Trawling for Clothes in St Petersburg’s Biggest Flea Market
Sprawling by a huge Peter the Great-era park in north-central St Petersburg is the largest flea market in the city, and perhaps all of Russia – Udelnaya (Удельной in Cyrillic). Every Saturday and Sunday, it’s home to hundreds of small stall-holders, selling everything from electrical supplies to Soviet memorabilia to recently excavated – and live – WWII grenades.
Poetically, the name is related to Imperial appanage, destiny, and fishing, and, like flea markets the world over, it’s also home to lots of second, third or forth-hand clothes. Moscow photographer Egor Melikhov and stylists Yuliya Polshkova, Adel Duisalieva and Dima Popov shot the following editorial in April on the streets around the market and in the studio, using clothes and objects sourced from Udelnaya. Click through to the photos and read an interview with Melikhov below.
How many of the items used in the editorial were taken from the market?
Egor Melikhov: It is mostly vintage, with clothes sourced from Udelnaya, and some from the showroom Cultsome, and the vintage store Kissa Market.
Can you explain the significance of flea markets in Russia?
There are flea markets across Russia and the former Soviet Republics – in Moscow for example, there is a big monthly flea market, [held] at the territory of the Museum of Moscow. They exist because a lot of people want to get valuable vintage things from the USSR, as well as Europe, America and Asia. Some people just want to get things at a reduced price, while others want to find something special.
Udelnaya works every week at Saturday and Sunday, even in winter, in temperatures of -20, -30 degrees. You can find electronic goods for the home, as well as expensive furniture: carved, polished, rough and broken, alongside old records, tapes and CDs from USSR, Europe and America. There are also good vintage clothes – the classic Burberry trench, for example, or some old rocker leather jacket – as well as military uniforms from all over the world: ankle boots, helmets, caps, shoulder straps and so on.
I heard its name has some significance: could you explain what it means please?
One of the meanings of the old Russian word “udel” is fate, or destiny. But it is also the name for the area owned by the Rus’ Imperial family in the Middle Ages. There were park named Udelniy, set up by Peter the Great, after which the market is named.
In marked contrast to the globalized fashion industry, a flea market is an implicitly hyperlocal organism: its vendors are often lifelong inhabitants of the town, selling wares from their immediate environment, by and large, to other citizens. Is this part of the appeal for young Russians?
Of course, what is attractive about flea markets is the atmosphere. But there are unattractive things about this. Not all people are friendly – sellers can look disgusting, and behave so. There were a lot of problems during the shooting. Some people were friendly and even helped – one man gave us cool sunglasses that he was selling, for example. Others, however, were rude, shouting at us, telling us not to photograph, and threatening to call the police.