HӖRACHA

"Hĕracha" means "a girl" in Chuvash language. Isenkkel and Vella Akhtimer founded the art group and fashion brand HӖRACHA to explore the possibilities of contemporary art entangled with fashion design. In an interview with the artists below, get a primer on Chuvash folklore, traditions and fairy tales that are deconstructed and reinterpreted to find points of contact with the universal human experience.

How does contemporary art influence the design philosophy of the HӖRACHA brand?  

Contemporary art inspires us with its ability to create a strong emotional connection with the viewer and convey its message through this connection. We also appreciate the freedom that contemporary art provides in terms of choosing mediums and tools of communication with the audience. It pushes us to experiment, inspires us to push the boundaries of fashion, and explore new ideas, materials, and techniques.

This year, we worked on a sound installation called “Ch’ereh-Cher’eh/ Heart Living” for our solo exhibition. We placed a red knitted sweater with lace-like openings on a large glowing sphere, and connected wires to the metal coins that were embroidered on the sweater. These wires emit a high-pitched electronic sound when the viewer interacts with the installation. It was perhaps a personal work about our emotions, but we also feel that we managed to reinterpret the Chuvash costume and transform it into something completely new. When worn, this sweater creates an interesting effect – the wool pricks the skin, and the coins do not constantly touch the body, so they remain cold.  

We believe that the system of fashion-contemporary art can be called “chereh shyv” – living water. It forms the necessary tension to give a second life to something forgotten and abandoned.

What aspects of the Chuvash folklore and legends have you incorporated into the latest collection? 

The forest in Chuvash folklore is an untamed space, characterized by its remoteness, impassability, and vastness. It is also a space of non-existence. 

The main spirit of the forest is Arshchuri or Vorman Tura – the god of the forest. Often depicted as a giant woman with long hair, she can transform into various animals. Arshchuri protects animals and trees from natural disasters and punishes people who try to harm the forest. The forest can also be inhabited by other spirits, such as the god-wolf Pir, witches, vampire-like creatures called Vubar, and mermaids called Vudash.

In Chuvash mythology, trees themselves have a special role: some trees serve as a  means of communication with the gods, while others hold the souls of ancestors. 

We deliberately did not depict any specific mythological characters, but populated our forest with nameless spirits that embody nature. These forest spirits maintain the energetic harmony of the forest, balancing different forms of life and energy flows within the ecosystem. They uphold the integrity and vitality of the forest.

Your design reflects the influence of the forest. Could you talk about  your special bond with nature and how it shapes your creative process? 

When we worked on this collection, we lived in a village and stayed there for almost a year. Our house in the village is located by a small river, and just beyond the ravines are fields and forests. 

Living in the village, we found ourselves in a timeless and placeless space, and if we didn’t have the internet, we would have completely forgotten when and where we were. The world around us has become very scary and cruel, but isolation and escape allowed us to preserve ourselves and find the strength for creation and  creativity.

It was the first time we had spent so long outside of a big city, and this experience greatly influenced us and our creative process. In autumn and spring, we often went for walks in the fields and forests. We felt a deep connection with nature, experiencing it through our senses; sight – observing the endless distance; touch – feeling the texture of wood and grass– hearing – listening to the wind and the  whisper of trees. The Chuvash traditional costume was the main source of  inspiration for this collection, and it can also be heard. The coins that heavily adorn traditional clothing jingle as you walk, just like leaves rustling in the wind.

We wanted to work with natural materials, and in this collection, we mainly used wool, cotton, and metal. Wool and metal are produced from natural resources directly extracted from the earth. The process of obtaining these materials  involves a connection with nature, whether it’s shearing sheep for wool or mining and refining metals from the Earth’s crust. This connection with nature allows these materials to carry the energy and essence of the Earth. 

In the village, people go to bed almost at sunset, so our work on the collection was tied to daylight hours. A significant part of the collection consists of knitted items. We would start knitting in the morning and finish around 5-6 in the evening. Usually, we don’t work so organized, so it felt like a ritual to us. 

While working on this collection, we were searching for freedom. We like the idea that the forest is capable of providing it.

Now, at SWARM MAG, we are focusing on the theme THE ROOTS OF TASTE. Last question: How do you remain connected to your roots while embracing the progress of your brand? 

The roots of our creativity lie in Chuvash culture, and we always refer to it in our work. When we were growing up and studying in school, we were not taught much about Chuvash culture. We were fortunate that our parents taught us the language and told us Chuvash fairy tales. However, this is not enough for us. We constantly engage in self-education – studying archival photographs of costumes, analyzing its elements. We explore myths and legends, read about history and culture. Our artistic process is parallel to the process of discovering our roots. We capture this process in our creativity.

Working in fashion that establishes an emotional connection only with a very limited group of people linked by ethnicity is not easy, of course, we want our clothes to be interesting to people from different parts of the world. Moreover, questions related to cultural appropriation always arise. We strive to approach the context responsibly, conscientiously reinterpret sources, and not limit ourselves to tradition. We see the path of progress for our brand in finding points of contact with the universal human experience.

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Bio

Art group and fashion brand HӖRACHA was created in St. Petersburg by Isenkkel and Vella Akhtimer. The group’s field of study are contemporary art and fashion design. The area of ​​interest include the Chuvash traditional culture, technology, hybrid art. The artists explore the theme of self-identification in the global world and other existential problems. They work in such mediums as clothing, installation, video and sound.

“Hĕracha” means “a girl” in Chuvash language. In their work, designers are inspired by the Chuvash culture: costume, traditions, fairy tales and myths; they deconstruct it and place the newly assembled elements into a romantic futuristic reality.

Credits

Fashion designer / HӖRACHA @herachatume

https://heracha.com/en

Interview / @khynko

Pierced Collection

Photos by @herachatume

Outdoor photoshoot

Photographer: @miroshinatanya
Model: @a.umrihin
Stylist: @onlypolisha

Dark photoshoot

Photographer: @authenticity.feelings
Model: @sohvaed
Hair stylist: @zavettttta
Make-up artist: @vikttorietta

For HAZE magazine @stpetersburghaze
Director: @liyashapiro
Stylist: @maks_vans
Photographer: @sofyagoncharenko
Model: @marcbozz
Make-up artist: @alina__masalova
Florist: @penzinavik, Flowers: @shishka.spb

Photoshoot with a dark blazer

Photography by @herachatume

Beige photoshoot

Photographer: @photo.a.o
Stylist: @sasharozhkova_
Stylist assistant: @miliuba

Red photoshoot

Photographer: @el.berkutova

Video by @herachatume

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