Imported Looks: Escaping National Identity

Nikita Alentyev

The new 21st century man has grown used to borderless travel, cosmopolitan culture and multi-tasking under the pressure of time.

French croissants, Italian wine, English football and American movies seem to be a logical gentleman’s choice. We do get carried away with how international and multicultural our surroundings can get and sometimes slip into the zone of no national identity. Surprisingly enough, Russia has a whole history of yearning to run away from its national identity. Ever since Peter the Great forced the entire country to lead a European lifestyle, it has almost become a bad tone to look Russian, act Russian and think Russian. The country has been importing looks from the world’s most fashionable capitals in a pursuit to conceal its own origin. Let’s look at the three most prominent ‘foreign looks’, grasp what can spoil those and learn how to pull them off.

The French look
The story: When we think of Russia and France the first historical persona that comes to mind is Napoleon – a story of military glory for one country and merciless defeat for the other. Hostility aside, Russia has always had a fondness for France: the Empress led a private correspondence with the philosophers of the French Revolution; the nobility would hire French governesses for their children and speak only French amongst each other and of course French luxury at its finest – wines, silks, perfumes – was the Achilles’ heel for both Russian men and women.

The look: Paris is the indisputable world fashion capital, yet France seems to be more interested in fashion as business and the casual French look is a tasteful combination of casual wear, subtle colors and the ‘less is more’ rule.

The spoilers: The trap here is going grey. The idea of less is more and approaching clothes with a certain aesthetic in mind rather than a status message can lead you to dressing plain, mundane and honestly a little dull. Grey, black and navy are not the only subtle colors. Casual does not mean untidy or ill-thought out and accessories are never superfluous even if you are trying to keep it simple.

Secrets of success: If you are trying to pull off the solid-colored French look, don’t be afraid of layers. Add a couple of accessories that don’t make you look pretentious yet give away your fashion sense – a bracelet, sunglasses, carefully picked out bag. Use length and shape as your main creativity outlets: slightly shortened pants or a longer tee will pull the look together.

The Italian look
The story: The origin of Italian aesthetic in Russia peaked probably around the time when St. Petersburg was made the country’s capital. Italian architects came to the country one after the other bringing new techniques in Fine Arts and introducing south European tastes to the Russian society. The second wave was around the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and the internal markets were flooded with the new and the outrageous with the revered label ‘Made in Italy’.

The look: Italians are the celebrated fashion connoisseurs of Europe with a distinct sexy vibe to any of their looks. The everyday look is always about bright colors, intricate patterns and eye-catching accessories. ‘Less is more’ is not the main guideline here but the Italians seem to know well enough when to stop.

The spoilers: The Italians came up with the notion of ‘porn chique’ – building your look around the body, using clothes to compliment your physique and accessories to flatter your natural shape. There is always – I cannot stress this enough – ALWAYS a danger of looking vulgar and tacky if you go over the line. The bright color trend does not translate into wear-all-the-colors-of-the-rainbow rule: they have a certain compatibility to them and should never exceed three when combined in one outfit.

Secrets of success: With colors – never go beyond three and keep them in the same palette (cold or warm). Shoes are more often than not a centerpiece rather than a brushstroke in your look. Patterns should work to make your look wholesome rather than clash with each other. And the scarf. Never forget the scarf.

The English look
The story: the history behind the Russian-British relation seems to have an aftertaste of constant concealed rivalry and open confrontation at times. What does unite us is the fondness for tea and a taste for porcelain. In fact, when British Wedgewood was first imported to Russia the monarchs had such a desire to outplay the British, that Russian artists were ordered to come up with their own. This is how Russian Imperial Porcelain emerged and tea-drinking, hunting, smoking the pipe and other aristocratic habits of Europe’s most western culture poured into the country.

The look: Dandy. The urban rendition of the conservative formal wear. We are talking about waistcoats, tweed jackets, woolen suits and tartan. When put into the 21st century context the British look would be a conservative trench coat outfit with an air of grunge about it and a tinge of rebellion.

The spoilers: Never go synthetic. If you are trying to pull out the British modern day dandy look natural fabrics are the way to go: soft cotton, warm merino wool, cashmere and cozy flannels. A gentleman’s guide to formal wear would come in handy as well, because the ultimate faux pas here is combining pieces that don’t go together based on fabric, pattern and how appropriate they are for a particular time of the day.

Secrets of success: Wear no more than one pattern and colors that go together. A dressy look will not work however much effort you put into it if you don’t coordinate the occasion you pick it out for. Finally, pay utmost attention to details: socks, tie knot, belt, collar shape – those matter.

If you want to enjoy a borderless identity, do it right.