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4 Jan, 2010 06:00

Wear valenki to survive Russian winter

The Russian winter, with well-below-zero temperatures, is sort of a brand. Designers are turning to folk art to make fashionable brands of traditional Russian clothing and footwear and, of course, to keep you warm.

You are mistaken if you think that Russians are used to minus 20 or – oh, my God – minus 30 degrees Centigrade. You will not meet many people on the street in such weather, and those who do dare to pop out go running to their destinations. As people in Siberia say, Siberians are not those who are not afraid of frost, but those who clothe themselves well.

The first thing to help you survive in hostile weather conditions is valenki – weird-looking boots coming directly from medieval times. Made of pure wool, they have managed to keep the feet of many generations of Russians warm during cold winters. Now the traditional footwear is hitting the high street.

Designer Olga Chernikova has been making valenki for several years. Her designs range from flowers to politicians and even religious icons. She says sometimes she even receives VIP orders to decorate them with real jewelry, and claims her valenki are recognized internationally.

“I already have clients in South Africa, Tibet, and I can't think of even one European country where there isn't at least one person wearing my valenki,” she says.

People in her home country also seem to appreciate colorful and sensible boots. Some, especially young people, spend hours searching the Internet for good designer valenki, and then jealously guard their findings. Indeed, looking fashionable is worth it.

Once your feet are safe and sound, it is time to pick up a matching shawl or scarf – which should also be warm of course. Earlier, almost every region in Russia had its specific crafts. Some were famous for dishware, for example, others for toys or clothing. When it comes to shawls, the small town of Pavlovsky Posad in the Moscow region is one of the most celebrated.

Its factory has been making traditional scarves, kerchiefs and shawls since the late 1800s. They come in a great variety of sizes and designs, and are not only a treat for a sharp dresser, but also the perfect gift.

Although technology has made a giant leap forward compared to how things were made in those days, the basics have stayed much the same – and actually, this is the aim.

“Our main goal is to preserve ancient traditions, which take their origin from Russian art, and reflect the mysteries of the Russian soul,” says designer Viktor Zubritsky. "We try to use as much color as possible – each product's design has around 30 different colors.”

It seems the mystery of the Russian soul, combined with one hundred percent wool, did the trick for the manufacturer – nearly 100,000 products are made at the factory each month.

Traditional Russian products are abundant – Vologda lace, Orenburg woolen shawls or Rostov enamels, to name just a few. Simply, designers have a large field for inspiration. As an old Russian saying goes, everything new is just old and well-forgotten.