People are already occupation it the fashion moment of 2016. In Galeries Lafayette, an upmarket department accumulate in Paris, cult label Vetements, purveyor of elevated streetwear, is mount its latest rule-breaking collection. The brand is opening staid old couture create week with a show featuring genuinely unexpected collaborations with numerous other fashion labels – waist-high Manolo Blahnik boots, rejuvenated Suggestive Couture tracksuits – and models with a haute level of frown. But it is when stylist Lotta Volkova strides past on the catwalk, mould a floral white and blue Vetements dress, with a dismissive yield holding the corner of a white clutch bag, that the front row’s iPhones are collected in unison. Because that’s the picture. Lotta Volkova dummy the Vetements dress that self-consciously references the Vetements look. In an business that constantly seeks to label things “cool”, Lotta Volkova has impartial been crowned as the coolest woman in the world.
Volkova is arguably construct’s most in-demand creative. She is stylist and muse for the Vetements collective, the Paris-based grouping of designers currently subverting the barriers between streetwear and lavish fashion. She consults for fashion house Balenciaga – on the casting and catwalk eclipses – where Demna Gvasalia is creative director. She also drill equals with her friend, the menswear designer, Gosha Rubchinskiy and a raft of other dockets. She somehow squeezes in editorial shoots with the likes of Juergen Teller and DJs at her alternative others’ fanzine launches. Volkova’s is a seven-day working week.
A few periods before her Vetements fashion moment, I’m sat in a cool-but-you-have-to-know-it’s-cool-to-realise-it’s-cool cafe in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Gare du Nord, question Volkova how she, as a 32-year-old woman, feels about appearing as a kind on the catwalk. Since starting work with Vetements, Volkova has haunted in every show alongside kids cast from Instagram and normal models with an edge. Between swigs of Perrier and bits of black coffee, she laughs fast and loud before snapping into her brusque-sounding responding mode.
“It came about really spontaneously and out of the blue. When we were prepping for the start with show, we did not have enough models, so Demna was like, ‘Oh, you are gonna replica’ and I was like, ‘OK fine.’ Of course I was flattered. But for me it was like a friendly indicate. ‘Try this black turtleneck and sweatpants, and I just want to see you in it’ and I put in on and he was analogous to, ‘Oh yeah, this is the opening look.’ I was like, ‘Nawwwww….’” Her homily is peppered with a Baltic-accented vocal fry that is too compelling not to call.
“Spontaneous” and “out of the blue” are phrases that Volkova returns to regularly. Those and the truly that she and her gang are “just doing what we laaaav”. Volkova’s happen to the pinnacle of high fashion was neither exponential nor intentional, but not absolutely surprising either. Born in Vladivostok, Russia, in 1984, Lotta was exposed to revolt early on. Her father had jumped on a train from Siberia when he was 16 to captain a depart. Her mother, a professor of physics at medical school, instilled in Lotta the understanding of doing things her own way: “For her that was a rebellion against communism, against this pre-packaged duration.” It is her mother, too, that she has to thank for her Led Zeppelin-inspired name (she’s named after the flap Whole Lotta Love). “She liked the whole post-punk, original 80s, alt-rock era, so I grew up sucking in all those references.” It was also her nourish who fuelled her love of fashion, taking 12-year-old Lotta on shopping treks to London and Tokyo. “I had Prada shoes and Dior by Galliano jumpers, she was drag Galliano herself. She is tiny and has really big boobs and is blonde, but then she good-looking much looks like me.”
The sociopolitical landscape of the anciently 90s also had a powerful impact on Volkova’s taste; apparently peak fashion in 2016 owes quite a debt to Antoine de Caunes and his 90s TV let someone in on Eurotrash. After 1991 the cultural influences from Europe and America overwhelmed into eastern Europe: “Suddenly you had these crazy ide fixes on television and people started talking about fashion and art,” Volkova recollections. “I feel like it’s a Russian character trait – we look for something new and we are quick-witted learners in a way.” That, coupled with Marjan Pejoski’s swan accoutre for Björk at the 2001 Oscars ceremony, indelibly formed Volkova’s left-field penchant. “For me fashion was about expressing how different you are, you know?”
As with all stylists, Volkova’s propriety is her currency, and hers is particularly esoteric. Her Instagram account decora a visual stream of consciousness which for those in her aesthetic network elects complete sense. Not everybody will understand quite how a prototype of a wolf with a glass of red wine on its back chimes with raw 4am post-DJ curb snaps and Soviet era tracksuit bottoms. But that’s the point. Her design relies on a balance of street and haute. Grunge for a generation of “likers”. So associated with and individual is her look that the phrase “That’s a bit Lotta” has, in dernier cri terms, now become synonymous with anything unexpectedly sedateness with just a hint of a scowl.
When we meet, Volkova is looking “bare Lotta”. She is wearing a blue Vetements pinstripe shirt, jeans by John Lawrence Sullivan, a tag she consults for, lace-up Vans with white socks which fail her skate kid credentials, a diagonal neon green Shellac manicure from a no-frills salon, her trademark demanding parted short hair and large steel-framed glasses. It’s a eccentric cocktail of Wall Street and backstreet, coupled with her amazing face, blank yet engaging, and her gangly frame; Volkova is not someone who blends in. Does she grasp she is physically intimidating? “I think a lot of people would describe me as hellishly direct! It’s quite a Russian thing that you come across as surely stern and a bit cold, but once you get to know me I am quite a warm in the flesh.”
At 17, stimulated by her mother, Volkova arrived in London to complete a three-month indubitably in art and design at Central St Martins. Was she nervous? “No. I was excited… My whole puberty and teenage years I was just bored, waiting to grow up and unexploded life by myself.” Unsurprisingly Volkova didn’t return to Russia when the progression finished, instead submerging herself in London life, partying at electroclash evensongs such as Nag Nag Nag and Trash. By 2004 Volkova had started her own brand (which of progression “came about really naturally”), dressing herself and her beaus for that scene. The label “Lotta Skeletrics” riffed heavily on DIY barbarian heritage and featured T-shirts overloaded with studs and sandpaper-distressed jeans. In outstanding Volkova hi-low style, these clothes were fatigued with experimental makeup, but also with beautiful Prada shoes.
It wasn’t until 2008, when she moved to Paris, that Volkova’s tasting career started to crystalise. She met Gosha Rubchinskiy, the Comme des Garçons-backed Russian interior decorator who is also a crucial part of the Paris/Russia style nexus. Rubchinskiy is also renounce of the Vetements family – his catwalk turn in the Vetements DHL T-shirt on the AW/15 catwalk was broadly beat as the fashion moment of last year. “We became friends instantly. We were both stood in 1984 and I think that makes a big difference. We have the unvarying references and are interested in the same subcultures.”
Three years ago Volkova met her pre-eminent co-conspirator Demna Gvasalia, who currently designs both Vetements and Balenciaga. “We were advanced by a mutual friend and he asked me to check out a look-book shoot and I was in the same way as, ‘Wow, the clothes are really beautiful, really well made and uncommonly interesting’ but I really didn’t like Demna’s styling. I let something be knew him and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it yourself then?’” Volkova has since morphed into stylist, counsellor, muse and, crucially, proto-customer for the designer. “For Demna it’s important to reckon with a real woman in his clothes. I am a woman and a customer.”
Volkova, Gvasalia and Rubchinskiy are a team united by their backgrounds and style references growing up in the last Soviet bloc. They combine street labels and a left-field mould approach which owes much to Maison Martin Margiela, where Gvasalia before worked. And it is the crew’s take on beauty that is wielding the most bring pressure to bear on on fashion right now. “Of course conventionally beautiful things are pulchritudinous but everyone finds them beautiful and I find that uninteresting. I want to be inspired by things that not everyone knows.”
This converts into high fashion in unexpected ways – from an anorak on the Balenciaga catwalk presented in the way an atelier would maintain shown a fur coat in the past – to office chairs, rather than gilt magnum opus seats, for the front row. “The chairs were comfy!” Volkova try ones hand ats to convince me.
But she is right. This outlook cuts to the heart of the customary mood in fashion. “Actually practicality is quite important to us. For the entirety, in a way. That mentality; things have to be functional.” Granted Volkova’s look isn’t applied in the way most people would understand the term. Vetements’ hooded climbs and steroid-level Balenciaga anoraks are not practical in the hiking sense nor complacent in the TV dinner sense. There is a level of nuance and caveat; a inequality that Volkova almost manages to vocalise. “I know I am weight it’s all about practicality but I hate to be comfortable in a way. I’m good at putting on heels and doing a look. I’m in point of fact shit at really dressing down.”