory of playing dress-up with clothes found in grandma’s trunk also became the inspiration for many of my collections, mixing military-style jackets with oversized shirts and building an eclectic collection from my fond memories of that experience.
You’re not in Russia anymore though. What made you leave?
Times got a lot tougher in the mid-90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many basic food items disappeared from the shelves completely and long ‘bread lines’ became the norm. At the same time, my boyfriend at that time had emigrated to California, so after finishing university, I decided to visit him – and I never came back. I continued my university masters degree studies in the United States and lived there for over ten years before settling in the United Kingdom. But I never lost touch with my homeland; I visited my parents and especially my Babushka in Moscow as much as I could.
Looking back at your past, is it good memories or bad? A mix of both, maybe?
I have a lot of very good memories, and I think while I know things were not always easy in Soviet times, I tend to suppress these negative memories and remember only the fond and wonderful memories of my upbringing in Moscow. I think it is very natural to idealize your childhood by blocking all the negative memories and only remember the positive ones. People often think that life was extremely hard in Soviet times; yes, we had very little material things, but in fact, we did have an amazing culture and access to the theatre, ballet, and amazing artistic Russian movies. It’s these things that I remember the most.
There was less pressure on the younger generation and it allowed me to feel at ease and enjoy my youth. However, the negative was total censorship, blocking any freedom of speech and any true creativity if this creativity did not support the Soviet system or was against any Soviet principals. It was sad to see how many underground artists had to suffer not having the possibility to express themselves freely and how the government controlled every single information the public could receive.
I imagine your babushka’s trunk had something to do with the decision, but what made you want to start Delada in the first place?
I had first dabbled into modern and contemporary art, and through my love for art started to design fashion a few years ago. But in the end, when I realised that people liked my designs and I dared to be different and come up with very creative, oversized and often unisex designs based on memories or inspirations from Russia, I realised that people shared my passion and that I could share this passion through a new fashion brand. This is how Delada was born. The naming is rather straightforward, as one of my French friends one said that these are the wonderful designs ‘of Lada’, which translates into ‘de Lada’ in French. And hence the name stuck.
So it wasn’t planned at all, it all developed organically. What was the initial inspiration behind the brand?
I have always loved art and culture and was especially fascinated by how art could be a huge inspiration for a fashion brand. So I started drawing ideas from my memories seeing famous Russian masters as well as social realist artworks while I grew up in Moscow, and started to translate themes of artists I loved into designs for new clothes. I then interwove other memories of my Russian upbringing into more and more collections.
For example, I did a collection based on my grandma’s trunk or another one of my memory of alcohol and cigarette smugglers who wore coats with lots of pockets and hidden design elements. And eventually, I think that I realised that I have such a huge fondness and vast recollection of various amazing memories from my Russian background that I wanted to bring into the 21st century and translate and share many of these memories through my fashion designs.
I can feel how important they are in your work, but how important would you say Russia and old Soviet are in your work?
It is very important to me. My Russian background is pretty much the main inspiration for many new collections and design elements I experiment with. There is also an underlying desire to bring my fond, loving and wonderful memories of bygone times of Soviet and Russian society and culture to a wider and global audience. In today’s difficult times and challenging political situation in Russia, I want to share my memories of a very loving, cultural, interesting and exciting Russia with the world.
I want them to know that there is an amazing diversity of art and culture that has developed over hundreds of years that should not be forgotten or ignored or looked down upon only because of the current political situation there. So yes, my Russian and Soviet background means a lot to me and is the inspiration for pretty much what I do.
How do you manage to make beautiful clothing that both reflect communist Russia and the new world you entered when leaving?
Well, from an artist’s perspective, the communist Soviet Union had a unique and very intriguing culture and also clothing style. Clothing was practical and mass-produced and uniform, but it also had very unique design elements such as social realism art prints and looks that I found fascinating. Delada is not about resurrecting these communist styles and reproducing them, but instead, I take elements and also inspirations from the crazy mix-and-match culture in Russia at that times to create new modern designer pieces that are fit for this modern age.
Great examples of this are the oversized long-sleeved shirts or blazers inspired by traditional Russian blazers. But they’re blazers that can be deconstructed and worn in many different ways since the diversity of wearing what limited fashion was available was one of the greatest inventions of the Russian people I grew up with.
Is Delada a homage to your motherland?
In some form, it is a homage to the best parts of Russia, which are Russian society and its love for culture, theatre, and art. It is my attempt to bring a bit of that amazing culture back into the 21st century and share it with the world through my creative and often eclectic designs. At the same time, I don’t dwell of past times, but am having really fun bringing some of the old design elements into modern streetwear styles, often pushing the boundaries and creating true unisex styles that are often oversized and baggy and so super comfortable to wear.
You manage to capture ‘the best of both worlds’. How would you say Delada has progressed?
Delada is still evolving from collection to collection, and I have started to experiment with new elements such as accessories and chains that really complement what I am trying to create. Plus, at the face of it, it really isn’t a Russian collection but a very modern streetwear brand that just happens to have found inspiration in Russian bygone eras and memories. In other words, each collection allows me to tell a story of my upbringing and share it with the world.
What is most exciting for me is that my designs and the story behind each collection have worldwide appeal, especially to my clients in Asia (Japan, Korea, and China), taking very fondly to each collection with sales growth in Asia the most. And then, of course, there are the occasional celebrities that pick one of my styles unexpectedly, which of course makes me proud, such as when Beyoncé picked one of my blazers with extra long sleeves for one of her Instagram campaigns. It is great to see that my designs have such universal appeal. That makes it all worth it.
Has your message changed since you initially started Delada?
I would say originally I really started out being inspired by Russian artists, both modern and contemporary, but also Russian masters. But I quickly felt that I wanted to bring something much more personal to each collection and started to take more inspiration from memories of my upbringing. So in other words, the message has become much more personal and private, as each new collection is now a reflection of some very personal and warm memories, sometimes combining inspiration from specific artists with some unique and very personal themes of my past. I guess this is what makes each collection so unique and personal to me.
Your collections travel and tell stories, what is the story you want to convey with Delada?
The story of Delada is the story of a young girl who grew up in a very different world and very different society which loved culture and art, and should not be forgotten. But that girl has now grown up and has gone out to travel and see the world, and now wants to give back and share some of her memories and cultural loves with the world through her designs.
I never design collections targeting any specific geographical market, and my designs are worn all over the world now in all cultures, all climates, and by all ages and sexes. So it is amazing to see that my inner memories and thoughts of my upbringing are now broadcast all over the world and that I have been able to share these memories with global travellers. That alone is just an amazing feeling and well worth all the hard work, effort and long hours.