“А girl comes – the idol of millions – and she’s sure that she’s fat and has a bad figure.” Interview with costume designer Natalia Bolshakova
One of the most famous costume designers Natalia Bolshakova talks about violence in children’s sport and also touches the topic of figure skating costumes.
by Natalia Maryanchik for sport-express.ru dd.22d July 2020
After the tragic death of 20-year-old figure skater Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya, the topic of violence in children’s sports got a new resonans. For the first time, Maria Sotskova, a participant of the 2018 Olympic Games, spoke openly. An athlete who went to the Olympics, that is, who achieved a result unattainable for most of her peers.
Maria Sotskova: From the outside, we are successful, healthy and, I would like to note, beautiful and slender. But not for ourselves, we see ourselves through the prism of what we have been instilled during our whole life – fat, lazy, incapable of anything, haven’t achieved nothing (to get us off the high horse). Thanks that since childhood I’ve been very confident in myself, with high self-esteem, so now I was able to keep at least a little love and respect for myself, otherwise they would have knocked everything out completely. All my life in sports I have lived with a clear understanding that everyone around me is investing so much energy, so much time in me, and I never live up to their hopes, I am always not good enough. I always apologized to my family, coaches and viewers, I was always ashamed of myself.
Maria’s Instagram account
World-famous costume designer Natalia Bolshakova warmly supported Sotskova’s post. She made costumes for Klimova and Ponomarenko, Grischuk and Platov, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Bestemianova and Bukin, and many others. Now Bolshakova lives in the USA and, in addition to skaters, works with the Russian synchronized swimming team. Almost all the recent victories Russian synchronized swimmers have won in swimsuits of her design.
Bolshakova knows the story of violence from the inside: at fittings, children and coaches often reveal themselves from a side that camera will never catch. Also, Natalia has the opportunity to compare: how the work with young athletes is done in different countries, and what it ultimately leads to.
In a civilized country, a coach would be suspended from work for talking about punches.
Natalia Bolshakova: About a week ago, I was outraged by an interview with a former choreographer from the Eteri Tutberidze group (Viktor Adonyev), who openly told that he smacks children upside the head. Like, is it possible to work otherwise? In a civilized country, such a person would be at least immediately removed from work. I can say for sure that you can work differently! For many years I have been cooperating with the Russian synchronized swimming team, which shows phenomenal results. But it is impossible to imagine that, for example, Tatiana Danchenko would beat someone or call names. Her upbringing will not allow her.
You wrote that during fittings, you had to take on the role of a psychotherapist. You must have been told very impressive stories?
Natalia Bolshakova: I was always shocked when a girl comes – the idol of millions – and at the same time she is sure that she is fat and has a bad figure. This length is impossible, because the legs are fat, this style – because of the fat bottom… And this is instilled even to the thinnest girls! I have to repeat a thousand times: you are beautiful, you are wonderful, you can wear any costumes, and even if something does not look good, the problem is not in you, but in an unsuccessful costume, but you are beautiful. There are exceptions, for example, Tatiana Navka. This person is naturally confident in herself, but there are very few of them, especially among single skaters. Where does it come from? Because the coach repeatedly humiliates the girl in front of everyone. And she begins to believe coach’s words more than the reflection in the mirror.
How does this system work in the West? Now scandals are raging in Great Britain, in the USA, so violence against children is clearly not a purely Russian story.
Natalia Bolshakova: In my opinion, in the United States everything is as strict as possible in this respect now. Coaches, especially men, are afraid to say a word or touch the athlete. You can be accused of harassment. If the coach tells the girl that she is fat, tomorrow he will not work there. And it is right! All kinds of children skate here, including chubby ones. Each person is beautiful in his own way, and no one said that if you have a motor talent, then you cannot achieve results. And to lose weight, if necessary, but by your own, adult decision. In Russia, the problem is that the Soviet training system has remained, but people have changed. When I started working in 1986, we were all brought up like this: not to stand out, listen to other people’s instructions. But now it’s a completely different world, children communicate on social networks, see different examples. But for some reason they think that there is no other way to treat them. And it’s terrible because after finishing their careers and becoming coaches, they continue to work with their students exactly the same ways from which they suffered themselves.
Is there a solution?
Natalia Bolshakova: I have been working for 35 years and have thought a lot on this topic. Nowhere in figure skating is there such funding as in Russia. Nowhere do children leave school from the first or second grade for sports. Nowhere else is there so many talented coaches. And at the same time, only recently, with Eteri Tutberidze, we began to succeed in ladies’ single skating. Why is that? Because the girls go on the ice like to execution. They are afraid that they will be scolded, they will not lead up to expectations – everything that Masha Sotskova wrote about. And American ladies go to the ice to show how wonderful and talented they are. That makes all the difference.
Why then did the Tutberidze girls start winning?
Natalia Bolshakova: Because they are still children! I have never worked with her, but I can assume that all the problems for her athletes begin with the puberty. A person must be carefully guided through this period, prepared for a temporary recession, taught to love himself in a new body. Instead, he is told from all sides: if you have a fat butt, life is over, no one needs you. Hence the widespread story, when in juniors Russians win everything and disappear in senior sport.
Have you had to radically change the image of athletes?
Natalia Bolshakova: Of course, this happens very often. It happens that I suggest: let me do it the way I see it, and if you don’t like it, then I’ll redo it at my own expense. It might turn out to be a month of free work for me, but it’s worth it. A person begins to believe in himself, to see himself in a completely different light. After all, a girl can be terribly worried even because of some hundred extra grams. It happened that they fell into hungry faints right during the fitting. Apparently, the children give their best at training, and then, without eating, they go straight to the fitting – and this is the result.
Who makes the final decision about the costume, what will it look like?
Natalia Bolshakova: In the USA – a child with his parents, and if they wish, they can ask the coach for advice. But a child get the last word. In Russia, the coach decides everything. And this, I believe, is also one of the types of psychological violence against children. Anyway, for girls, because most boys don’t care what costume they have. But for a girl it is important to wear on the ice what she likes, what she has chosen for herself. And the coach does not even convince her, but declares in a categorical manner: you will skate in this. It is believed that the coach knows best, but why so? The coach knows best how to work on jumps or steps, but is costume his specialty?
If a coach likes this or that style, it turns out that all his athletes start skating in similar dresses?
Natalia Bolshakova: Rather, this happens because one designer makes costumes for the whole group. But if a girl wants to be different, not to be like everyone else? There’s no choice. State money is allocated for costumes. Once athletes came to me – I will not mention their names – who claim high places and receive a good salary. And they said: “We were given a thousand dollars for costumes. Can you meet this amount? ” I start to explain that for that kind of money the costume would be with a minimum of finishing. I suggested them adding $ 500 from their own money. That is, for two costumes per season, a person needed to add a thousand dollars. After a minute’s pause, they told me: “No, this does not suit us. Do it without finishing.” And this is said by a person who is going to fight for medals. That being said, I have no doubt that he will easily spend the same thousand dollars on some branded bag.
How do you like the idea of dress transformation during the program that Anna Shcherbakova used last year?
Natalia Bolshakova: This is not a new idea. We made such a costume back in the late 1980s with Ira Romanova (bronze medalist of the USSR championship in ice dancing). And the idea belongs to Ira herself. She was very creative in creating a costume, came with her sketches and eventually received a higher art education. Speaking of a harmonious personality.
So there is no breakthrough in the transformer dress, people just recall the well-forgotten old. I believe that the American ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates deservedly received the award for the best costume of the season. Their costumes are very high level from an artistic point of view, they are associative and stylish. There are dresses that are made by a good dressmaker, and there is real design work. The Americans clearly have the second.
Do you like how Evgenia Medvedeva has changed outwardly after moving to Canada?
Natalia Bolshakova: Definitely – yes. In general, I like everything that happens to Zhenya. Having gone through all this harsh dictatorship, she was able to retain her personality. And this is almost unrealistic in the conditions of Russian figure skating. The words of Masha Sotskova and Betina Popova only confirm this. By the way, I remember Betina, I made her a dress for the Carmen program. A very beautiful girl came, at the same time convinced that she was fat and nothing suited her. Come on! Who told her that?
What’s more difficult to create – a dress for figure skating or a swimsuit for synchronized swimming?
Natalia Bolshakova: In terms of manufacturing, probably a dress. But if you think about revealing the idea, then working with a swimsuit is as difficult as possible. Using a minimum of funds, with a huge number of restrictions (for example, you cannot make sleeves), you need to create a costume that would be not only beautiful, but also would convey the artistic image. It is not enough to draw something on the fabric and cover it with sequins. We need a complete image, and we also need to preserve the plasticity of the lines, emphasize the advantages of the figure …
Which costumes are the most annoying for you?
Natalia Bolshakova: Those that are currently in trend in rhythmic gymnastics. The costume should have lines, proportions … It’s absent in rhythmic gymnastics: all the costumes are made according to the same pattern, they have no plasticity, transitions, even cutouts are standart. It seems like if you bare your sides, the gymnast will look thinner. Is it impossible to achieve the same by other means? With all the abundance of rhinestones and sequins, from a design point of view, it looks very cheap. With rare exceptions – for example, Margarita Mamun had beautiful costumes.
Who do you consider the example of style in figure skating?
Natalia Bolshakova: Yuna Kim always looked very stylish. Masha Sotskova stood out, although there is a non-standard story. Her mother copied couture dresses. She transferred models of luxury brands to the ice. This is not considered a good taste, after all, other people’s ideas are used. But everything was done with taste and looked beautiful.
How much does a designer dress cost on average?
Natalia Bolshakova: About fifteen hundred dollars. Then it all depends on the material, the amount of work, and so on. But I don’t take money for rhinestones, tinsel, I’m not interested. Sometimes the most expensive is a suit that looks very simple. But this is an expensive simplicity that costs a lot of money. And these are the dresses that the big champions choose. After all, taste must also be brought up from early childhood.