In recent years, the Russian fashion scene has become a polyphony of independent voices: from the political activism of Kultrab and Nensi Avetisian’s progressive take on sustainability, to Vertigo’s sensual interpretation of multiculturalism and nostalgia. But Moscow-based knitwear label Vereja is perhaps the most outrageously colourful thread in this bright tapestry. Duo Igor Andreev and Masha Komarova use elaborate knitwear and crochet to tell stories: both about Russia’s craft heritage, and its free-spirited young generation. Most importantly, it celebrates the often overlooked creativity and landscapes of small town Russia.
Vereja’s story started in 2018, when designer Igor Andreev left his job as the editor-in-chief of Numero Russia magazine. With time on his hands, he rediscovered his childhood passion for knitting, and crafted the label’s first collection in just a few months. Vereja has a deep connection with Adreev’s personal history: the brand is named after a small town in the Moscow region where his mother used to work in a textile factory. Andreev learnt to knit at his local school in the village of Ustye, and by the age of 12 was proficient in making tablecloths, doilies, and stuffed toys.
Vereja turned from a solo creative project into a fully-fledged fashion brand in 2020, when Andreev teamed up with his friend Masha Komarova. The founders cite “childhood, fairytales, and sex” as their main sources of inspiration, and alongside clothing designs, Andreev also comes up with characters to inhabit Vereja’s world.
“The Vereja universe started from drawings,” he says. “After Numero Russia closed, I was in a creative crisis. I didn’t know in which direction to go, and I took up drawing. Sometimes, I used to put stains on paper and turn them into characters. Kitik, the patriarch of the Vereja universe appeared that way.”
But the brand also draws inspiration from the very practical heritage of Russian knitwear and crochet: crafts which had a place in every Russian household. “Knitting is a very Russian thing. In the Soviet Union, almost all women used to knit for their families, and magazines with knitting patterns were very much sought after. We work a lot with this history by using traditional techniques or patterns we find in Soviet knitting magazines,” the pair say. “We also make garments from old sweaters we find in second hand stores, or incorporate elements of old tablecloths and doilies. All Russian houses, especially in provincial Russia, used to be full of doilies on top of TVs and nightstands. Sofas were covered with knitted throws. Those items became almost an obsession.”
This in turn shines a light on landscapes frequently overlooked by Russia’s creative scene: villages and rural towns. Vereja’s recent Fall-Winter 2021 collection is a story of two reclusive sisters who are about to leave their village home for a life in the city — all told through elaborate knitted garments.
“We love the culture of the Russian countryside. In the 1990s, everyone used to dress in what they bought at the market, often cheap Chinese clothes — but they still tried to emulate pop stars on TV,” Komarova and Andreev say. “We love that people would approach their clothes in this way, often with lots of creativity. They wanted to be fashionable, but couldn’t afford expensive garments, so they put in a lot of effort in customising things.”
The world of Vereja is expanding with every collection — but the creativity and personality of whoever wears the label’s creations are also crucial for their work. “The people in the photos on our Instagram account are just our friends. We think that Vereja is for people who have vivid personalities, who are not afraid to be themselves, with no limitations.”