Blake Patterson, a designer who competed in Season 14 of Project Runway, has released a provocative streetwear collection dedicated to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Some of the shirts declare that Russians have hacked Christmas, some of the long-sleeve shirts and scarves just have “PUTIN” or a single P emblazoned on them, whereas other shirts and hoodies declare “Putin Loves You” with a green heart. We called up Patterson to discuss with him why a gay designer would create a collection around a Russian leader infamous for his country’s anti-LGBTQ legislation and ignoring the ongoing anti-gay campaign in Chechnya.
Patterson tells Hornet that he has created provocative women’s wear in the past, with dramatic high slits and scandalous low cuts, but he wanted to make a streetwear brand that was accessible, fun and would reach a larger audience. And with this collection he’s quite possibly created his most provocative work to date.
“I wanted to poke fun at the political mess we’re having right now,” Patterson says. “I just chose Putin — he’s a little bit more tolerable than our president. I guess I wanted to start a little controversy. Make people think and reconsider what’s really going on in the world.”
Patterson is aware of Russia’s anti-gay politics, but his ‘Putin Loves You’ collection isn’t just a satirical jab at that. It’s also a response to the Russian hacking of the DNC, our president’s relationship with him and the existence of Putin’s many supporters who might actually think he really does love them.
“I don’t know if [Putin] loves gay people,” Patterson says, “but from what I’ve heard I don’t think he does. I don’t know who he actually loves besides himself and the American voter.”
The Ohio-born designer says he hasn’t been to Russia (he admits he’s “kind of scared to go”), but his collection has sold well overseas.
Fashion expert Stephan Rabimov — who was born in Russia and visits often for fashion events — enjoys the Blake Patterson collection and thinks its real controversy comes not from the garments themselves but the meanings that viewers put onto the words printed on them.
Rabimov tells Hornet, “Over 70% of Russian citizens voted in favor [of Putin] their current leader. That to me says that people love Vladimir Putin in Russia. A majority does. So when you reflect that back with a slogan like ‘Putin hearts you’ … it’s another way to showcase that there’s nothing to be afraid of Russia in terms of its people, its culture, its citizens, because if Russian people in and of themselves love their leader, maybe we as a global community should pay attention to that message.”
Despite the fact that Putin definitely has supporters, the BBC and other Western news outlets think that the outcome this year’s Russian presidential election, which saw Putin take 76% of the vote, was marred by political malfeasance. Putin’s main opposition leader was barred from the race, people were bussed in, polling station webcams were obstructed and there are widespread reports of stuffed ballot boxes.
Rabimov believes the United States’ division over its own leader and political issues like immigration beckon Americans to face their country’s own problems before fearing Russia. While he acknowledges that Americans can criticize both American and Russian politics, Rabimov thinks collections like Patterson’s are meant to provoke conversation and have a part in the democratic process.
“I’ve been getting mixed reactions, which I kind of like,” Patterson says. “Either people love it or they hate it, so it’s kind of fun. I want to have fun with fashion. I think it’s just so serious sometimes that you just want to have fun and just let go.”