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Ulyana Sergeenko

How master writer Leo Tolstoy browsed the fashion magazines of the period

With Siberian wind in my hair, as I am walking down a snowstormy London street at the beginning of April which feels like Russian winter, the things of summer still seem far. I then perhaps can be forgiven that my attention is still on winter wardrobe. And I am thinking of ‘Anna Karenina’. The book, the films and the way they interconnect with fashion.

Cover art by Anna Giarmeniti

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Cover art by Anna Giarmeniti

I first read Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ when I was 15 and I still remember the huge impact it made on me. The novel gives a fascinating insight into what was there in Russia and that part of Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain, revealing a complicated mentality, emotional make-up and psychology of Russian and Slavic people while at the same time achieving to become deeply universal study of human nature.

If you have never read ‘Anna Karenina’, make sure you grab yourself a copy and run with it.  And preferably with one that has a beautiful artwork cover. It always makes me want to carry around the book as an accessory at the same time. Even a guy can do this (see James Franco regularly walking around with books and making sure that everyone sees what he reads!). In the age of a Kindle book it’s just a matter of time when a real book will become something cool, perhaps out of nostalgia and also a pleasure it gives to touch, hold and look at.

Clutch bag

A different kind of book – clutch bag by Olympia Le Tan


So, just when I decided to write about Anna Karenina inspired fashion, I stumbled across another book on Serbian and Croatian literature. And again, as one of those creative ‘happy coincidences’ as I call them, when related things just pop up unexpectedly, I find this gem of an extract by a Serbian surrealist writer Dušan Matić:

Anna’s ball gown

‘In the diary of Sofia Andreyevna Tolstoy I had found, about more than 15 years ago, one sentence among the others, of approximately the following content:

‘Today Lyovushka (Leo) asked me for some fashion magazines regarding Anna’s ball gown. ‘

According to the date and everything else, it was clear that Anna in question is the main heroine of the Tolstoy’s novel ‘Anna Karenina’.

I should be able to reconstruct the time and atmosphere- intellectual, moral and poetic (the period between ‘Svedocanstvo’ and ‘ L’ Impossible *’, if I remember well ) so that one could understand the sarcastic smile with which I received this, after all, innocent sentence of Sophia Andreyevna.

Ready to look for, at all costs, arguments against ‘Realism’, I really welcomed this piece of information.

One whole spring, and even long after that, I kept retelling, wherever I could, how Leo Tolstoy dressed up his Anna for that significant ball.’

(Translation by Viktoria Knoblauh)

* L’Impossible- almanac, manifesto and platform of thirteen Surrealists published in Belgrade in 1930. Please see the article Fashion Impossible about contemporary Serbian fashion designers’ work also inspired by this

Now, you can imagine my smile (definitely not sarcastic) when I came across this!

Indeed, there are a lot of references to fashion in the novel itself as Leo Tolstoy gave plenty of attention to description of characters’ clothes and look.

The movies that followed offer even more chance to indulge in the beauty of period Russian winter  fashion. The recent  Joe Wright’s ‘Anna Karenina’  features costumes  which were designed  by Jacqueline Durran combining  1950s Balenciaga and Dior inspired couture with 1870s fashion accessorized with real Channel  jewellery, winning Oscar for the best costume design this year. In conjunction with the film release last autumn, Banana Republic launched its ‘Anna Karenina’ collection in collaboration with Durran, while Anna Karenina also inspired the catwalk collection of Temperley, Oscar De La Renta, and Issa as well Eastern European designers like Ulyana Sergeenko and Sorinna Atelier past few winter seasons.

Ulyana Sergeenko Fall/Winter 2012-2013 Couture Collection

Ulyana Sergeenko Fall/Winter 2012-2013 Couture Collection

Ulyana Sergeenko Fall/Winter 2012-2013 Couture Collection

Ulyana Sergeenko Fall/Winter 2012-2013 Couture Collection

However I think that Anna Karenina trend is yet to break through the surface of the mainstream  fashion consciousness .While the winters are predicted to be colder and longer, it’s always harder to keep the fall-winter wardrobe as exciting as the spring- summer one so the addition of Russian-like fur collars, cuffs, hats as well as materials like velvet, brocade, jacquard, lace can really lift up winter fashion.

Anna Karenina street style

Irina Bugai wearing Anna Karenina street style

This winter I have seen considerably more of Russian and Cossack hats and fur cuffs in London streets, while the military trend (mainly military coats and jackets) which is  also a significant aspect of Anna Karenna and  Russian inspired winter  look, has been around  and indeed  popular for past few seasons.

Ulyana Sergeenko, the Russian scene maker and fashion designer has been doing it for a while. Dubbed ‘Modern Day Anna Karenina’ she herself  has been photographed in front of fashion show venues  parading around in wonderfully theatrical ,mixture of  Anna Karenina, Chekhovian characters, Russian folk fairy tales and 1950s inspired outfits.

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Also, taking a look at the current Fashion Week catwalks, Anna Karenina trend is heavily present in the fall-winter 2013-2014 collection of Ralph Lauren, but in the following winter seasons, expect more of Anna Karenina trend to warm up your fashion heart.

Sorinna Atelier winter

Sorinna Atelier winter collection. Photo: Alex Melente

About the author

Viktoria Knoblauh

Viktoria Knoblauh is a Hungarian-Croatian actress, singer and performance artist who lives in London but is originally from Vojvodina(Serbia), ex-Yugoslavia. In order to creatively channel her ever increasing information hoarding tendencies, she engages herself in writing articles about art, culture and fashion. Viktoria holds a degree in English from Joszef Attila University (Szeged , Hungary) as well as European Contemporary Theatre Arts and Performance from Rose Bruford Drama School , London. She also studied visual theatre and puppetry at Institute Del Theatro, Barcelona and at Lecoq physical theatre method based London International School of Performing Arts .In the past she worked in a wide range of different jobs including 5 years of interpreting in psychotherapy for rehabilitation of torture victims from war (UNHCR and Cordelia Foundation).

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