Anzor Kankulov about fashion industry, cultural code and new masculinity

Anzor Kankulov is a journalist and fashion expert. He has worked as editor of OM, Harper’s Bazaar, Black Square, Port and an editorial director of L’Officiel and Numero. Now he chairs Fashion at the School of Design at the Higher School of Economics. He recently delivered a lecture How Technologies Change the Language of Fashion during the Festival Creative Professions hosted by Smena Contemporary Culture Centre. Realnoe Vremya talked with Anzor Kankulov publication media, changes in the fashion industry in the last years, what cultural code meant and the attitude to new masculinity.

Two iconic magazines about contemporary culture — OM and Ptyuch — were issued at the same time in Russia in the 90s. They were replaced by international glossy fashion magazines. You were involved in both of them. What’s the difference of the media in the 90s from the media in the 2000s and 2010s?

I would name the process happening in the media in the 90s borrowing. The old press seemed to disappear, and almost everybody started from scratch. We took the best we saw in the world and tried to adapt it. It wasn’t a copy, we rather were inspired by what had already been created. Everybody was a neophyte in the 90s — not that somebody knew how to code, take photos or write texts according to a format. Global outlets where people who arrived from America or Australia worked as art directors came to Russia in the 2000s. And then, it seems to me that everybody mastered the missing skills very quickly, within three or four years — photographers learnt how to take photos, designers learnt how to code, journalists did how to write in a magazine’s format.

In this respect, the 2000s were the time of borrowed but standardised media. But the 90s are a very romantic period when everything was based mainly on enthusiasm. And not only here, this happened around the world. Then the industry replaced the enthusiasts. Everybody already understood how it had to be made, standards appeared. This is the global difference.

Also, there was a feeling of freedom and unlimited opportunities in the 90s. And since the media personify the spirit of the times, the feelings get sharper. In my opinion, the success of such magazines was that they transmitted these opportunities. You understand that everything can be done now, everything happens in front of your eyes. You don’t have boundaries.

During the crisis in 2008, all advertising budgets that were distributed among glossy magazines in Kazan shifted to the Internet. Glossy outlets seriously collapsed. It really started to die at least in Kazan and has died nowadays. But talking about international fashion papers operating in Russia under a franchise, they have survived. How do such outlets do now? Especially after the exit of brands from Russian thanks to whom fashion magazines used to survive.

I think that online media didn’t become direct competitors of previous media formats because they didn’t impose economic competition on them. Social media became opponents.

What is a magazine? It is an editorial board consisting of 30-40 people most of whom receive a certain salary. Magazines are a centre brands direct their activity at. Glossy magazines accumulated huge budgets of different formats around themselves, not only on advertising. The editorial board’s lifestyle should correspondent to the luxury level. It is an elaborate economic mechanism that required huge incomes. Then it was replaced by a feeling that it could be done simpler. Digital media don’t have such a format. There is no fashion department where five people decide who deals with product photography, who deals with hero photography, who does with big shooting. There is no longer such a complex and pricey mechanism. I think that budget distribution titled towards influencers.

Maybe, because Instagram* became more authoritative than glossy magazines in the readers’ eyes?

It is different names of the same thing. This all doesn’t boil down to what happens precisely in magazines. Global shifts changed the media system in general. And magazines are just one of the characters, perhaps, they were seriously affected, but they aren’t the only members of this process. By the way, this has happened in the last few years. Earlier, despite all the difficulties, magazines anyway existed. I had a feeling that they could continue existing because they are still sold in the world in general. The main task of the magazine is to provide an original and unique content. And precisely this part has seriously plummeted now.

Why didn’t magazines adapt to the changing times? Because they have a colossal advantage — one can touch them unlike digital content.

They do this from time to time. For instance, now I lead a course named Fashion Magazine. In this course, we track what used to be printed and what is printed. Thick niche outlets such as Another Magazine appeared around in the 2010s. The glossy magazine industry was still in its heyday. It seems to me that most creative energy flowed from monthly papers to these niche magazines. Niche outlets became a source of interesting shoots. These shoots, I think, with their ideas and personification, cannot be compared with social media. They have a different level and order.

As a media product a fashion shoot is linked to a magazine, it is a site where a shoot looks natural. In general media or a magazine is an intermediary in information transmission. In this sense, magazines are supervisors. They not only transmit information but also do a selection and shape an image. Perhaps, now influencers are also inclined to this side, but this is rather a personalised story. This, maybe, can be compared to a gallery and a private collection. This doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. A private collection simply transmits the owner’s taste, not tendencies. Museums and galleries give a different outlook. They don’t go by their taste but shape an idea.

How did the fashion industry in general survive 2022? How did the last year influence it?

It seems to me there are both alarming and potentially positive moments. I came to Kazan with a lecture a year ago. And it seemed to me during the lecture that people were obviously interested in the idea of creating their own brand. Since then, I can’t yet shake this feeling. As if a global idea “Let’s create our own brands” woke up in the country. Is it good? Not bad. I don’t think that this idea came about in people’s lives all of a sudden. It is highly likely that knowledge, ideas accumulated, there were ideas in advance. And now it is the moment to start. But on the other hand, the fashion industry is a very complex mechanism. It is not what exists on its own. People often don’t understand this at all. Global brands that left Russia carried a very big culture of work with society, advertising, PR...

It is when sports clothing brands created a culture of running, a healthy lifestyle and so on in Russia. Are you talking about this?

Yes. They did a lot of good. To reach this level of consciousness, a brand should cover a long story. Such things as the Nike running movement usually leave with brands. It was an accumulated culture. Will we be able to keep it? Hard to say.

What is called fashion is linked precisely with its culture, it is not only an assortment of things in stores. Culture is what surrounds every step of people working at the same Prada house. This is fashion. By the way, there was quite a high culture of fashion in Russia. Our country tends to perceive, understand and know how to use the culture of fashion. If those brands occupying vacant seats manage to save it, it will be great. The question is if they will be able to.

We have recently often heard different people, including politicians, to say the phrase “cultural code.” It seems to me that everybody who pronounces this phrase has one’s own meaning. What is a cultural code for you?

It seems to me we live at a time when every sphere must have its own unique identity. Earlier, Yves Saint Laurent went to Marrakech, saw local gowns and made catwalk things out of them. Now this cannot work. It is not that it is prohibited. To go to India, get inspired by the country and create a collection is a thing of the past. Contemporary design is based on the understanding and reflection of one’s own roots — cultural, social, racial. All this boils down to the concept of code. Moreover, there is no such a concept of Russian identity. We have a huge number of nationalities, cultures. We can work, for instance, with Tatar identity. Or it can be a city, a place, a point, etc.

Cultural code is often reduced to the rough interpretation of crafts. In this case, the main meaning is lost. Crafts are amazing, it is accumulated practice. Here we can also add cultural values and historical practices. But all these are things of the past. Modernity is key when working with a cultural code. Now cultural code is presented in a way as if something miraculous happened here in the 19th century and this must be conserved and conveyed to the modernity. I am not saying this shouldn’t be done. It should be. But this is up to museums.

Cultural code is a modern product based on an identity that carries its traces. But one shouldn’t dictate what it should be like and how to create it. Each of us comes from a place and somehow understands our identity. Our birthplace, culture, language are an indispensable part of identity. But it s some external liability — if you were born Tatar, please, make a national costume throughout your life. A person should understand their identity, reconsider their roots and work with them. Then it is going to be a unique, inimitable, diverse image and design, not identical.

When we are talking about cultural code, one should also consider the request of society for modernity. Despite everything happening in Russia, there is such a request. For instance, Kazan sees itself as a modern city. It is obvious. The self-feeling of the city personified in its citizens transmits the modernity. This is the request. It is a good site to create a cultural code as a modern product.

What do you think about the concept of new masculinity and what does it mean for you?

The world has been under a huge influence of the next wave of feminism in the last 20 years. It is a more global thing than just a tendency. The world is changing so that women get all the rights. The whole focus of attention is built around feminism and women. Men seem to take a back seat. It is normal. New masculinity is the outcome of the changing world where the man as well as the woman should reconsider their position. Women are moving towards power compensating for what they didn’t receive earlier. Men consider themselves as members of this process but in a less powerful, less patriarchal, more equal role. It is an interesting process that affects different spheres.

*Instagram belongs to Meta Platforms Inc. recognised as extremist organisation in Russia, its activity on the territory of the Russian Federation is prohibited.

Yekaterina Petrova

Подписывайтесь на телеграм-канал, группу «ВКонтакте» и страницу в «Одноклассниках» «Реального времени». Ежедневные видео на Rutube, «Дзене» и Youtube.