The best thing about having started folklorique is meeting so many amazing people – on or offline, artists and designers, but also people with a great love for authentic folklore that have made it a way of life. One of them is Evgenia Samsonova – a girl who created her style by wearing a mix of new clothes and authentic vintage folk – and who agreed to share her thoughts on fashion and her love for authentic folk clothing with me. I hope you feel as inspired as I am by her style choices.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I am a student of International Development studies, passionate about ethnography, folk costume, cultural anthropology, authentic folk music as well as neo-folklore. I am Russian and live in Dubai since 2004, but have a strong interest in the Caucasus as well as the Balkan region. I paint and sometimes do traditional embroidery, and I have experimented making some reproduction of traditional costume elements, although I have yet to learn this.
I hope to travel across the whole of the North and South Caucasus, to continue exploring the Balkans, and to live in Poland for a period of time, which is actually my next planned stop in a couple of years. I work in part-time marketing at the moment in order to make some of these passions come true.
How would you define your personal style?
I dress for myself, entirely for myself. I mix elements of traditional clothing with modern elements because I love traditional clothing and folklore, so I see no reason to keep my interest in my wardrobe. If I want to promote culture, if I want to remind people that the world of clothing is not limited to fashion magazines and expensive brands, I do it by wearing what I wear. But this is not to say that people should wear what I wear. Folklore is simply a lifestyle choice that suits me.
What does fashion mean to you?
It is a very personal thing. You wear what defines you. If a baggy t-shirt defines you– this is what makes you what you are and there is nothing wrong about it. Of course I think people should experiment and add their own touch even if they wear baggy t-shirts and jeans, but I also do not believe that someone should be judged according to what he or she wears. I do not like using the word ‘fashion’ a lot too, to be honest, because it happens to be used for other purposes that are far from what ‘fashion’ means. I am talking about thousands of people wearing the same dress because it is ‘in fashion’ or they saw it in a magazine, I am talking about people dividing others into ‘fashionable’ and ‘not fashionable’ and I am talking about brands. I hate brands. So I see fashion as pure self-expression.
How would you say people around you dress? Do you feel quite unique in your approach?
I believe that people should wear something they feel most comfortable wearing and should be allowed to experiment if they want to. I do not wear folk clothing because I want to be unique; I wear it because this is what makes me feel good. I would say I was unique, but thankfully I happen to know a lot of people who live a lifestyle similar to mine and wear similar things.
When did you realize you would rather wear an authentic folk costume, rather than high street mass market fashion?
I am not sure I remember exactly how and when it happened. Probably, when my own tastes actually began to form and emerge on the surface. I began experimenting with modern ethnic-style which was becoming very popular at the moment and this was something I could wear easily at the time because it was actually turning into some sort of mass-fashion. But it was not enough for me. I was not interested in colorful embroidery and pseudo-folk costumes. I loved studying authentic traditional costumes so I thought: if I can wear this embroidery now, because it happens to be fashionable now, why can I not wear an actual piece? This is where it probably began.
What was the first article of folk clothing you ever bought?
I began with the pieces which you could purchase in almost any shop at the moment, as I have mentioned earlier. But I hardly wear those items now and only some of the pieces are still with me. I then bought many smaller items which were ‘traditional’ from the way they looked like, but not actual costumes – I cannot, for example, name the region they originate from or type of area they were worn in. I am probably going to sell them now. So, to answer the question, the first authentic traditional costume I purchased happened to be a Turkoman coat which I bought from a local Afghan shop which is worn by the Turkoman tribes of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. I later saw a much older version of it in a museum collection.
Even before that, a set from Serbia was given to me as a gift and I wear the ‘jelek’ vest a lot. It is easy to mix it with modern formal clothing, adds a nice touch and makes me feel like myself.
How does wearing folk differ from regular clothes?
It bears culture and tradition within itself. Every item that I wear has its origin. I will not wear the entire costume, of course. I mix them with each other or even with modern clothing. But you can ask me about an item I have and I will tell you the ethnic group or the tribe that wears it, the region it comes from, and will probably find you a much older vintage version of it in some ethnographic museum.
However, I do not like naming my clothing as something special or different from what you name as ‘regular’. I treat them ‘equally’ to any other piece of clothing that one would wear. For example, I was recently wearing a traditional overcoat with golden embroidery from Bulgaria which I mixed with a simple white dress when two men approached me in a shopping mall. They were photographers from a local weekly fashion magazine and they said that they wanted to take a photo of me because they found my style beautiful and wanted to feature me in their ‘Style of the week’ section. They of course expected me to tell them which shop I bought my dress or bag from, what was the brand name, and I had nothing to answer them. So I had to refuse. But this was interesting because I saw that folk clothing can be worn, mixed and used in everyday life without looking odd, as some people think it would look.
What is your favorite item in your wardrobe?
This is a difficult one. Judging from what I wear the most, it would probably be the Kystendil Saya which got confused with a brand item. I also like the 80-year-old Croatian embroidered skirt from Posavina which I wear with a black top, but I avoid wearing the skirt too much as it is a little old and I do not wish to damage the item.
Where do you buy your folk stuff?
Because of my current location, I am limited to online sales and I prefer communicating with the locals who would advise about their item and we would agree on the money transfer and the shipment. Knowing at least some of the local language is very helpful in this case. I avoid international websites like Ebay and Etsy because they aim at foreign mass market which knows little about the costumes, so there is often an unreasonably high price for an item that is far from being authentic. I also attend various folk festivals when I return home or travel to the Balkans, but to be honest, in my case, most of the items are located online. What you see in tourist areas or even on festivals is usually a quick work done for tourists and is not authentic.
What do you believe makes a quality article of clothing?
That depends on what exactly I am looking for. For example, some people ask me whether I collect vintage clothing, but I am not sure what to reply. It is a ‘No’ probably. At least at this point, I am not a collector. Whether because I cannot afford it, or just because I see no need in it, I do not hunt for old vintage costumes which I would hang in my wardrobe because wearing them would probably be considered a deadly sin in the folklorist circles and I am clever enough not to do that.
I hunt for pieces which belong to real costumes and come from specific regions, but are not old enough to be called vintage. That’s when I can wear them, although special care must be taken even then. Therefore, a good piece of clothing for me would belong to an actual traditional costume and have a condition that is good enough for me to wear it without feeling guilty. To have the authentic look entirely preserved is a must for me. This is why I avoid the Russian folk clothing market, for example – most of the costumes I come across are far from even looking authentic and it disappoints me a lot as I see the real traditional costume die out slowly in my home country. However, this is probably an unnecessary worry for those simply passionate about folk art and they should not really spend more money on something authentic if they see no need for it.
Where can readers find out more about you and your passion?
I am the administrator of two Facebook pages ’Slavic Folklore’ and ’Folklore of the Caucasus’, where I share my interests, knowledge and where I learn something myself and meet a lot of people, some of which became my friends in real life, not in the virtual world only. I also keep a blog ‘Folklored’ where I write about traditions and customs (folklored.blogspot.com) and I have recently began a Facebook page with a similar name.
If you feel inspired by Evghenia, check out our folk and folklore inspired collection at www.folklorique.co.uk, where every item has a story.
- One Folk Blouse, Three Generations – Hand Embroidered Folk Blouses NOW in Shop! (folklorique.co.uk)