A stalwart of St Petersburg’s fashion industry, womenswear designer Tatiana Kotegova has been designing clothes since she was six years old. Having honed her craft during the Soviet era, Kotegova opened her fashion house in 1991 and is now one of the city’s most respected fashion professionals. Here, she shares the story of her fascinating career and her favourite places in St Petersburg.
Can you tell us about your experience of growing up in St Petersburg? How did your fashion career begin?
It seems to me that I was in the fashion world from birth. My mum, grandmother and aunts taught me great style with their own examples. They could sew, knit and embroider, and they decorated our house by hand. There has always been a cult of antiques in our family. I tried to sew my first outfit when I was six years old and, by age 15, I was already creating quite comprehensive designs. These childhood memories are very important to me. I grew up with the idea that life is made according to the laws of beauty and I still believe in that.
You were designing womenswear in St Petersburg during the 1970s and 80s, how did the politics and culture of that period influence your designs?
As we know, it’s not only politics and culture that influence fashion, but also economy, social life, natural disasters and many other things that make up our lives. You cannot create fashion and fail to feel the pulse and the mood of the time. In the 1970s, when I was creating costumes for myself, my family and friends, I could not imagine that I would ever do it legally because such activities were prosecuted during Soviet times. I didn’t even dream about my own fashion house in those years. However, by 1991, I had opened the doors of my fashion house. At that time, it was not easy to organize your own business, but I did have plenty of imagination and energy, qualities which I still strive to bring to my company. Some of my designs from those years, as well as some modern costumes from our fashion house, are now presented in the museum collection of the Hermitage and a private collection of the famous fashion historian, Alexander Vasilyev.
Where do you go in the city when you’re in need of inspiration?
There is no need to look far for inspiration in St Petersburg; this is a city of rare harmony and beauty. It is enough to go to the Neva River embankment to admire the surrounding beauty that was conceived in the 18th century and has been preserved, almost entirely unchanged, since then. If the weather is bad, visitors can dive headlong into the endless treasures of our museums: the Hermitage Museum, the Faberge Museum and the Russian Museum.
Can you describe what your perfect day in St Petersburg would look like?
I might well disappoint you by my saying that my ideal day begins in my fashion house among sketches, fabrics, models and clients’ visits! I would enjoy a leisurely morning, sipping a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, surrounded by flowers on a sunny terrace, listening to the sounds of my favourite music, or to the sound of rain (which happens quite often in our city). I cannot think of my ideal day without talking to my friends and family, face to face or by phone. The best evening of the perfect day to me should be unpredictable, it can be different but it should always be interesting.
With summer approaching, what events in St Petersburg are you most looking forward to?
For sure, the FIFA World Cup 2018, which will happen in June. Although I am not a huge sports fan, I am proud of the fact that our wonderful city will host so many guests and hold an event of international importance.
I recommend guests in the city visit Peterhof, a breathtaking palace and park with more than 200 fountains, just 30 minutes from St Petersburg. Alongside many interesting summer events, I would like to mention St Petersburg International Festival All Together Opera. This annual public event attracts a lot of interest from both locals and visitors to our city.
Additionally, a large-scale gallery of historical and modern costumes will open this summer at the State Hermitage’s Fashion Centre, which is of particular interest to fashion lovers like me.
What are your favourite local places to take friends who are visiting from out of town?
Everyone who lives in St. Petersburg has a special place in the city, to which he or she returns again and again. My favourite places in the city are connected with the Petrogradsky District and I love this area because of its stunning architecture. Not a single element of architecture in this neighbourhood was created accidentally, everything was planned to exist in harmony. Here you can see the works of the best architects, brilliant decorators and artists of Modern style. Art Nouveau is my favourite period not only in architecture but also in fashion, and I find that Modernism resonates with my own beliefs about beauty and harmony. I like to show friends my favourite Art Nouveau places, which have interesting facades with unique ornaments such as openwork balconies, bay windows, stained-glass windows and turrets.
I’d also suggest visiting our beautiful suburbs, such as Tsarskoe Selo, Peterhof, Pavlovsk, and Oranienbaum. I might also take my guests to the shore of the Gulf of Finland, and we would try smelt, the local delicacy, in a coastal restaurant. Certainly, during white nights season, we would use the extra hours of daylight to watch how the bridges go up over the Neva River at night.
Are there any other local designers who’s work you admire?
Yes, of course! I really admire Tatyana Parfionova, Larissa Pogoretskaya, Oleg Biryukov and Lilia Kisselenko.
Can you tell us a secret that most visitors to St Petersburg don’t know?
For me, the creation of St Petersburg is the biggest mystery itself. Our city, like Venice, appeared contrary to common sense. Therefore, the city is full of secrets and mystic insights … and one of many of my secrets is the address of the “right” antique shop in St Petersburg, which I’m happy to share with antiques enthusiasts who visit the city!