Who-Is-She: Ekaterina Nikolaeva

We don’t come across people of rare professions and hobbies quite often, that’s why they are of special interest to us. The 23-year-old young lady we would like to acquaint you with today, has not just mastered an uncommon profession of a fashion historian, but has already travelled a good part of the world and lived in the cities from Krasnoyarsk to Saint-Petersburg. Having settled down in Paris, she joined the Master Degree Program in Sorbonne, found out how to implement all the knowledge acquired and started a new life in the capital of France. In the interview below you are going to read about the main features of a fashion historian’s work, the difference between French and Russian education, about the Guide De La Mode fashion blog and many other things. Please welcome — Ekaterina Nikolaeva.

— You’ve been studying fashion history for many years. What are the main tasks of this job and what would you like to do after finishing your Master Degree Program?
— The second part of the question is rather difficult as well as the first one. In fact, the notion of ‘fashion history’ is absolutely new to Russia and is primarily associated with the name of Alexandre Vassiliev there. Fashion history is one of the art spheres and if you undertake it, it means you gather information about costumes and various public processes which have influenced its development. At present, I have no full studying process in the Sorbonne – I mainly write theses on narrow subjects related with some fashion phenomena in the costume history. We have little chance of getting such education in Russia. As for the main tasks of a fashion historian’s work, I can say that people of this profession – as historians in general – study their own fashion subjects, gather information, analyze and systematize it and try to get something out of all this. The better you know fashion in retrospective, the better you know it in present. It’s rather difficult for me to say how I’m going to implement all the knowledge gained, especially in Russia. In contrary, France offers great opportunities to work in this sphere: in theatres, cinemas, museums, fashion house archives, in the art market area etc.

— When and why did fashion history attract you?
— When I moved to Saint-Petersburg dreaming of being a journalist or, at least, a historian, I tried to enter the corresponding faculties at the university, but failed. Eventually I enrolled in the faculty of advertising and quickly understood it wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I began to write for some Petersburg magazines on different subjects and soon I realized fashion was the most interesting area for me. Once I showed one of my articles to the editor-in-chief of one Petersburg fashion magazine. He spoke politely and explained – in the same way – why my article was a complete shit and told me I had to learn a lot before I could write something worth reading. After this meeting I gave ear to his words and began to read a lot on the subject that interested me, and tried to get to something by this self-education. And once, on a fine sunny morning, I got up and understood which university I had to enter. When I arrived there I saw a huge banner saying ‘The International Art of Fashion’. It was the moment when it all began.
— This year you had a meeting with Pierre Bergé. Did this person impress you much?
— The best thing I love about France is that you can meet many interesting people here. The meeting with Pierre Bergé took place at IFM (Institut Français de la Mode), and was organized by him personally. He visits the Institute from time to time in order to speak with the students, to answer their questions etc. My supervisor works there, that’s why I often hang around this place. Such meetings with different people take place frequently, but not every person who wants to participate has the access to do it: the cost of studies is extremely high — at least I can’t afford it. You can try to find a loophole, though. I haven’t read much of Yves Saint-Laurent, his fashion house and relationships with Bergé by the moment when the meeting took place. I surely knew who Pierre Bergé was, I realized his significance, but nothing more than that. When I got to know him I saw he was a very positive man who liked to tell jokes, to bait somebody, though he is not so young, as we all can see. At the same time he answered all the questions very accurately, systematically and professionally. It’s a rare phenomenon when a person who has become immensely successful visits institutes and communicates with students — the people who are in the beginning of their own, personal way and who are in fact of no value in the fashion world yet. Moreover, he does it with great interest! It was very good to learn something about his views on fashion, the changes in this area, to listen to his stories about the way he, together with Yves Saint-Laurent, revolutionized haute couture and created prêt-à-porter. It was amazing, indeed.

— With whom of your colleagues would you like to get acquainted and to collaborate?
— Frankly speaking, I haven’t thought about it as well as I have no dreams of meeting some fabulous people. Perhaps, after I got into this industry, began to do something myself and moved to Paris, I started to think about my own way and my own work, without looking at others. If I meet a well-known, recognized person I certainly understand and respect everything he has obtained and done, but I’m not trembling. The different feelings I feel towards rock musicians.
Photo by Anton Lomovski
— Whom of the fashion historians and designers could you singularize from others?
— There are few fashion historians I could distinguish. Many people of this profession stay in the shade, only Alexandre Vassiliev became famous. Nevertheless, I personally know many specialists, from Petersburg, in particular. They hold exhibitions, lectures, visit universities. There aren’t so many of them, unfortunately. As for the designers… Well, Russian fashion is a subject worth discussing separately. There are many talented people — I could name Dmitry Loginov from Krasnoyarsk, who makes very good clothes. Of course, we have such fashion stars like Igor Chapurin and Valentin Yudashkin who regularly display their collections on international catwalks, but unfortunately they are still not on the level with world designers and also stay in the shade, in my opinion. But we should take into consideration that Russia isn’t a long-liver on the fashion scene and that it took a long time for our country to recover from the Soviet era.

— You are known to keep the Guide de la Mode blog dedicated to various fashion issues. What’s your main point?
— I’m trying to focus on subjects that could interest other people. My first point was to promote myself and my knowledge, to make a name. Let’s tell it like it is: we all want to earn money with something we like doing. Considering the fact that fashion market is virtually undeveloped in Russia, and that our days witness the golden age of blogging, figuratively speaking, all this helps me to popularize myself and my web page.

— What’s the difference between Russian and French higher education? According to your personal experience.
— Every education has its pros and cons. I was very lucky to graduate from the very good Saint-Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts. I had an amazing opportunity of communicating with fantastic professors. Everything is absolutely different here, in France: everything is focused on self-education, i.e. you surely attend lectures, but read a lot of literature yourself, visit museums and work with the archives. Nobody’s going to provide you with sugar-coated information. In Russia relations between a student and a professor are more personal — you can call him on the phone if you need something, you can fix a meeting with him in the café, and if you’re not a dumbass you’ll gain a good reputation and will be on friendly footing with everyone at the university. In France you cannot even say your professor’s last name when speaking with him – it is considered as familiarity. On the other hand, French education is advantageous due to the knowledge it gives. There’s so many literature — especially on my subject — so many museum funds, i.e. information you can work with. You don’t have to extemporize. Another advantage of the Sorbonne education is a wide range of narrow subjects. Russian universities try to span all the information at once and to hurry-scurry across the subject. Of course, it’s not so bad, but it would be more interesting to study something highly specialized after you’ve been given basic education.
Photo by Andrey Girzhev
— Do you like to live in Paris? Do you have favourite places there?
— I can’t say living here is easy, but I like it, yes. I’m glad I’ve made this choice. Favourite places? Of course I have these, like in every town and city I chanced to live in: some streets, particular cafés creating their own atmosphere… The list is rather big.

— Where do you work at present and what are your tasks there?
— I’m working with vintage clothing assessment for auctions. There are such organizations for pieces of painted art, sculptures etc. There are five of them in Paris: they deal with costumes, fashion, textile and their assessment, attribution. They also organize auctions. In fact, there’s a lot of work to do, and it doesn’t focus on costume assessment only. We hold auctions from A to Z. Such work as we do is a nice start!
Photo by Anastasia Drozhzhina
— Let’s speak about music. We know you’ve been a Mumiy Troll fan for many years. How long ago did you begin to listen to this band’s music and how many gigs have you managed to attend?
— I’m not going to speechify, but it all began when I was 12. I used to count gigs when I lived in Krasnoyarsk and when we managed to see the band in the neighboring cities. I moved to Moscow and then to Saint-Petersburg, and when the amount of gigs attended had gone over 20, I stopped counting.

— What is Mumiy Troll for you?
— A lot, to tell the truth. It’s one of the things that helped me form my personality. I’m not embellishing. When you begin to listen to the band’s music from early age, when you get interested in the people who make it, you gain a lot of knowledge; you form your own perception of the world, your own views by absorbing their ones.
— How could you describe your own clothing style?
— I couldn’t! My style has been constantly changing. I used to like ethnic clothes, scarves and odd accessories. Now I’m more modest in my style – perhaps, due to the European influence. Nevertheless, I never buy just a piece of clothing – it always means something for me, depending on my interests, hobbies or a period of my life. The more professional I become, the more difficult it is for me to pick out clothes and to assess other people’s style.
In the end of our interviews we offer our guests a small questionnaire which they have to answer quickly and shortly.

— What’s your favourite colour?
— Red, black and white.

— What’s your favourite dish?
— As a Russian living abroad I will say borsch.

— What would you like to change in yourself?
— I’m always analyzing myself and I always want to change something, and every time these things are different.

— Where would you like to be born
 — In the place I was exactly born.

— What do you like best in yourself?
— Everything!

— Characterize yourself in a noun.
— All these nouns baffle me! Let it be… a tree.

— The place where you feel best of all?
— In a garden or on some square early in the morning.

— Whom would you like to get acquainted with?
— With someone very interesting. I adore smart people.

— The country you’ve never been to, but you’d like to.
— Romania.

— If you were born an animal, which one would you be?
— A rat.

— Who did you want to become in future when you were a child?
— An archaeologist.

— And the last question: tea or chicory?
— Tea. I hate chicory!

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