By Ryan Keating-Lambert.
Last week we spent some time with the grunge and vintage fashion inspired Natalia. Immersed among a range of delicate, modern and inspiring outfits and accessories, she gave us an insight into her shop ‘The Item’ nestled in the heart of Prague’s old town, her glorious life in the Bohemian capital, as well as her challenging past in Russia and Moldavia. Read on and let us know what you think.
Where are you from Natalia?
I’m from Saint Petersburg in Russia. I’ve lived here already for 11 years.
I’ve always wanted to go there. Do you go back often?
I was there 1 month ago, but that was the first time in 5 years.
What brought you to Prague?
Nothing. I just decided to start my life on a new page. And it was easy and fast to move to the Czech Republic, so I chose Prague.
Tell us about growing up in Saint Petersburg….
Ok so it’ll be a story about my family. My family are originally from different regions in the Urals and after WWII my grandfather was sent to Moldavia to bring it to life after the war. Then my parents, after they finished university, were also sent there. So I was born and grew up there and stayed until I was 17. But then there was a war there when Moldavia decided to break away from the Soviet Union. No one really knows about this war, it was scary. Because we were Russian, my parents last their jobs. So we had to move back to Russia, that’s when I moved to Saint Petersburg, when I was 17. It was a local war, similar to what is going on now in Ukraine.
Were you personally exposed to any violence?
Some of my friends were beaten on the street because we didn’t speak Moldavian well. At that time we were only 15, so it was quite rough. But I was only harmed psychologically (laughs).
I’m glad you have a sense of humour about it now. Do you still know anyone there?
A couple of friends. I studied in a Russian school there and 80% of my classmates emigrated immediately after finishing.
Russians are known generally for having a hard time here. Have you ever ran into any trouble?
Yeah.. I cannot say that it has happened quite often, but for example the most disgusting thing was in Riegrovy Sady one year ago. About one year ago there was a hockey championship on the big screen in the beer garden, Czech vs. Russia, and I was by myself with my beautiful dog and ordered some water. The bartender said “no Russian pigs”… I started to cry – I really didn’t expect that. So my Czech friends helped me and then I called the garden to complain in the end . I told the owner the story and he said to me “But you know what? If I pay attention to these complaints, I will have no bartenders.” After that I decided that I would never step into this stupid place anymore.
It’s not the kind of reaction that a woman should expect from a man.
What’s your opinion on the recent events involving Russia?
You know I am really afraid that there will be a war. So many people have died already. Have you seen the photos of the ones (in Kyiv) that have died already? It’s terrible! I hope that all sides will be wise enough not to escalate this. It should be stopped.
Tell us a little bit about your store!
Well, I opened my first store two months after I moved to the Czech Republic. I started to sell vintage clothes at the beginning. I think I was one of the first or maybe the first in Prague. In the beginning it was quite difficult because people were asking “are they clothes from dead people?” or “ah you get everything for free and then sell it…” It was quite stupid. But from the beginning I’ve had some interesting customers that I still have today. Now I mainly concentrate on new clothes – I buy designs from South Korea, Japan, Italy, the USA, the UK and I also now have my own line of fashion.
Did you study fashion design?
No. I studied Chinese language and sinology, but that was tonnes of years ago. I’ve always liked old fashion.
Who would be your fashion icon?
I think Yves Saint Lauren, I love his style. And also Dior and his new look with those dresses.
What inspires you to design?
The 50s! This is my favourite period if we are talking about clothes.
What is your favourite piece that you’ve designed?
Last year I was lucky to get some great material factory by Dolce and Gabbana and I did a Marilyn Monroe dress (pictured).
It’s beautiful. How do you find fashion in Prague?
Generally it’s quite boring. But the situation has changed a lot in the last couple of years. Now people are becoming generally more brave. Before I couldn’t allow myself to wear this, it would be too bright or strange or something. Now people are becoming more brave.
Where do you like to hang out in Prague?
Wow! Ok, my favourite places! Chapeau Rouge, Druhé Patro, Bukanýr and Follow me Cafe which is new… and Le Clan as well! I also used to go to Termix and Valentino a lot.
I guess you have quite a few gay friends then?
80% of my friends are gay.
What do you think about the situation in Russia right now?
Pure stupidity. Everything that is going on there with gays right now is stupid. Especially because I know from a close friend that a huge percentage of our government officials are gay orientated.
And what do you think about Putin? Is he gay?
(Laughs) No I don’t think so.
If there was a movie about your life, which actress would play you?
You know all actresses that I really love are old. For example Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. I like very much Courtney Love as well.
If you could go back in time, what would you see?
I would go to the 60s to the Woodstock festival! And also, I would go to Montreux to see Marvin Gaye live in concert!!! I have goosebumps just thinking about that!
How would you describe Prague in adjectives?
Strange, because it’s not really Czech Republic at all. There are so many good things and so many bad things. Locals and guests always complain about Prague, but if they leave they miss it and take any chance to come back. But generally I like it.
Would you ever leave Prague?
Yeah, I think so. I want to live nearby the sea. If here was a warm sea here, it would be the most perfect city in the world…
What do you miss most about Saint Petersburg?
Opera. The Mariinsky theatre. I used to go there often and I really miss it.
Will you ever go back and live there?
I don’t think so.
Mainly because of the climate. Plus it is still quite unstable. I remember the financial crisis in 1998 when in one night we lost all of our money. Almost everyone who had their money in the bank lost it. Would you live in a country like that? Anyway the borders are still open for now, I can go there when I need to.
What kind of dog is she?
She is a shih-tzu, 8 years old. A real Czech girl from Budejovice! She is so smart and loving and the most amazing creature in the world. She quite often travels with me. I think she was a stewardess in a past life. She’s amazing except for this (starts brushing the hair off her dress).
What are your plans with your store for the future?
The store is going well. I have very good customers. Very interesting customers. I never make any big plans. I make plans for the next month and that’s all. Sometimes I work with customers who are involved with costumes for films and series. Some of my pieces are in the series The Borgias and also for the movie Snowpiercer , an American Korean film with Tilda Swinton that will be released this year. I love Tilda Swinton.
Me too! She is great.
There are quite a lot of Czech models, singers and celebrities that are now coming to the store too. They are so good.
And do you custom make things for people?
Sure! We are quite open. I have very good tailors. Mainly we do female clothes.
For more information on designs and other details, please refer to The Item website and Facebook.
Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.