In Conversation With London Slow Fashion Visionary Iulia Filipovscaia of Lana Siberie
Meeting up with Iulia Filipovscaia of Lana Siberie is like going on a mini-retreat. Every time, I’ve had the pleasure to spend some time with her, I was invigorated by the serene energy that surrounds her, and captivated by her attentive way of being in the world.
Originally from Russia, Iulia moved to London more than a decade ago. Here, in the savage heartland of real estate investment, she is living the life of an urban nomad, leaving her traces on an ongoing trail across the city. At our first encounter, her studio is based in a colossal abandoned gym that she looks after as a guardian. Some months later, I visit her in an enchanted former garden centre up in Highgate where she spends her summer months surrounded by greenhouses and ancient trees. With the following interview, I’d like to invite you into Iulia’s world, as we ponder ancient crafts, plant-based wisdom, the life-changing art of meditation and why joy rules above all.
Iulia, when did you first come to London?
Thirteen years ago. I came to study at St. Martins.
You are originally from Siberia. Could you tell me a bit about your background?
I was born in a small diamond mining town, that has one of the biggest diamond mines in Russia. But I left Siberia when I was young, I was about ten years old. First, we moved to Moldova and then to the USA. And from the USA, I came to London because I got accepted to go to college at Central St. Martin’s.
I’ve made a few artworks about Siberia, but it almost feels like "Did it really happen? Was I ever there? Is that true?" It’s such a beautiful memory in the way that it’s almost like a fairy tale in my mind. Siberia is gorgeous. The landscape is so overpowering, and there’s just this strength and beauty of it. I remember collecting pine cones and picking the pine nuts out of the pine cones. Just this kind of experience is great, this experience of going out to collect mushrooms, and of walking on snow and this crisp sound it creates when you walk on it. For me, it’s kind of a mysterious past.
It gets really cold there obviously. So when it’s up to minus 40 degrees, you can’t get out of the house. You stay in, and you put on a lot of layers, which is fun. I actually like layers. That’s why, I guess, I like knitwear, and that’s maybe why we initially started with knitwear.
Do you still go back to Russia often?
No, I don’t. My mom lived in London for over five years, but now she’s been back in Russia for a while. She’s like "Maybe you want to come and see me, it’s been a year that we’ve seen each other." We’re almost all the time on the phone for work, though. But I haven’t been back to Russia for a while. Maybe five years ago was the last time that I was there. And I haven’t gone back to Siberia at all.
You have a B.A. in Fine Arts from Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and an M.A. in Image and Communication from Goldsmiths University. What was your path into fashion design?
Well, it kind of started with my mother, because she was looking for something new to pursue. And I was like "Let’s create something together that’s going to be memorable. Something that we can leave for other generations."
At that time I was still at university, at Central St. Martins, and she was living in Moscow. And I remember that she told me that she used to knit when she was younger. I think a lot of people back then used to make their own clothes. So I said, "Why don’t we try to do something with knitting?” And that’s how it started. She knitted these slippers that are very comfortable to wear around the house. And some of my friends started ordering them.
Oh wow, they are very cute!
We started making the slippers whilst I was visiting her in Moscow, and when I came back again for another holiday and she had made a cardigan. From then onwards, we made a collection of knitted pieces and also started to work with crochet which was more suitable for summer.
How do you produce your clothing? Do you work with a manufacturer?
I don’t have a manufacturer at the moment. We are looking for one, though. We are currently working with an association of women in Moscow who are preserving the traditional handcrafts of Russia such as embroidery and weaving. They hand weave some of the fabrics for our clothing. Apart from these handwoven fabrics, we also work with vintage fabrics. We basically find dead stock fabrics that were handwoven in the past but have never been used. Back in the day, women used to just make most of their clothing themselves and also everything for the house. So in Russia and the Ukraine, you can still find these amazing fabrics.
So you’re going around searching for dead stock materials?
We search for vintage handwoven materials and mainly for plant-based fabrics such as linen. We are currently also looking into making some shoes out of birch, another beautiful plant-based material.
Sometimes I find a fabric that is pattern-based and I only find five meters of it or even less. I would still collect it because I can create one unique dress. But the only way for me to replicate it is to hand-weave some new fabric in the same traditional way because the original fabric is limited. So for example right now, I have a private order for somebody and we’re hand weaving the shirts that are made out of four different materials.
But that obviously affects the price...
Yes, but it’s amazing quality, and it’s unique! I want to continue working with vintage materials but now I also want to explore hand-dying them. What is not so great about hand weaving new fabrics is the materials. The threads that are being used are contemporary threats, and the dyes are contemporary dyes, which means that there are probably a lot of chemicals in them.
I understand that you are really interested in working with healthy, natural and plant-based materials? What is currently available?
My idea of going forward is to focus on getting un-dyed vintage fabrics like linen, hemp or nettle that I can then hand-dye naturally without using chemicals. I want to go all around the world and look for all the amazing materials that are out there. There are enormous amounts of potential materials that we can look at. I get so excited when I get into research. I recently read an article about an environmentally friendly coral yarn that this woman collects from the underneath the sea. She produces yarns from corals! And there is seaweed weaving ... I love seaweeds.
Not long ago I went to Sicily and I found out that there's a big production of blood oranges there, and that they make threads out of that. It’s an absolutely sustainable and conscious material. And it’s not an old craft. It’s a new way of looking at things, which I think is quite beautiful.
It’s amazing. I think there is such fascinating material innovation going on.
Yeah absolutely. It’s incredible.
Are you still working with wool?
I am actually struggling with our brand name, Lana Siberie. Lana is actually my mom’s name, the short form of Svetlana. But it also means wool, and we are no longer using wool because we can’t find someone who produces it in a way that works for us. It would need to come from a highly ecological source and I would needto go and visit the place myself, and see how everything is done.
But you weren’t as strict as the beginning?
No. I think I’m getting stricter and I want to be even stricter in the future. I’m certainly less worried about the price, for me it’s all about finding the right quality. In the end, there just needs to be more information about the whole process. I think, once there is more information out there people will understand better where their clothes come from.
Do you remember what triggered your environmental awareness?
Yes, actually I do. I think it was a combination of different experiences happening at the same time. We initially worked with a manufacturer, who produced amazing materials for us, super high-quality yarns. But the relationship didn’t work out. When we were just getting a momentum and were in a showroom, the manufacturer decided that he only wanted to focus on working with big brands. We couldn’t rely on him and we missed a season because of it. Our relationship then fell apart, which may have been a shame, but maybe not. Because ever since that moment, things changed. It just completely reevaluated everything.
At the time, I was trying to run my own brand, trying to deliver the collection, I was working full time for an art collector, and I was like "This is too crazy." And then, I just dropped everything in one whole swoop, turned to "me" and focused on what’s important.
I was in Paris, even though the collection wasn’t there and I still turned up to all my appointments...
Without the collection?
Without the collection. And then I stayed in Paris for some days, and I just went to all the museums that I had always wanted to go to and never had time to visit. After I came back, I quit my job and I went on a meditation retreat for ten days. My mom had just come back from a trip to India and we started to really explore that spiritual aspect of our own lives.
Did you do the meditation retreat in London?
Yes, outside of London. I’ve done it twice now, it’s an incredible experience. I think it is the most transformative thing that anybody can do because there is no other way that you can know yourself. It just opens up a really different understanding of the world.
How did it change your perception of the world?
For me, it was a physical experience. It was a physical understanding of my physical body. You just become so aware of how your body feels, it’s like you hear it and you know it. You understand where there’s a loss of vitality. When you meditate, you just start to hear all the parts of your body differently.
So I think through meditation, the world has changed for me in the sense that I know I’m not just this body. When you meditate, you’re just focusing on your breath, and you’re sitting in position for an hour or longer. You consciously go through the different parts of your body and you start to feel different sensations. And it’s almost impossible to focus because your mind travels to so many different places. Past, future, everywhere. And then you try to get back into your body. At some point, you become unconscious about what you’re thinking and you reach this state where it’s past the pain. If you don’t move for several hours, your feet get numb, your body gets swollen. But you go past that. The funny thing is that once you go past that, you don’t feel like you’re a body at all. You’ve just dissolved and you realize that literally everything here is part of this big whole thing.
So we are just spirit?
You are just a vibration. A sound that comes in and you feel how you’re vibrating to some kind of noise. And it’s incredible. It’s fun. So that’s how it happened. It’s fantastic, I really recommend it.
Do you think meditation creates a higher sense of awareness?
I think meditation makes us conscious about the things we are thinking. And what you think makes who you are. It is what exists in your environment. Sometimes you hear people say "All vegans are angry, they’re all upset." And I’m always like "No, that’s not true, that’s not the case." I also fasted during the time of the meditation retreat, and I felt different, I felt lighter. I believe that you can eat whatever you want but you need to understand how that might affect the environment. I understand that it’s not about turning everybody into a vegan. But there needs to be a certain amount of people who do not eat meat in order to decrease the amount of meat production in the world.
When I recently went to Sicily and we were passing through a village, there were really amazing and beautiful restaurants. In one of the restaurant, they told us, that they’re going to stop having tuna on the menu because there’s just not enough in the sea anymore. They decided to stop serving it because the fish stock needs to grow back again. I mean it’s a straight-forward thing. It’s about being more considerate of your environment. How much are you going to scoop out? This connects back to my home town in Siberia, where they just scooped out all the diamonds of the mine, and now there’s just a giant empty crate and there’s nothing happening there anymore.
How are your collections influenced by art? Do you have favorite artists that inspire you?
I am really interested in textures. I photograph a lot of textural stuff. Anselm Kiefer is my favorite artist. I love Kiefer’s work, his overpowering kind of paintings, and their texture mixed media. I also love the work of Louis Bourgeois, her work with fabrics is incredible. But I also like poppy things.
What would be your poppy choice?
I like stickers and chewing gums. I collect stickers from fruit, I collect all kinds of stickers. I sort of swing between minimalism and pop. I like the beige and the white and the pale, but I also go completely bright and happy and crazy. It’s about having fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it.
Are you still working together with your mother?
Yes, but she’s now mainly focused on sourcing the material. The last two collections I produced remotely in Russia. So she was there with the artisans, and I was on the phone, I was organizing everything from here. But I don’t think that’s an ideal situation because I want to feel things, and I want to see the process of it happening. So now, I want to move everything to London. I’ve just been looking at hiring people. So that’s exciting!
Where do you sell your clothing?
At the moment, we sell at LN-CC. We are in conversation with a few different stores and we are getting ready for Paris Fashion Week. I am working on building a website, where we can sell online as well. And we have private orders.
How do people find you?
That’s a good question, how do people find me? I don’t know, I can’t answer that question. Most of the avant-garde fashion brands don’t even have an Instagram or a Twitter or Facebook account. On their website, it doesn’t even list where you can buy their collections. You need to email them to find out. It’s an image that they’re portraying. Some people refuse to be that social and that open, and they’re looking more for a certain kind of exclusivity or unattainability. I think I’m not that kind of person, though. I have this part of me which loves creating imagery. That’s why Instagram is such a vivid tool for me, even though we don’t have a huge following on Instagram or anything. I think people will find you if they know they need to be looking for you somehow.
Where do you see Lana Siberie in the future? What are your plans and your dreams?
First, we have to work on making a name for ourselves. Letting people know that we exist, getting into the stores and raising awareness. Then we have to move the production closer. Italy or Spain would be ok but something closer would be much better for us. It would be nice if it was outside London somewhere in the UK. I have to oversee the production, it's important to be there.
I want to have a space for our brand. Somewhere central because that would be a statement. I am imagining a shop, a showroom where people could come in and order something from a particular fabric. So we could do bespoke garments, we would have a stock of fabric available and could make something fantastic out of it. And then we would have other floors where the clothes are made. I would want the entire building to be sustainable in itself. That way it would just really send the message across. A fully sustainable building in central London with a boutique in the bottom and several floors where we would have the production.
And outside of London, in the countryside, I would like to have a workshop for preserving crafts. Something like Chanel’s “Paraffection” in Paris’ suburb of Patin - a collection of workspaces operating under one roof, each specializing in a different craft such as embroidery, pleating, costume jewelry and button-making.
And eventually, it would be amazing if we could even grow our own linen. Is it too crazy to think about all that? But then again - if you can think it, it must be possible. Otherwise, why would the thought pop into your head?!
Thank you so much for the interview, Iulia!
LANA SIBERIE S/S 2017
Iulia's Top 4
-> Click here to listen to playlist <-
01. Heart Of Gold
by Neil Young
02. Down By The River
by Neil Young
03. The Other Day I Woke Up With
Modern Soul In My Head
by James Blake
04. Atom Dance