Estonian designer turns Soviet blankets into haute couture

Marit Ilison's coats made from Soviet blankets.
Marit Ilison's coats made from Soviet blankets. Source: ERR

While several generations of Estonians slept under rough woolen Soviet-made blankets, it's unlikely they ever associated these textiles with high fashion — not even in their wildest dreams. But coats made from the fabric by an Estonian fashion designer have gone on to catch the eye in Paris, New York and London.

Coats from designer Marit Ilison's outerwear collection "Longing For Sleep" will be on display this summer in an exhibition of haute couture in France alongside a host of top designers such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel.

"The invitation to Marseilles, to an exhibition of iconic items mainly from world-famous fashion houses, means a lot for Estonian fashion art," Kai Lobjakas, art historian and director of the Estonian Museum of Applied Arts and Design told Wednesday's "Pealtnägija".

"It's like Cinderella going to the ball with a quilted cape."

Ilison's colorful designs take inspiration from Russian poet Anton Chekhov's short story "Sleepy", which is translated as "Longing For Sleep" (Magada tahaks) in Estonian. The designer read the story in high school and its imagery never left her imagination.

Marit Ilison. Source: ERR

"It's about my haunting wish to sleep during the dark wintertime," she said.

"While I would like to sleep under a blanket all day long, I have a conscience that keeps prickling and whispering in my ear that if you want to get something done, you have to wake up."

From this mindset arose the idea to embroider and sew crystals onto the coats, she said.

The collection debuted in 2013 at the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design and attracted attention straight away.

In 2014, the garments were shown at the prestigious International fashion festival Hyères in France. Since then, the coats have gone on to been shown at Paris Fashion Week and appeared on the pages of famous fashion magazines.

Marit Ilison. Source: ERR

Speaking about what makes Ilison's designs unique, Lobjakas said she manages to "reinterpret the past" and nostalgia for the present in a way that works in both Estonia and abroad.

Ilison has also received fashion magazine Vogue's Talent and Vogue Success Story awards. She currently works in North Tallinn.

The designer told the show how her coats created a lot of attention nine years ago, especially the fact that such a cheap fabric, with a different cut and some additional sparkle, could be turned into high fashion with a price tag of several thousand euros.

But she didn't take the criticism to heart.

"I've always thought that if no other child born in the Soviet Union came up with the idea, it's not my problem," the artist told "Pealtnägija".

"Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union for almost 50 years, so this is part of our cultural background. These blankets were like an IKEA product of the time and every household had at least one if not several. They were also used in hospitals, the army, summer and sports camps. I slept with one at my grandmother's house. Nowadays, they evoke different nostalgia and feelings; both positive and negative. Some remember them from a crappy summer camp or hospital experience, some received one as their wedding present and it's very special for them," Ilison said in an interview with LN-CC.


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Editor: Karmen Rebane, Helen Wright

Source: Pealtnägija

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