Monsoon recently held a Press Day for their Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection. The main range of clothes was displayed amid purposefully erected birch trees, glittering in winter effect, while the children’s range was housed in a make-shift, opulent nursery. With champagne and cocktails of vodka base and berry garnish also on offer, it was perhaps unnecessary for the company’s Creative Manager, Ann Ceprynski, to state that “You can see that the main inspiration is Russia, it’s very on-trend at the moment.”
Indeed, it seems Russia has been ‘on-trend’ for a while now. In 2008, it was already being noted how the Russian theme kept returning to the limelight and in 2009 John Galliano’s Paris show employed ‘an Eastern European Russian winter theme’, models sporting Ukranian-inspired clothes. Other top designers like Yves Saint Laurent and the Chanel house have been similarly influenced, yet many have concentrated on military aspects, the more angular Bolshevik and Soviet styles.
Monsoon, however, has now won its own place in that Slavic fashion history by following the trend recently set by Olga Vilshenko, looking back to Russia’s bucolic roots, blending a folklore feel – the cardigans and shawls; the skirts and layers; tinkling, coin-like addendums, gold thread, and abundant baubles – with Romantic evening wear worthy of a night at the ballet in the time of the Tsars.
It is Russia’s peasant history, with its rich tradition of fairytale and babushka-prevalent culture, that is the main focus of Monsoon’s new collection, but it blends seamlessly with the evening wear, the ‘1920s-inspired flapper dresses’, that era having been considered ‘the Soviet Union’s golden age of folklore’. Motif and print fashion was largely abandoned by Russians in the 1980s and didn’t see a return until the millennium.
Nevertheless, taking a leaf from the great writer Tolstoy – and his fascination with the endurance of the country’s native heart alongside the aristocracy’s leanings towards western culture – Monsoon has spread its usual eye for the eastern from India and Afghanistan to Russia’s own national identity, or narodnost’, and the deep seated issue of East versus West that has been in question since Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman.
Like a chapter out of War and Peace, AW13 presents a frozen scene of folk-influenced ‘dacha-wear’ alongside Imperial-inspired formal wear, for adults and children alike.
The enduring premise behind the brand’s success is that the “intrinsic beauty of fabric, colour and technique […] continues to exercise a strong influence.” Many of the prints are here inspired by Russian folk design – strong colours, such as red and blue, overlain on dark, heavy materials and then paired with lighter, more romantically flowing or lacy pieces. Monsoon’s emphasis is “always on clothes with an ethnic origin from faraway places”, many of the designs hand-made in those locations. Similarly, here, as Shelley Vella, Fashion and Style Director at Cosmopolitan, has said, the clothes “embrace the trends, but they do it in Monsoon’s very eclectic way.”
AW13 is certainly ‘eclectic’. On the one hand, it boasts distinctly ‘Russian-inspired knitwear and luxuriously embellished outerwear’. The knits (many in Russian red and snowy white, interspersed with dark and light greys) are seen matched with folk print skirts or dresses, providing that bohemian feel and inherent femininity Monsoon is renowned for. Further, for a company whose Spring/Summer collections often feature the babushka headscarf, winter scarves were always going to be bountiful, confirming the ‘babushka influence’ of AW13 (if pronunciation shifts, Kate Bush-like, from the first to second syllable, ‘babushka’ changes meaning from ‘grandmother’ to ‘scarf’).
On the other hand, formal evening wear is scattered throughout, shifting the folklore to more modern fairytale. The hope was to ‘inspire and ignite the imagination’, and as Francesca Bartoli, Children’s Fashion Stylist, described, this is especially captured in the children’s collection.
Imperial Russian royal blues and rich reds in beautiful velvet and sequined fabrics tempt and promise to make little Romanov princes and princesses of Monsoon’s younger clients. Catherine Hudson, Fashion and Lifestyle Writer for Immediate Parenting, noted here the elegance which existed despite the lingering ‘rustic feel’ of the surrounding display, in the patterned knits of cushions mingled with symbolic matryoshki.
AW13 celebrates 40 years in business for Monsoon. Founded in 1973 by Peter Simon, with Accessorize opening later in 1984, the company now has over 1000 premises worldwide. It is a founding member of the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) and recently partnered up with Pippa Small, the jewellery designer, in creating a collection for the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Afghanistan for the preservation of indigenous crafts.
Indeed, the preservation of the native, the indigenous, the ethnic runs through everything Monsoon does. AW13 presents this beautifully, especially with the poignant Slavic setting of the birch wood, national tree of Russia and ancient pagan symbol of the goddess – what every woman aims to be when considering new fashion and jewellery.