Lotta Volkova: journey through CSM, Vetements, Balenciaga
This article originally appeared in 1 Granary Issue 3
Lotta Volkova is everywhere. Be it her face printed on the pages of Vogue’s March edition, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, styling shoots for magazines including Double, Re-Edition and Man About Town, or overseeing the fashion direction for runway shows of Kenzo, Vetements and Balenciaga — it is difficult to not associate her directly with what is exciting in the fashion industry at this very moment. A firm fixture in – what used to be – the more or less ‘underground’ scene of Paris fashion, with friends Gosha Rubchinsky, Demna Gvasalia and Harley Weir always close by, she started her career somewhat unexpectedly by bringing over a bag of clothes to a shoot with Ellen von Unwerth, while she was actually working as a fashion designer. We called Lotta last summer to interview her for our third issue — which ran alongside a shoot she did with Lea Colombo in South Africa, featuring the designs of CSM talents Craig Green, Quoi Alexander, A Sai Ta and Serena Gili — to learn more about her past and why she’s the last person to create something solely for commercial ends.
90’s Russia was an exciting time and place to grow up, Lotta recalls. “I feel I grew up in a really exciting time in Russia – a time of a lot of change, curiosity, enthusiasm, adventure and naivety. There was a crucial moment in politics where we didn’t really have a government for a while and it felt very free and almost anarchist. You had this feeling of pure energy, like you could do anything. People were discovering modern lifestyles, new music, art, nightclubbing, subcultures and drugs. I was pretty young but I remember being interested a lot in art, fashion, pop culture and pretty aware of what was going on through reading magazines like OM, Ptutch, and through the Internet and pirate television. I think it’s a trait of Russian character: you want to know, you have a thirst for knowledge and passion for change and everything that’s new. So for me looking back on my childhood, it was a very inspiring period. So much was happening. Performance art and costumes of Andrey Bartenev, pirate TV of Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, listening to Zemfira and my native Mumiy Trol, and watching Eurotrash, the TV series by Jean Paul Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes, were my first impressions of fashion and style.”
“I THINK IT’S A TRAIT OF THE RUSSIAN CHARACTER: YOU WANT TO KNOW, YOU HAVE A PASSION FOR REVOLUTION, CHANGE, EVERYTHING THAT’S NEW.”
Even if she never really thought of becoming a fashion designer, she ended up creating a menswear label Lotta Skeletrix while still at Saint Martins. “My mum was the one who got me interested in art. I was always drawing and painting a bit when I was a child, and she pushed me to study Fine Art, which I actually did before fashion. I come from a family of doctors: my grandmother was a surgeon, my mum taught medicine at the university, my aunts and uncles are all doctors. I would have loved to become a surgeon, but it’s too late!” she jokes.
Living in London in the early 2000s, Lotta ended up hosting club nights at Kashpoint, which inspired her to customise her garments and transform her wardrobe. The ball naturally got rolling. “I never really aimed to have a brand or to be a designer – it struck me by accident and it came as a surprise when I had so much interest from buyers and press.”
After moving to Paris about eight years ago and re-launching her brand in the form of a small capsule collection, Lotta realised that working in fashion design and producing collections in France was very different from what she was used to in London: the business had to be properly structured. “For me it had always been much more immediate and DIY, and that was the fun of doing it. I realised it was way too complicated and too much to do by myself. My first ever shoot was with Ellen von Unwerth, who I met at a party in Paris. Ellen liked my style and was interested in what I did so she invited me over to shoot for her book. I got a whole bunch of clothes from different PRs and vintage stores and we had a blast shooting together.” And so, a career in styling kicked off.
The most important thing about crafting an image, for Lotta, is that it feels real. “I hate it when things look forced, like a still from a movie. It has to feel natural. You get the feeling when it works right, and it’s how I looked at things when I was young. I used to get so mesmerised by a world in a picture whether it’s a still from a movie, a record cover, or a fashion image. The energy that you get from that picture, that’s what makes you want to buy something.”
Subcultures, in general, feed into what she likes. “What inspires me the most is people who have the courage to be themselves and to express what they are though their looks. I am interested in the characteristic uniforms of our society. I like to play around with the codes of these uniforms, confusing the minds in order to create new ones. Also music has always been one of the main driving and inspiring forces in my life. I like strong music that challenges our normal ways, that has something to say.”