Saturday, Aug 30 2014
All Cities
Choose Your City
'Siberia is so big, it’s almost more an idea than a place'
Ian Frazier

Victoria's (Siberian) Secret - not sexy lingerie but fashionable felt boots

By Kate Baklitskaya
04 April 2013

Fashion comes full circle as boots with 1,500 years of history become a cat walk sensation.

'I proved to many people that I am capable of creating something unique even though many laughed at first, saying valenki are 'old-school', 'village style', and asking 'who's going to get interested in them?' As it turned out, they were all wrong'. Picture: Victoria Kuznetsova

As someone said long before Justin Timberlake, what goes around comes around. And as others have said, too, the old ideas are the best. 

For hundreds and probably thousands of years wool felt boots have been one of the secrets to the age old questions: how do Siberians survive their harsh and cruel winters?

In fairly modern time these boots - called valenki - played an unsung yet crucial role in winning World War Two for the Allies by keeping warm the feet of heroic Russian soldiers marching across Europe in the atrocious cold. 

Fast forward to 2013 and this traditional footwear has a distinctly new look thanks to 21 year old Victoria Kuznetsova, a student of the faculty of fashion design from Ulan-Ude, capital of the Republic of Buryatia on the shores of Lake Baikal.

While the majority of fashion designers seem to focus on popular items that have endless streams of improvement, Victoria chose instead to reinvent valenki, breathing colourful new life into the uniquely Russian winter footwear. Her new born masterpieces were worn at the recent 'Russian Beauty- Long braid' beauty contest held in Ulan-Ude. Not only that, they became the highlight of the show.

Victoria's Secret Siberian style

Victoria Kuznetsova, 21, is a student of the faculty of fashion design from Ulan-Ude, capital of the Republic of Buryatia

Victoria was born in the small village of Bichura in Buryatia. As a child she had many hobbies but it was painting that enthralled her the most.

'I started to paint during childhood. I always loved painting lessons when I was a child which is why I went to the children's art school. Even as a child I knew that my life would somehow be connected with art, beauty, colours and brushes,' she says.

At first Victoria was not sure what she wanted to be: it was only in later years as a teenager that she toyed with the idea of becoming a designer. And as a typical young dreamer, she wanted to be more than ordinary. 

While focusing her energy on becoming a professional with a unique and extraordinary style, Victoria's breakthrough came in the form of valenki.

'At school I studied painting and that's how it all began. I seriously explored different kinds of painting and it was only this winter painted a pair of valenki, though they were just for me. Many people had never seen anything like them and stared at me on the street; some approached and asked where I bought them'.

Victoria bought a simple white pair of valenki at the market and decorated them with a beautiful traditional painting that not a single fashionista could stay indifferent to. Besides the obvious aesthetic qualities her valenki turned out to be the most comfortable footwear for the winter.

Victoria's Secret Siberian style Victoria's Secret Siberian style

Victoria's (Siberian) Secret - not sexy lingerie but fashionable felt boots. Pictures: Victoria Kuznetsova

'I wore them all the way through the winter,' she said. 'Valenki are very comfortable and extremely warm type of footwear.'

Such views defy the recent notion that valenki are only for babushki in far-flung villages: in fact the footwear is making a comeback, which can only increase with Victoria's designs. 

As people began to show increasing interest in her painted valenki, Victoria uploaded pictures of her works onto her social network page and took orders for customised pairs. The photos spread like wildfire online and soon Victoria got an unexpected phone call.

'The head of the modelling agency Baikal Stars and the organiser of a local beauty contest noticed my works and contacted me. She asked me to create 26 unique pairs of valenki for the participants of a contest and I agreed'.

The contest 'Russian Beauty - Long Braid' put particular emphasis on Russian beauty and unique Russian traditions. Participants sang, danced, and talked about Russian traditions and culture; during one of the traditional dances they wore Victoria's valenki which quickly became the highlight of the contest. 

Victoria's Secret Siberian style

'I started getting orders from everywhere: from Russia, the Baltics as well as far-away countries; I've already made and sent some pairs by mail. Pictures: Victoria Kuznetsova

Victoria had to create 26 pairs of valenki during just two weeks. What made her task especially difficult was the fact that she had to purchase all the material and boots with her own money.  

'It was during my winter exams time so I had to find the time to study and paint the valenki at the same time. I hardly slept at all, painting two or three pairs every day; but I wouldn't say it was difficult. I'm just very interested in what I do and enjoyed creating them. When you put your soul into everything you do the results are almost always great.  I didn't spoil a single pair,' says the artist with a smile.

One after another, each pair of ordinary boots was transformed into a unique work of art. Since Victoria was always inspired by traditional Russian painting styles she used the techniques of  Gorodetskaya, Khokhloma and Palekhskaya on her valenki. 

On other pairs she painted a Russian bear with an accordion, snow maidens, Gradfather Frost and a snake design. Several were decorated with the emblem of Buryatia. Eventually every pair became completely unique and stunningly beautiful. 

'Seeing my valenki on stage during the competition was unbelievable. I have no words to describe my feelings. Of course I was delighted and proud.

'My mother sat next to me, and I was pleased to see her smile, the sparkle in her eyes, her look saying that this is my daughter; she has achieved something, showed that she is worth something.

'I proved to many people that I am capable of creating something unique even though many laughed at first, saying valenki are 'old-school', 'village style', and asking 'who's going to get interested in them?' As it turned out, they were all wrong'.

Victoria's Secret Siberian style

Victoria was born in the small village of Bichura in Buryatia; as a child she had many hobbies but it was painting that enthralled her the most

After the competition, part of the valenki collection was purchased; the rest Victoria saved for participation in another competition.

Photos from the contest were published and news of Victoria Kuznetsova's success quickly spread on the Internet. 

'I started getting orders from everywhere: from Russia, the Baltics as well as far-away countries. I have made several pairs already and sent them by mail. Many people would love to order my valenki but in some places, like St Petersburg and Vladivostok for example, the weather conditions are not good for wearing them'.

To solve this Victoria plans to buy valenki with rubber soles. Unfortunately for her they are not easily available in Buryatia, so she will have to order them in from other cities. But that's not all. The artist plans to decorate the boots with decorative flowers, mineral stones and gems - Victoria's fantasy has no limits.

It was only six months ago that Victoria began painting valenki and the results are already great, proving that it is entirely possible that a student's passion can be the seed of a successful business.

'A Russian cultural centre asked me to supply them with painted valenki, so they can sell them to tourists. Next year, I think I will work with them'.

Additional reporting Michael Oliver-Semenov

Comments (4)

The story of your village boots and your success made me realize that all we have to do here on this planet is to create/practice what we enjoy and make us happy. And that gives more energy then it previously needed. So wish all the people to find their tasks is life. Me too.
Natasha, Germany
23/06/2013 21:22
1
0
Victoria i love these boots:) Good luck!
Maria, Paris
06/04/2013 21:06
3
0
Cool!!! I would never be able to put them on living where I am - but they do look great))))
Joan, Australia
06/04/2013 17:17
6
0
stylish...and look quite practical given what the weather's been like recently all around Europe. It was the first snowy Easter in my life...)))) I wonder if Victoria would send them to Poland...?
Mariusz , Warsaw
06/04/2013 01:41
10
0
1

Add your comment

We welcome a healthy debate, but do not accept offensive or abusive comments. Please also read 'Siberian Times' Privacy Policy

Name

Town/Country

Add your comments

The views expressed in the comments above are those of our readers. 'Siberian Times' reserves the right to pre-moderate some comments.

Control code*

Type the code

* obligatory


Features

Business

The Bank of Russia official exchange rates of foreign currencies
EUR48.6315USD36.9316GBP61.3028Other...