Cut the Kitsch: A Conversation with Masha Reva
photography by: Amanda Vincelli
April 22, 2014
Masha Reva’s designs are the product of nostalgic modernism, demonstrative of a reverence for all things historical as viewed through a contemporary, digital lens. Drawing from vintage, traditional imagery and anatomical illustrations, Reva layers iPhone photos of found objects on to sculptural sweatshirts—a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Internet era and her Ukrainian roots. Jewels and botanical images are collaged with a keen eye for gaudy excess, mixing an Eastern European love of extreme luxury with a kitschiness that borders on the delightfully garish. Reva’s designs have resonated with everyone from the eccentric shoppers of Opening Ceremony to the grande dames of Kiev, proving her work’s capability to transcend generational and cultural divides. In a time of universal economic uncertainty, and even civil unrest in her home country, Reva manages to strike the perfect balance between high and low, opulent and banal, eliminating disparities between the haves and the have-nots.
What do you consider to be your signature style?
Right now, what I do is mostly associated with textile prints. My choice of a career in fashion design was made quite spontaneously; after three months spent in London at the age of 17, I imagined the career of a fashion designer to be pure fun. Now, getting older, I feel that the choice I made was quite impulsive because, actually, drawing is something I enjoy much more. But in general, my work is first of all strongly based on a visual concept, everything else follows. That is why I pay a lot of attention to the photo shoots.
What was the first piece of clothing you ever designed?
I’ve been sketching and drawing since childhood—my mother is also a fashion designer, however she does not work in this field anymore; and my father is a sculptor. From him I learnt a lot, most of all from his very positive and philosophical attitude towards life. The first piece I designed myself was a pair of weird pants made from a bed sheet that I then colored with paints when I was studying in school.
What themes or ideas do you hope to explore through your garments?
I like to dig deep into the topics that are important to me, which complicates my life in some ways. Research of an idea, for me, is always very fundamental and it takes more time than it normally takes in the fashion industry. For instance, my first collection, Botanical Layers, deals with our Internet dependency. Prints look like a botanical garden made of Photoshop layers, sometimes with the loading bars still visible. It looks like the collaged dream of a person who is lost in virtual reality. I like when clothing, apart from its function, brings out a certain meaningful layer in itself, when it makes people consider a certain issue. In this way, the medium of the print can become a very practical mechanism to translate your thoughts, instead of just being a decoration on a garment. My last collection illustrates the Ukrainian people’s love of luxury and kitsch. I was very inspired by my home city Odessa, where local people tend to passionately combine the completely non- compatible in large quantities.
What do you think sets you or your designs apart?
When I think of a collection, I am always sincere to myself in looking for an issue that really excites me. I think every idea in the end can be either realized perfectly, or completely corrupted. If you do not try to impress everyone in the world with your idea, and rather stay true to yourself, the result will reflect that. In my case, the fact that something has gone wrong (which, of course, is always possible), tells me that I’m trying too hard to impress, and that my work isn’t something I really enjoy doing. Enjoying what you do and doing it sincerely— these are the things that make every work special.
What feelings or attitudes do you hope to inspire in the people wearing your designs?
First of all, I would like people to become a little bit happier when they are wearing my clothes. If I succeed in that, then what I do is right. It would also be great if that person would consider my message or the concept I put into my collections.
Who would be your dream person to dress?
If only I could meet Picasso, I would have designed a crazy jacket for him.
Do you think that being a designer from Ukraine has affected your personal style or designs?
After a year at Central Saint Martins, I started to value my connection to Ukrainian culture because nobody had much awareness about our country, and it is very interesting to talk about your cultural background through your work. Ukraine, actually, is a very kind and patriotic nation. However, being a Ukrainian designer is a much more complicated thing. We always need visas to travel and it is also quite problematic and expensive for a young designer to deal with the export of goods. Right now, our country has come into a state of something close to revolution, but we have no choice sometimes but to work in very extreme conditions.
What struggles have you faced approaching fashion in this untraditional way?
Mainly finding a good team for shoots that will share my views. For the rest of the collection, a memorable concept for a photo shoot can now become quite successful advertising in this social media era, with all its shares, reposts, reblogs. I prefer visual communication, what is hard for me to explain with words I can always say with a drawing or a photo shoot.
What has surprised you most about people’s response to your work?
I am always very surprised and happy when people from older generations like my work.
Where do you pull your collaged images from? What inspires that aesthetic?
I enjoy old anatomical illustrations, old books, and old photos— especially the color scheme from the magazines in the 50s. I take pictures directly with my iPhone and usually these images are appropriate enough to print on to textile. I also collect vintage books and magazines, or I can look up an appropriate image on the Internet. Sometimes I scan vintage textiles.
What is your WILD Wish?
I have many wishes, but the most important one for me right now is that all the people in Ukraine will finally become happy.
See the full Masha Reva editorial here
Stylist: Lia Hallie
Hair Stylist: Lizzie Arneson
Make Up Artist: Dominique Farina
Model: Lily Walker @ RE:QUEST Model Management
Set Designer: Orly Anan
Special Thanks to Dana Brej