The Moscow-based designer on how the anti-gay laws have been blown out of proportion
It takes a lot to make the fashion world sit up and take notice. Russian menswear designer Tigran Avetisyan has managed to do just that, releasing his graduate collection under the sponsorship of LVMH to critical acclaim. Now based in Moscow after graduating from CSM, Avetisyan’s designs draw on the hardship of student life: the penury and the lack of hope for the future. Workman style jackets are cut from fabrics usually hidden or thrown away, like toile and calico, and disparaging slogans such as ‘No Jobs’ and ‘Nothing Changes’ are scrawled across the garments in chalk. Avetisyan’s SS14 collection is a spin-off from his debut show, the issues he drew upon for inspiration, still as relevant as ever.
Dazed Digital: Where do the slogans you use in your designs come from?
Tigran Avetisyan: The messages that I "chalk” onto garments come from various places. I have a story about each one. Most of them were overheard from my friends and classmates – ‘No jobs, too much pressure’, others come from music I listen to ‘wish you weren't here’ is a slightly reworded title of Pink Floyd's album and often it's just cliché phrases ‘stop dreaming, nothing changes’ that many people have heard or can resonate with – sometimes a word could weight more than the heaviest book.
DD: You studied at CSM – how did living in London influence your work?
Tigran Avetisyan: Nowhere else in the world you are exposed to such incredible amount of creativity. The city is a melting pot of ideas, a place where so many cultures meet. Studying with people from all over the world had an immense impact on my own vision.
Nevertheless I think that the scandal is completely blown out of proportion. My numerous gay friends, who don’t follow the Western media, were not even aware of the hysteria surrounding the issue until recently.
DD: Your graduate collection was sponsored by LVMH, how did that come about?
Tigran Avetisyan: My tutor at CSM had contacted me just few months before I was due to commence my final year. At that time I was interning for Acne in Sweden. He selected me to represent menswear pathway and compete for the bursary amongst students from other pathways. I ended up having a tête-à-tête interview with the HR manager of LVMH and Imran of Business of Fashion. A week later they told me I had been granted the scholarship.
Although the money I had won covered my tuition fees and production of graduation collection, the most important thing that I gained was confidence that I lacked then. Being supported by the world’s biggest luxury group removed the fear that otherwise most certainly would’ve prevented me from exploring my ideas to the fullest.
DD: Why did you choose Moscow as your studio base?
Tigran Avetisyan: I enjoyed my 5 year stay in the UK immensely. However as with most things, in order to get you also have to give something back. I was drained. London is fit for ambitious people, my ambitions have very little to do with my career.
DD: You describe ‘stagnancy as the new form of protest’, can you elaborate?
Tigran Avetisyan: There is a wonderful film by Ingmar Bergman called ‘Persona’ where the character played by Liv Ullmann in the face of horror and lies she experiences on day-to-day basis decides to refrain from speaking. In the age when you’re just a tweet away from sharing your point of view with millions of people the importance of self-reflection should not be undermined. Perhaps now is the time to be mute and rethink our views.
Putting pressure on Russian politicians just escalates the tension between governments. I am worried that this will create further problems.
DD: What drew you to exploring rebellion within fashion?
Tigran Avetisyan: I wasn’t always interested in fashion. I arrived to London thinking I’d pursue product design studies. And I did just that for two years. However I grew weary with the course realising that no one was really interested in my work or work of my peers. Fashion on the other hand seems to attract people by default, which makes it a perfect platform for expressing one’s views. Besides, so many things are intuitively wrong about it. The industry that prides itself with being always on trend and time defining hasn’t changed for decades. It just becomes faster and faster. But then the speed is of no importance if the chosen direction is wrong.
DD: You define your personal style as ‘unexpressionism’ – defined by the people and events around you – how has your work been influenced by the current political situation in Russia?
Tigran Avetisyan: Unfortunately there is no shortage of issues I could talk about within fashion. Political hypocrisy in Russia has not been on my radar as of yet. But I never say never. Maybe my upcoming collection will touch just upon that.
DD: What’s the current feeling on the ground surrounding the recent anti-gay laws?
Tigran Avetisyan: I detest any form of violence based on race, religious beliefs or sexual preference. Regrettably the gay community in Russia historically has always been deprived of declaring their sexual preference publicly. Nevertheless I think that the scandal is completely blown out of proportion. My numerous gay friends, who don’t follow the Western media, were not even aware of the hysteria surrounding the issue until recently. It’s not like suddenly the heterosexual majority was granted a licence to kill anyone who isn’t straight. Yes, violence does occur occasionally and it is horrendous. But the fact is the conditions haven’t changed at all here. What I despise almost as much now is the situation where athlete’s achievements are overshadowed by the colour of their nail polish or when recently they were trying to boycott Stolichnaya when in fact it is not even a Russian brand. I am sick of Facebook slacktivism that consists solely of sharing links, signing petitions, and changing profile pictures to rainbow flags. If people want to rebel they should give up the comfort of their rooms. Rebellion without sacrifice is not possible.
DD: How do you think the legislation will affect the fashion scene in Russia?
Tigran Avetisyan: I hope that gay community in Russia will feel safe in the nearest future. I believe it is a question of time, as it was in Britain. Putting pressure on Russian politicians just escalates the tension between governments. I am worried that this will create further problems. They will be forced to toughen up their stance just like in the case of Pussy Riot recently after so much attention was brought by Western celebrities such as Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney. Talking about musicians, I read an interesting interview of John Lydon of Sex Pistols the other week where he calls artists such as Radiohead and Bjork the biggest pile of crap for speaking out about the Independence of Tibet but forgetting about what happens in their own backyard.