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Fashion

Post-Soviet Style in Kaliningrad

A look back at Peter Marlow’s portrait of the former German, former USSR, now Russian city

Peter Marlow

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Peter Marlow Svetlogorsk. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos

The capital city of the former German, former USSR, now Russian region of Kaliningrad, situated between Poland, Lithuania, and the cold sea, is both geographically and ideologically miles away from the usual global fashion destinations. Lacking the glamour of style capitals like Paris, London, New York and Milan, and without the cultural cachet of the likes of cosmopolitan, art-world communal centers such as Berlin or Los Angeles, Kaliningrad’s eponymous capital city has been chosen by fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy as the location to show his Fall/Winter 2017 collection on January 12, 2017–a decision that reads jarringly in the fashion schedule..

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Peter Marlow An amber workshop set up by former members of the KGB and naval officers. 90% of the world's amber is mined near Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos

With its brutalist, Slavic architecture and its politically charged history and present (Russia is reportedly deploying nuke-ready missiles to the area, and in response the US has reportedly sent special forces to the Russian Border as NATO is poised to act against this perceived ‘aggression’ from Putin), the location could be seen as fitting aptly with fashion’s enfant terrible du jour Rubchinskiy’s fixation with a post-soviet adolescent aesthetic. It’s also, perhaps, symptomatic of 2017’s inescapably heightened political climate, which, this billing suggests, cannot fail to penetrate even the glitzy world of the international fashion circuit.

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Peter Marlow Naval cadets at Svetlogorsk. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
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Peter Marlow The sleepy town of Svetlogorsk, once reserved only for state employees and military personnel, is now a bustling resort. However, there is more to this seaside resort than just beaches, barbecues, (...)
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Peter Marlow A memorial to sailor heroes, consisting of a real torpedo boat used in the 1945 capture of the city. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
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Peter Marlow A telephone box advertising mobile phones. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos

Not long after a bleak period in the 90s, during which Kaliningrad was, according to Research Scholar Dr. Nicole Eaton, Assistant Professor of History at Boston College, “the absolute worst place to be in Russia,” in 2001 Magnum’s Peter Marlow photographed the city. Marlow captured the vistas: its brutalist concrete forms purposefully Slavic in their aesthetic so as to erase not only swastikas and other Nazi symbols but other German design characteristics that signified the former occupiers; he also photographed the people, mostly Russians, descendent of those who were incentivized by the Russian government to move there when the Germans were banished in 1945.

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Peter Marlow Diagrams on display at the Bunker Museum, which are incomprehensible to non-Russian speakers, illustrate the Red Army's conquest of Konigsberg in 1945. Somewhat easier to understand are the museum' (...)
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Peter Marlow The Bunker Museum. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
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Peter Marlow A bear sits alone in a pit in Kaliningrad zoo. Kaliningrad, Russia. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
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Peter Marlow A statue of Kant at his grave in Konigsberg Cathedral. Newlyweds often lay flowers at Kant's grave, located around the back of the Cathedral. Near Kant's grave sits a large stone commemorating the (...)
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Peter Marlow Tram in Kaliningrad City. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos

Visiting Kaliningrad with Marlow was the late acclaimed writer AA Gill, who wrote in his book AA Gill is Away (2001): “There’s something rather restful about Kaliningrad’s unremitting hideousness.” In his 2001 article for The Sunday Times, which accompanied Marlow’s photo essay, he offered an insight into the creeping infiltration of Western culture in the former communist city: “On top of the bile-green slurry-taupe and mortician-grey tenement blocks, the slogans of communism – ‘bread and motherland’, ‘Victory to Heroic Soviet workers’ cling on, but are being elbowed aside by the United Colors of Benetton, Panasonic and Coca-Cola. Kaliningrad doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. In fact, it’s doing both.”

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Peter Marlow The Kaliningrad Hotel bar. Kaliningrad, Russian Federation. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
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Peter Marlow A bar girl at the Kaliningrad Hotel. Kaliningrad, Russia. 2001. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos
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Peter Marlow Svetlogorsk. Kaliningrad, Russia. 2001 © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos