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Brutalism, Style And Russian Oligarchs – OpEd

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I don’t usually write about fashion (and this post is only peripherally about that subject) but I do find photographs often to be compelling political and visual statements.  So, today’s post.  In order to understand the context of this image, I should quote some of  this NY Times article about the Paris fashion week:

OUTSIDE the Ritz Paris on the Place Vendôme, where paparazzi congregate whenever celebrities are in town for Fashion Week, a striking alabaster-skinned woman posed on her way into the hotel one morning in March.

She wore navy silk pajamas with white piping, a teal topcoat draped over her shoulders, oversize cat-eye sunglasses and a loosely tied babushka over her hair, giving her the mysterious, nearly plastic, impression of a 1950s Hollywood movie star. Hours later, she emerged in a pale blue halter dress covered with spots, and posed once again. The next morning, it was a Chanel suit in black tweed and a matching beret, worn askew.

Her name is Ulyana Sergeenko, and though she is not yet internationally famous, she is certainly well known among the fashion designers of this particular part of the world. She is one of their best customers, the wife of a Russian insurance billionaire, a former model, a star of street-style photographers and a burgeoning designer and photographer herself.

The photograph could itself be taken from a fashion magazine, where it might project a satiric perspective on the glamor-girl paparazzi symbiotic relationship. But what strikes me is the imperiousness, even brutality of the model with her impossibly erect, almost military posture. Knowing that she is wife of a Russian oligarch tells us much of what we need to know about what went into amassing that fortune that clothes her.  In the picture, a woman bystander looks at the woman’s dress and ignores entirely the person in it.  The model turns her head and eyes, sheathed in those movie-star sunglasses, toward the paparazzi photographer.  The look on her face…what is it?  Not hate.  But haughtiness definitely.  Disdain perhaps.

The Times article notes that Vogue cheers on this woman and the other members of her clique of the fabulously wealth, saying they have “unbounded personal style.”  Certainly unbounded personal wealth earned on the backs of Russia’s struggling classes.  But why should anyone care about such obscene wealth and the distractions it finds to amuse itself?  These are the .1% of the 1%.  They are visitors from another planet, and not very friendly or nice ones at that.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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