Featured Student : Jana Melkumova-Reynolds

How old are you?

Can you tell us about your background?
Born and raised in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia. Attended a nerdy secondary school where we were taught Latin and ancient Greek literature at the age of 13. Left home at 16. Enrolled in a part-time degree in linguistics at a well-respected, if a tad reactionary, institution and tried to feign for myself in the nascent post-Soviet capitalism. It proved easy: oil prices were booming, money seemed to grow on trees, a newborn elite was hungry for a luxury industry and relevant media, and the said industry and media, having just emerged, were in dire need of young people with half a brain and decent English so as to be in tune with the international trends. In a country that hadn’t known any luxury consumption for over seventy years lifestyle media were a novelty, so there was no old generation of established fashion specialists to compete with and outlive – very much the opposite of the situation in the job market in London. This made things tremendously easy for people of my age. I wanted to work in fashion, I could put together a few sentences that actually made sense in a couple of languages and I wore interesting shoes. That was enough, back in the day and the place, to become a fashion correspondent at 19 and a fashion editor at 21, then a buyer at 25. There’s nothing like a booming emerging market – I don’t think I’d have made it as quickly had I been born a decade later!

At some point I realised that, despite all of this, I wasn’t happy in Russia for a number of reasons, both personal and political, and desperately needed to get out. So I moved to England six years ago, amidst the recession, struggled to find work as a buyer (surprise) and took up business development consulting for a few fashion labels, while still doing some freelance writing. It was going fine but I increasingly felt that I was missing the intellectual fulfillment of my nerdy secondary school years. So I decided to go back to uni’, and this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What drew you to fashion?
This is a very good question that I’ve been asking myself for years! It’s a bit of a mystery to me. When I was young I couldn’t care less about what I was wearing (I think I wasn’t even aware of what I looked like until the age of 14 or so. I just wasn’t interested in looking into the mirror at all). And then suddenly one day I knew I wanted to work in fashion. Weird, right?

I guess one of the reasons is that I’ve always used fashion as a mnemonic tool. In the 1980s, Russian clothes were difficult to procure (it wasn’t a matter of cost but rather of knowing which stores were likely to sell boots soon, and of contacts that could help to lay one’s hands on them before they sold out), and my mum was always very interested, in a competitive way, in what other people – such as my classmates’ families, for instance – had in their scarce wardrobes. So, whenever I went to see friends or relatives, upon my return she’d question me about what they were wearing. Thus I got used to memorizing people’s outfits for her – and later found, to my surprise, that the easiest way to trigger a memory for me was to visualize what people, including myself, were wearing on that occasion. I can still reconstruct dialogues and scenes from my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in great detail through remembering the clothes. I guess this is what drew me to fashion, its close links with memory, subjectivity and the body.

Why did you join this MA?
I have always enjoyed looking at the world through clothes but wanted to do it in a more profound way than when writing for glossies or consulting for fashion labels. While reporting for magazines and consulting for designers I became increasingly aware that what interested me was not the garments per se, but the body beneath them and the society this body functions in. So I figured that I wasn’t strictly interested in object-based dress history, which is what most other costume-related degrees seemed to offer, but rather in its philosophical, social, and sensory underpinnings. It appeared that this MA was the only course to concentrate on these.

Where do you hope to be in two years from now?
I hope to be doing a PhD and/or writing a book academic enough to appeal to people like my inspiring and brainy coursemates, yet entertaining enough to be understood by people whose fashion-related libraries would normally be limited to glossy magazines.


4 thoughts on “Featured Student : Jana Melkumova-Reynolds

  1. It’s always fascinating to hear about other people’s backgrounds, but this was especially interesting due to the time and place. I love your description of your interest in fashion, and your reasons why you chose the course… I’m really glad you did! I’m looking forward to reading your book (you have to write it now, as I’m keen to read your thoughts on anythng fashion related!). I wonder how many of us will get one published.

    As for memories being triggered by what you were wearing… that made me think of the episode of Father Ted when he’s tring to get Dougal to remember Sister Assumpta 🙂 http://youtu.be/SLVrNht9q_0

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