Can wearing a corset be a feminist act? Are we really living through 1984? Puglia-based Marina Eerrie campaigns for freedom of speech and dressing how you want. Her website reads, “If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe or basically an a--hole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me, I hate you.”  Kurt Cobain. Her rock-chic spirit underpinned by intelligent conversation gets our heads nodding like a bit of Teen Spirit.
Can you tell me about your childhood and what it was like growing up in Russia before moving to London?
I was born and spent most of my childhood on Sakhalin island (an island in the far east of Russia, just an hour flight from Japan), and for a child it was amazing - the nature is beautiful, and the city is surrounded by both sea and mountains. Winters were quite an experience there, sometimes there was so much snow that the ground floor door was blocked and I had to skip school (or jump out from the first floor into a snowdrift). For some reason, these are the first thoughts that come to me when I think about my hometown.
The end of the 90s, after the dissolution of the USSR, was a tough time for the country, but of course, as a child, you don’t realise many social issues around you like poverty, unemployment, and criminality. These were some of the reasons why in 1999 my family moved to Japan for a couple of years. We all absolutely loved the country and its people, this was also the first time I connected with the fashion industry. My mother took me to a modelling agency when I was 4 years old for some extra cash and we got involved in so many interesting projects and photoshoots. I learnt Japanese quite fast. The end of the Millenium was such a culturally vibrant time in Japan as well, I remember how much I was fascinated by Ganguro girls and Tokyo street style.
Returning back to post-soviet Russia was a big contrast. The early 2000s in Russia were very interesting, as a country we were coming out from a big, long dark period, however, there was a feeling of a big incoming cultural change. That was reflected in arts and music, the period when t.A.T.u. had good worldwide coverage and was a symbol of change for a generation. Alas, that process ended a few years later and that feeling of change disappeared. I moved to Moscow at the age of 12 to attend a school there. Since then I have lived quite independently, just with my sister, as my parents stayed on the island most of the time.
When was the moment you knew that you wanted to become a designer? What or who inspired you?
Bratz dolls, I think they should take credit for it (laughs). I remember they had these crazy trendy outfits, which I could only dream of - all I cared about was dressing them up. One day, when I was bored with my clothes, I for fabric and needles, and I tried to make outfits myself. I still have photos of those gorgeous designs, I promised myself to make a collection based on them one day. My mother, seeing me try to sew at aged 7, put me into the city’s only sewing course. I was the youngest there, and my teacher was kind to accept me despite the classes being for teenagers.
After moving to Moscow I forgot my hobbies, everyone around me was choosing serious professions and aiming to attend economics, politics, law or medical schools. As a teenager, I felt too frustrated about the future and who I wanted to be, so I chose stability and went to an International Law school. I loved studying law, and even had some work experience as a lawyer, but I wasn’t happy. I felt like something was missing. I didn’t want to get into this corporate world, I couldn't express what I wanted, even regretted my years of hard work studying law. In that moment of frustration, I met my husband-to-be, the person who made me rethink my life goals and question my longterm plans for life. So I took a risk and with his support and the support of my family, I moved to London to attend a fashion school.
What did you learn during your time as an embroidery design intern at Alexander McQueen?
Apart from all the different types of embroidery that exist, it was really important for me to discover how a big brand functions: how many talented people are involved in the process, how much time each design takes, and how many stages there before a garment can enter a store. It makes you appreciate every single piece created by brands with such a legacy. It might sound cliché but the thing that I learnt the most during that time at Alexander McQueen was learning to work as a team player. Let’s say, I wasn’t born with that skill, so it’s something that I had to learn.
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In 2019, you began developing your graduate collection, Riot 2036, as a reflection on Russian militarisation, propaganda, and human rights violations. What is it like looking at the collection now during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
What is happening is absolutely devastating, it’s hard to put into words. And looking back at that collection, all I can say is - it is painful to admit that I was right to have a bad feeling. The country was on a dangerous downward slope for years. Since turning17, I have used all legal ways to change this situation, and change the government with whom I disagreed on most subjects. I chose that topic back in 2019 because I couldn’t focus on anything else, it was painful seeing things worsening in my country. All opposition was being destroyed, politicians were being murdered or poisoned, human rights activists being persecuted, people were going to prison for comments on Instagram, and there was even police brutality against women and children during peaceful rallies.
Propaganda was reaching a new level, absolutely detached from reality. It was and still is maniacal, absolutely unhealthy, all about hate and seeing enemies everywhere. [The amount of] government crimes against its own nation are uncountable. It is heartbreaking that these crimes are extended to other millions of innocent people, there is no excuse for it. Back in 2019, I was hoping that this collection would be therapeutic for me, that I would only experience this pain for a year, make a statement, express my point of view in an art form and let it go - as I realised I couldn’t return to that country anymore. But now there are things that will be on our conscience forever.
What was the most challenging part of celebrating your roots while questioning systemic oppression?
Surprisingly, it is quite easy. Most Russians know the phrase from a 2000s Russian rock song which can be translated as “I love my country so much and hate the state”. In Russian, it sounds like a play on words, as country and state in common language are almost interchangeable, however state would refer more to the government and political system. And I think it describes well the feelings of many people. I still love my country, the island I grew up on, the beauty of the cities and the nation’s rich culture and history. Government decisions and the results of their propaganda - are not the part that I can celebrate. In my designs, I have to mix these two worlds together to try to make sense of these mixed feelings.
You also cited the Thought Police from George Orwell’s 1984 as an influence. What about that book has always stuck with you?
The frightening parallels between what is happening in my homeland and the book. Obviously, 1984 is a novel and what is happening in Russia is a reality. However, the mechanism of how society is controlled is incredibly similar. Propaganda which is based on hate, for example. It is genius how well these psychological tools of crowd control are described in the book during 2 Minutes Hate. Hate seems to be the easiest emotion that can unite people under one goal, it is scary but what is happening now proves that it is true. The idea that the country goals and ideas are more important than a person's life. For me, there is nothing more important than someone’s life. However, all opposition is treated in Russia almost the same way they are treated in the book.
There is already Thought Police in Russia and people are reporting each other to authorities for not supporting the [so called] special military operation. The Ministry of Truth also exists here and like the main character whose job was to rewrite history so it doesn't contradict the new politics, Russia is rewriting its past as well - just recently there was news that there is no more recollection of Kyivan Rus' in some school history books, I guess to remove the memory that Kyiv once was an important part of today’s Russia. How closer can it get to the book? The ending of the novel, where the main character after all the torture feels nothing towards the person he used to love so much makes you really think what war and violence can do with people. Tragic.
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What significance does the name Eerrie hold?
From when I was a teenager I used to have a list of names that I love - a silly thing I started for potential names for my future children. Once I came across a list on the internet and really loved the name Eerie. As my English was not great I didn’t know the word actually means something, now I am not even sure if it’s even a name, but it stuck with me. Once I started thinking about the brand name, I didn’t want to make it up completely, but I didn’t want to use my Russian family name either. To go a bit further from the word’s meaning, I modified the name to Marina Eerrie.
Marina Eerrie is ethically and sustainably made by a small family-owned manufacturer in Puglia. How do you source the majority of your fabrics? What percentage of that is recycled?
It was always important to me to make my clothes as ethical as possible and I would say at least 90% of the fabrics I use are either recycled or from dead stock. For the new collection, we also chose all accessories such as buttons from recycled materials. It was hard looking for new suppliers in a new country where I didn’t speak the language well and the research took me almost a year. In the end, I found Italian deadstock suppliers with amazing quality fabrics. Deadstock might not be the most sustainable option and not my ideal choice, but as an emerging designer options are limited, unfortunately. During textile fairs, I met amazing manufacturers who use recycled materials, however, to produce new fabric the minimum quantities are really high, at least this is what I discovered in Italy. Between overproduction, even of a recycled fabric, and using already excising fabric that would be thrown away - I chose the latter. Also, this is one of the reasons why I love corsets and designs with many details - the patterns are small and you can recycle every small piece of fabric for the new design to reduce waste. So in the new collection, we are upcycling many fabric cuts from the previous designs.
How did graduating during lockdown shape the vision of your brand?
Lockdown definitely impacted my choice of career. I graduated when most brands were closed because of covid. London is a very expensive city to be without a job, so my partner and I decided to move to South Italy. Slow life during the lockdown and even slower life of South Italy made me dream of creating a brand with a balanced and relaxed work-life which, unfortunately, you don’t always find in London. I decided not to rush into making several collections a year, to make sure that the people who work with me are happy and not overworking. It seems like an obvious thing, but the fashion industry with its endless deadlines can’t always offer this luxury. We make most of our clothes in our own studio, where I can control the quality and I really enjoy the process of creating - for the new collection all the patterns were done by me, which, of course, took months of collection development. I try really hard to not let this brand be all about business.
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Your corsetry acts as feminine armour; how do you think this diverts the male gaze?
This is the most fascinating topic for me, how controversial corsets are - I even dedicated my final thesis to whether corsets can be feminist. The message behind corsets has changed dramatically since the 90s. And the biggest change is women choose what to wear and how to wear it. Of course, it is a long discussion on where this choice comes from and if it is genuine. I believe it depends on the individual.
Depending on the type of a corset, wearing one as an outside garment can be daring and if a woman feels confident and strong in it - for me, this is empowering. I came from a country where teachers are fired for posting quite modest holiday photos in swimming costumes, so for me personally, it is liberating to wear whatever I want and express my sexuality in the way I want. It is a rebellious act against all these rules. It might not divert the male gaze, but when I wear it - it is not just about feeling pretty, or being looked at, it is about saying I do not care about what you think I should wear and if you look at me at all. However, despite my personal experience, I have to admit that there is a thin line between a corset as an empowering garment and a tool of objectification.
How can wearing a corset help fight unattainable beauty standards?
I don’t believe that wearing a corset can help in that, to be honest. However, modern takes on corsets which we can see on runways, including the ones I design, don’t have this rigidness and ability to tighten the waist drastically to promote an unattainable beauty standard. Most of the modern corsets you see are more decorative than functional. On the bright side, corsets are quite inclusive as the right corset can be worn by any woman and can make her feel comfortable.
Your website biography quotes Kurt Cobain saying, “If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe or basically an asshole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me. I hate you.” Why was it important for you to include this?
There is a chance that the way I perceive this phrase is different from what Kurt Cobain meant, but for me, it is a reminder that some values have to go first and they are unshakable. It really summarises many of the things I mentioned previously. For me, making clothes is more than a business, it is a way to communicate my thoughts and messages to others. That I would never want to compromise my freedom, as being honest with yourself is crucial and helps you go through many difficulties. I will have to go back for the last time to the topic of this war because it illustrates so well how it divided society and what it lead to. Suddenly values became so flexible. [People say] Yes, I am against wars, but... , I just can’t stand these buts anymore. Sometimes things simpler than we think, and this great quote is an important reminder of what is truly important in life - your truth, kindness and honesty.
You’re currently working on your next collection. What can we expect to see in terms of storyline and or aesthetics?
Yes, the new designs will be published this summer and I am really looking forward to it. This will be my first out-of-university collection and I have to be honest - I was happy to change the topic, as my graduate collection was so psychologically heavy for me. This collection will be a sort of escapism from this reality, I tried to focus more on what makes me happy - the designs are inspired by nature and music. I admire duality in designs - dark and light, fragile and strong, romantic and almost aggressive, I think this duality would be perceived throughout the whole collection.
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