White protest ribbons all the rage for chic Russians

Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:36pm EST
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By Lidia Kelly

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Fashion-conscious Soviets loved hard-to-find Levi's jeans in the 1980s, oligarchs of the 90s ushered in a passion for Bentley cars and stiletto heels from Dior, but these days all you need to be hip in Russia is a white ribbon and a little anger.

Protesting for free and fair elections has consigned the bling thing to the vintage bin of history for now in Russia ahead of the March 4th presidential elections, which are widely expected to be won by former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"All go to these protests. I have no doubt that it is the newest trend," said Alexandr Arutyunov, a Russian fashion designer, who started a blog "Fashion on the Barricades" after the latest protests on February 4 that had an estimated crowd of around 80,000 people.

"It is an unexpected trend, I had no idea so many people, so many well-known people - celebrities, actors - would go to these demonstrations, but it has become a trend."

The recent opposition protests, the largest since the early 1990s have been very much about serious politics and the demand for democracy. But somewhere along the way fashion began to play a role and now it threatens to help divide the country further.

White ribbons - a symbol used by the opposition - can be found everywhere on Moscow's streets from student backpacks to posh people's purses nearly two weeks after the last protests, signaling widespread sympathy.

Then, there is the issue of fashion itself, increasingly used by officials as a tool to divide society between the poor in battered quilted jackets and the rich in mink coats.

"The most despicable thing the authorities do - they split people into two camps," tweeted Russian socialite and reality TV host Kseniya Sobchak.   Continued...

A protestor waves white ribbons during a demonstration for fair elections in the southern Russian city of Stavropol February 4, 2012. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko