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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Riga, Untamed Couture

The Untamed Fashion Assembly in Riga is by far the most important style event in all the territories of the former Soviet Union. It's also by nature extremely unique, and year after year attracts a number of outrageous fashion personalities from all over Europe. Founded in 1990 by a young Latvian designer, Bruno Birmanis, the UFA introduced an alternative to conventional styles, stressing the radical and experimental, with a touch of street fashion. At the time, it was easy: Commercial couture never really existed in the Soviet Union, so designers were free to be as bizarre as they liked. Now, the situation is somewhat different. Because of political changes, the UFA's location has moved to the capital of Latvia and the list of designers was longer but different in substance. Things are expensive these days and organizers needed to raise several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Such sums mean big sponsors, media coverage and big-name stars. And the stars there were: Paco Rabanne from Paris and Valentin Yudashkin from Moscow. Rabanne headed the international jury, judging about 70 collections by young designers. This competition, the core of all previous assemblies, was pushed out of the spotlight by other events and was held in the half-empty hall of the Congress Palace. Prizes were awarded to 14 collections. The winners, in no specific order: "Snow Queen," by Andrei Barten-yev of Moscow. The capital city's creator of "wearable sculpture" used plastic shopping bags as the main material for his designs, which resembled a cross between a spaceship and a matryoshka doll. "Springtime," by Juozas Statkevicius of Lithuania. He's "talented, but too lazy" according to his colleagues, and his collection was indeed a bit of a joke: models in nurses' uniforms and a few black evening dresses. "They Wouldn't Let Me In When I Knocked," by three Latvian students, Evija, Elina and Ilze. Their designs, clothes in the form of little houses and fruits, were truly juvenile and na•ve. "Impressions," by Svetlana Danilchenko of Ukraine. White and full of motion, everything was made out of spirals. Nice. "Jeanne d'Arc," by E. Rakauskaite and G. Makarevicius of Lithuania. Accompanied by a recording of French language lessons, this collection was definitely more about crazy, pseudo-pathological presentation than about actual clothes. "Let's Be Like the Sun," by Masha Cigal of Russia. She came up with beautiful helmets and armor, made of old vinyl records with gold ornaments. Inventive. "The Pants Transform," by Larissa Lazareva, from Moscow. Formerly part of the LaRe fashion duo, she came up with pants that transformed into skirts, sleeves, etc. Could be functional. "Galera," by Baiba Lusite and Ilze Vitolina, of Latvia. If Bartenyev's works are "wearable sculptures," these designs were "wearable paintings," most of them portraits. "Kiss," by Redita Tumenaite of Lithuania. The collection consisted of dresses attached to each other, Siamese-twin style, with kissing faces painted nicely on the fabric. Tumenaite also received the Grand Prix and a grant for design study in France. "Louis XIV -- The Sun King," by a collective of Italian design students. Nothing exceptionally radical, but very pretty and stylish black-and-white costumes with Renaissance motifs. "Ribbons," by Kony Braun of Germany. All of Braun's clothes were made of thick rope and fishnets. Funny. "Transformation," by Mari Pelander of Finland. These designs were conceptually apocalyptic -- sad, tortured visions of mutant human bodies of the future. There were also "Shadows" by K. Andersone of Latvia and "Symbol" by M. Boichenko of Russia. Both of these were totally forgettable, however. I would have chosen instead Regina Komziene's very witty "Slim Fast," Dmitry Laptev's "Allure of the Pilot" and Sergei Chernov's 1960s bonanza "Really 20700." In between the stars and the daring beginners, there was a middle zone, occupied by some winners of previous assemblies, including Katya Fillipova, Serge Ganjumian, Vladimir Bukhinnik and Sandra Straukaite, as well as some Swedish and British designers. This was the most interesting part of the entire UFA, from an artistic point of view, and Straukaite's collection was absolutely the best of all. Unfortunately, she started in the business before they started offering grants to study in France.