Former stylist and journalist, respectively, at Numero Russia, Igor and Masha are no strangers to the ever-changing world of fashion. Their own brand Vereja was established just a few years ago, in 2018, and since then they have proved the importance of culture, traditions, and the past in reinventing the future of fashion.
Drawing inspiration from their own childhood memories of Russian rural life, and the freedom of pre-18th Century Pagan festivals, their knitted and embroidered collections are exclusive to those unafraid to merge their childlike spirit with their sensuality.
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Could you tell us a little about the origins of Vereja? Your designs have a vibrant, animated aura to them, how did the decision for you both, Igor and Masha to work together on such an ethereal concept transpire?
We just want to escape this grown-up world with its grown-up problems, like paying the rent, the necessity to work for money, impossibility to just lay down and do nothing for a long time, and so on. So we create these garments which bring us joy to deal with everything like that. Our creations help us feel like we are still children, and all we have to do is play, and there are no shitty obligations in life at all.
Could you tell us more about how you construct these concepts together?
It’s very intuitive and we don’t have any pre-existing plans. Igor just knits something, then once we have a collection we analyse it and define the common themes. So everything starts as irrational and becomes cerebral in the end. We have sources of inspiration, though. We love vintage magazines with knitting patterns, draw from our childhood memories of life in rural Russia, and develop our pantheon of characters (1,2,3,4,5) which travel from garment to garment (1,2) and from collection to collection.
Vereya is a town in Russia located south-west of Moscow. Am I right to assume there is a link between this place and your brand?
Yes, the brand is named in honour of the small town in the Moscow region where Igor’s mother worked at a garment factory, which made the first jeans in the USSR and where Igor himself grew up.
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Your clothing designs – as well as the stage design of your latest Fall/Winter 2022 catwalk – remind me of the fantastical universe in which fairy tales take place, specifically that of Hansel and Gretel! It seems as though having a childlike imagination is important in keeping your designs playful and expressive. Would you say so?
Yes, and we also use our designs to attract attention — it seems to be a childish approach as well.
Many of your embroidered designs appear reminiscent of childhood memories made with grandparents and of village life in general. How much have Russian culture and traditions influenced the signature aesthetic of Vereja?
We were raised in rural Russia, and it’s a very special place with its own aesthetics. And we do love Russian culture, and draw a lot from it. Our inspirations are Russian knitting traditions, fairytales and the culture of 90s and 00s rural Russia. For example, knitted shoes and rubber boots which appeared in the fw21 lookbook were the popular footwear for the mid-2000s in provincial Russia. And lace tablecloths and doilies which we sometimes use for making dresses are still one of the elements of home decor in Russian villages.
We also are inspired by pagan festivals that are still celebrated in Russia. For example, during Shrovetide at the beginning of spring people make a scarecrow in the form of a woman which symbolises winter, burn it, and eat pancakes, which symbolise the sun. Another lovely holiday is the day of Ivan Kupala. This takes place at the beginning of summer, and historically it was intended to search for brides and grooms. A couple of centuries ago, everyone ran almost naked through the forests and fields on this day — that was the tradition. In short, we like the remnants of paganism, and a Russian culture that existed before the Europeanisation of Russia in the 18th century.
Knitting is still very popular in Russia. But in the USSR it really flourished, maybe because people were really poor and there weren’t lots of garment options in the shops. So if in the USSR you wanted to wear something, you would have made it by yourself. So lots of women knit. This is also a tradition that remains.
For a country often misinterpreted as deeply post-Soviet and predominantly industrial, you have managed to launch a new and experimental perspective on Russian fashion, primarily through the use of bright colours and pixie-like designs. Do you feel as though the fashion industry encourages such artistic freedom? What were the difficulties, if any, which you experienced in establishing Vereja as a designer brand?
We think yes, the fashion industry encourages artistic freedom. You have to have a bold statement to attract attention. As for the problems — we really didn’t have any big troubles. Maybe we just have that kind of attitude. It also really helps that we used to work in fashion before Vereja (Igor was a stylist and an editor-in-chief of Numero Russia, and Masha used to be a fashion journalist and Editor of Numero Russia — it’s where we met) and know how everything is supposed to work.
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I understand that you reuse various second-hand materials when knitting your clothes. Please tell us more about this process.
Some of our items, like this dress, are made from vintage napkins and tablecloths. We think, Soviet people had some kind of obsession with tablecloths and napkins. All houses, especially in rural Russia, were decorated with these textiles. Napkins were everywhere: on TVs, tables, sofas. It was also everywhere in Igor's childhood home. We used them a lot during the production of the first collections, but now we use them only for samples. But now we have developed our project into a knit installation too. For a couple of years now we have collected unwanted knitwear from our friends and followers and transformed it into an art piece. Here you can see the development. Everything started from the dress, that then was transformed into one installation, then a bigger one, and then a bigger one. On October 1st we opened the 25-meter high knit installation in Tsvetnoy department store in Moscow.
Is sustainability an important aspect of your brand’s cultural values? Do you wish to be an eco-friendly example in the, at times, profit-oriented fashion industry?
We don’t want to be an example. We just do what we want and what we find natural to do. There are lots of things around, why not use them?
Something interesting which I noticed in your Fall/Winter 2022 collection is how popular the use of Crocs was with each outfit. Is there a reason for this?
They went great with every look and the collection in general. Also croc-like rubber shoes are very popular in Russian villages. Everybody uses them on a daily basis. So it also made sense.
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Growing up in an Eastern European country, were you exposed to any Western influences, in terms of art and culture, which have materialised in your art?
When we started to work in fashion (Igor was a stylist and Masha was a journalist) we just opened Vogue Runway and went through all the shows of the season from A to Z, without missing anything. We also are and always were big fans of printed magazines, so we knew great photographers from it, like Tim Walker, whom Igor admires. Speaking of childhood — our favourite movies were Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. OK, we still love them. We watched The Chronicles of Narnia again a couple of weeks ago, as for Harry Potter — we revisit it no less than 4 times a year. We also love all the Marvel superhero movies. And Pokémon of course - although that's not western.
Your chihuahua, which you occasionally dress up in Vereja garments, is featured a lot on your Instagram – and even appeared on the runway! Is clothing for dogs a direction which you would like to take the brand in?
Nobody knows. But now Andre, that's the name of the dog, is the face of our collaboration with Moscow department store Tsvetnoy. And he also became one of the creatures in the Vereja’s universe.
Your clothing designs tend to be sexually expressive and liberated of gender, whilst maintaining a sense of childlike quirkiness. How do you arrive at such a spectacular balance?
Actually, we are such people. We are sexually active but a bit like children in our souls. We are also a bit infantile in terms of romantic relationships. We don’t know how to deal with it. So all we have is our sexuality and a desire to play. Sometimes we think that our puberty is not over yet.
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There seems to be a dichotomy in fashion on social media today; fast fashion is so prevalent and promotes the making of replicas, at the same time thrifting and homemade clothing are emerging in the mainstream – thanks to platforms like TikTok. Do you feel it is important to promote identity in a community which can be absorbed by the superficiality of fashion?
Yes, we think it’s important. Knitting is a great area for creativity. You can use knits of all colours, and your mood and personality affect the way you knit. For example, you can tighten the threads more or less — so there could never be absolutely identical hand knitted pieces.
What can we expect next from Vereja?
We hope to launch a Vereja Home someday: rugs, tableware, home textiles and so on. We also dream of doing a collaboration with Dover Street Market, and to extend our knitted installation so it covers the Mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow. It would be a great symbol of a new time and values in Russia.
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