Making the Ordinary Fashionable: New sartorial languages from Russia and China.

Activity: Talk or presentation typesConference presentation


Across the twentieth century the politics, histories and sartorial cultures of both Russia and China resonated with one another, and the dress of both countries likewise served as ‘inspiration’ for Western fashion designers. This referencing drew on different periods and on the ‘otherness’ of extraordinary garments from imperial Russia (e.g. Yves St Laurent’s ‘Russian’ collection 1976/77) and China (Christian Lacroix, Frontière Chinoise F/W 1992/3). Ordinary outfits also caught the attention of some designers (Donna Karan, ‘Chinese Worker,’ S/S 1995). How, we ask in this paper, if at all, have the vestimentary histories of Russia and China, and their appropriation by Western fashion, had an impact on the sartorial languages of emerging generations of fashion designers originating from these two countries?

We draw particular attention to contemporary fashion interest in the everyday, and reference Michel de Certeau’s notion of ‘tactics’ and ‘strategies’ to analyze the appeal of the everyday as a source by designers from nations outside of recent fashion history. We consider how much cultural discontinuities and political and economic changes (including the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the ‘opening up’ of China) and nostalgia for those earlier times have stimulated an interest by emerging Russian and Chinese fashion designers in ordinary clothes worn in the Soviet Union, and in China in the twentieth century.

Focusing in particular on the Russian Gosha Rubchinskiy and Chinese Ma Ke as rare cases of designers who have achieved considerable prominence in the Western fashion discourse, we analyze their different creative interests in the everyday and the wider reception of their work. We propose that their approaches can serve as new forms of inventiveness, corresponding to de Certeau’s ‘tactics,’ and ask whether they have the potential to undermine the perpetuation of ‘strategies’ of extraordinariness and otherness in Western fashion.
Period16 Feb 2019
Event titleTrans-Boundary Fashion (Re) Thinking Fashion Globalization Seminar
Event typeSeminar
LocationTokyo, JapanShow on map


  • ordinary, extraordinary, China, Russia, tactics, imagination