Making the Ordinary Fashionable: New Sartorial Languages from Russia and China

Alla Eizenberg, Hazel Clark

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


This chapter considers how the politics, histories, cultures and vestimentary traditions of Russia and China have had an impact on the sartorial languages of emerging generations of fashion designers originating from these two countries. The study brings attention to the Russian Gosha Rubchinskiy and Chinese Ma Ke as rare cases of designers who have achieved considerable prominence in their own countries and in the Western fashion discourse. It focuses in particular on their distinct, yet different, creative interests in the everyday and the ordinary as being instrumental in the wider reception and impact of their work in their home countries and beyond, and in the light of changing cultural sensibilities of the 21st century.

The complex histories of both Russia and China characterized by the cultural discontinuities and radical political and economic changes (including the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the ‘opening up’ of China) have influenced and informed designers’ sensitivities towards clothes, fashion, and consumer culture. Unlike some of their peers, compatriots and the wider Western fashion system, our case study designers have not resorted to familiar tropes of national identity in their work, but rather explore the unassuming, less familiar elements of their countries cultural narratives. Also, their various practices of engagement with fashion have not been limited to the design of clothing, but include photography, installations, and performance, infused by a fascination with aspects of the ordinary and the everyday. This chapter investigates and considers what has triggered this interest by both designers and examines the role their sources play in the innovative fashion articulations they produce. What, we ask, has stimulated an interest by emerging Russian and Chinese fashion designers, and our case studies in particular, in ordinary clothes worn in the Soviet Union, and in China in the twentieth century. And - why now? Might it be nostalgia for earlier times, an attempt to recreate an authentic experience, an effort to challenge the patterns of exclusivity in fashion, or something else?

To frame Rubchinskiy and Ma Ke’s work in a wider intellectual discourse, we reflect on Appadurai’s notion of ‘scapes’ in Modernity at Large (1996) to consider the radically changed relationships between time and space, and collapsing global and local boundaries, in which the “imagination [becomes] an organized field of social practices.” Observing these tendencies in fashion, we also draw upon Michel de Certeau’s notion of ‘tactics’ and ‘strategies’ in The Practice of Everyday Life (1980) to analyze the appeal of the everyday as a source by designers from nations outside of recent fashion discourse. We consider whether the design strategies employed by Gosha Rubchinskiy and Ma Ke can serve as new forms of imagination and inventiveness, corresponding to de Certeau’s ‘tactics,’ which offer the potential to undermine the perpetuation of ‘strategies’ of extraordinariness and otherness in Western fashion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Fashion Globalization
EditorsSarah Cheang, Yoko Takagi, Erica de Greef
Pages227- 246
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781350180062
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2021
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book


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


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