After collections devoted to Russian fairy tales and American literature, Ulyana Sergeenko turned to orthodox architecture and priests' vestments as inspiration for her third couture show. Bell silhouettes replaced the wasp-waists of her recent outings, ruffled collars grazed the chin, and arms more often than not were covered. Deep pleats, dense wools, and an abundance of black and charcoal gray added a certain austerity to the proceedings, alleviated by a pair of cardinal-red dresses and another in absinthe-green silk velvet.
Sergeenko makes no apologies for her love of native dress. On the contrary, she sees it as a strength, creating detailed mood books for each season thick with clippings of paintings, photographs, and other artifacts. She's got a strong signature, and certainly there are women in the couture crowd who approach dressing with a similar kind of drama. But to others her clothes look likes costumes. They're right, up to a point. Still, it's worth taking a closer look at what she does. The pleats on the back of one gray frock are dotted with tiny river pearls embroidered with orangey-red thread; the effect is fairly enchanting. And the neckline of a black frock is painstakingly yoked in Vologda lace. A three-quarter-sleeve blouse in the stuff will cost a small fortune, but without Sergeenko or another obsessive like her, the centuries-old technique stands a good chance of dying out.
Does the collection at times lack finesse? Sure. And is it presumptuous for Sergeenko, who is untrained, to present on the same schedule as masters like Lagerfeld and Lacroix? Well, yes. But if France's petites mains are worth celebrating and saving, then certainly so are Russia's. Back in Sergeenko's temporary Paris showroom, there's a capsule collection of ready-to-wear that she's made at retailers' requests. Silk blouses and dresses reinterpreting her theme look utterly wearable and sweetly charming.