The famous couturier Cristobal Balenciaga once said: "You have to force fabric to speak." This is a tall order, which even the world’s most talented designers find hard to fill. However, Russian designer Irina Yega’s handmade fabrics not only speak, but they love, support and inspire their maker during hard times.
When a woman wears one of our scarves, coats or sweaters, she does more than put on an item of clothing," says Yega. "She meets an old friend who allows her to relax and act more naturally, more free. I don’t know why, but the ordinary fabrics you buy in the store don’t give you this kind of feeling, even if they’re smart fabrics created with the help of the latest technology."
The "smart fabrics" market is rapidly expanding. Everybody has heard of t-shirts that smell like alpine meadows in any season, socks that stay clean for days and sports suits that nourish the body with essential vitamins. So, do we still need hand-woven fabrics in such a technologically advanced age? Will a designer who makes fabrics with her own hands survive in the fashion market? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just choose something from the variety of textiles already out there? In order to answer these questions, you have to decide whether you prefer to show off your financial status or emphasize your individuality. If you’re interested in showing off, you can choose an expensive, high-quality fabric from any one of the world’s best producers. If you choose individuality over flash, you can’t do without hand-made fabrics. "This fabric is like your second skin," Yega believes. It is both part of the wearer and a layer of protection against the elements. It has to keep you warm, cover your skin from scorching sunrays and pollution and also block all forms of negative energy. So, it’s no wonder that the market for handmade fabrics is expanding. Instinctually, consumers understand that they need a protective layer from the aggressive atmosphere of today’s world. Handmade fabrics provide this sense of security. When a person makes something with his hands, he imparts to it a form of human energy. If the fabric is made with the heart, it carries a positive charge. If it’s made with indifference, it imparts a negative one. Luckily, most designers love what they create.
Quite often, customers, whose daily schedules are planned to the minute, come to the studio and end up spending hours there - not because the fitting takes so long, but because they don’t want to leave the cozy atmosphere that hand-woven fabrics generate. It’s as if handmade clothes have souls and communicate their designer’s philosophy.
"I am constantly searching for myself," says Yega. "It’s difficult, but interesting process. When I deal with male and female customers who love what I create, I can feel the exchange of energy between us. It’s as if their souls open up and receive the flow of emotions and sensations from our fabrics and from the people who made them. This makes me happy. I’d like to see even more people who love handmade clothes."
You can start at Yega’s creations for hours, and yet they retain their mystery. What exactly are they made of? There’s a piece of woolen yarn here, several spots of chiffon there, something bright and unidentifiable next: And most confusing is the absence of seams or glue. How does this stuff stay together? It’s witchcraft, called "Yega-fabrics", which can’t be made by hand alone - it requires special equipment, which remains a secret. Irina thinks that a bit of mystery can’t hurt.
Yega-fabrics are unusual materials created with the help of a special gadget. But when Irina started and made her very first pieces, there was no appropriate equipment. Russia is always short of something essential. On the other hand, the outcome often surprises the most skeptical critics. This was Yega’s experience, too. She created her first decorative panel on a piece of factory machinery designed to produce material to protect asphalt from extreme cold! It was a bit like creating a piece of fine jewelry with a smith’s hammer. But it came out alright. Instead of rolling out a protective layer for asphalt, the steel monster created a beautiful wall decoration. It just goes to show that a talented designer can negotiate even with a soulless machine. From that moment on, Yega’s intellectual creativity has never slowed down.
Stealing know-how is nothing new these days, especially in Russia, where the first laws towards protecting intellectual property are still very poorly enforced.
So Irina’s own experience with this form of theft is unfortunate, but not surprising. Having invented a unique technology, Yega continued to innovate. She kept coming up with new ideas and applying them. Many of her colleagues thought she couldn’t possibly do better and that it was time to market the new product. One of her artist-colleagues was impressed by her fabrics’ beauty that he simply stole the method for their creation. However, this act of intellectual piracy did not bring him success. The fabric wouldn’t hold together, and the clothes fell apart in the fitting rooms.
Yega continues to experiment. She’s a workaholic, and even now that Yea-fabrics come in a enormous variety, she keeps searching for new ideas. One of her latest inspirations is to mix exotic furs with bird feathers by threading them with wool. This strange collection is intended to cover the floor of the "hunting room" of a suburban mansion. Yega has never done anything like this before. "It’s a unique piece, " she explains. "It demands quite a bit of technological planning. It has to be beautiful, original and practical." It’ll be thick and sturdy and will rest on a special cushion of protective linen material. You’ll be able to walk on it without worrying about wear and tear and to clean it as you do a regular carpet. Yega loves to create new items and to combine bold designs with original and practical ways to protect them.
The mansion’s owner takes part in the creative process. Several years ago this would have been unimaginable in Russia. The customers were much more passive, unable to visualize their desires and completely dependent on the designers, who came up with alternatives which the customer approved or disapproved. Now, the creative work is cooperative, which makes Yega very happy. People no longer blindly follow trends and trademarks. They understand that they need to take part in the creative process. It’s no longer worth renting even the best designer’s vision wholesale. Owners exercise their own senses of taste and creativity. They are open to new and interesting suggestions, and the cooperative search for new ideas produces superior results.