Bishop-designed clothing line finds style in tradition

Author: Cinthia Ritchie
Date Published: 07/29/2007
Father Panteleimon models a Bishop Nikolai Collection Riassa, an outer cassock, at the Russian Orthodox Museum in Anchorage. The bishop designed a clothing line for monks after seeing some clergy wearing shabbily made garments. (Erik Hill / ADN)
Father Panteleimon models a Bishop Nikolai Collection Riassa, an outer cassock, at the Russian Orthodox Museum in Anchorage. The bishop designed a clothing line for monks after seeing some clergy wearing shabbily made garments. (Erik Hill / ADN)

Machine Washable: Long-wearing polyester is a plus for Bush clergy.

What is the chic monk wearing this season?

Cassocks and skufias from the Bishop Nikolai Collection, of course.

Designed by Russian Orthodox Bishop Nikolai of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska, the line features custom-tailored clerical wear from ”Alaska’s only ecclesiastical tailor shop!” according to ads in the diocese magazine.

The bishop came up with the idea while in Kodiak attending to church functions a few years back and noticed clergy walking around in shabbily made garments. Monks typically make their own robes or wear hand-me-downs.

”I saw what one of the students (at St. Herman Seminary) was wearing, and it was absolutely atrocious,” he said. ”I thought, we need to do something.”

So after the bishop saw Anchorage seamstress and slam poet Tara Cowen’s work at a wedding, they collaborated with a line of cassocks, Riassas, skufia headwear and clerical vests reflecting the bishop’s taste, which adheres to authentic Russian Orthodox specifications. Too often, he said, robes tend to deviate from tradition. According to Cowen, the bishop was very specific in areas such as sleeve length, cuffs and neckline. There were different buttons and braids available, she said, and they worked hard to choose which ones to use.

”You want your monk to be wearing the equivalent of a Ralph Lauren suit,” Cowen said.

While garments are typically made of silk, linen or wool, the bishop’s line is of machine-washable polyester, a plus in Bush Alaska where many clergy subsistence fish. According to Cowen, the cassock is made of a long-wearing polyester blend, while the Riassa — a robe reserved for services and more formal occasions — is designed from Peach Skin, a soft microfiber polyester.

As soon as the monks settle in the new, yet-unbuilt monastery, they’ll expand the collection as a means of generating additional income. Prices currently run $200 for Riassas and everyday cassock robes, $85 for clerical vests and $45 for scufia headwear, comparable to many online Orthodox retailers. According to the bishop, a few items have been sold so far. Once the line is established, he hopes Alaska clergy will slowly replace their outdated robes and vests so that they may step out, and serve, in style.

Find Cinthia Ritchie online at adn.com/contact/critchie or call 257-4314.

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What do monks wear?

1. A cassock is:

a. casual robe worn at all times

b. formal outerwear reserved for dressier occasions

c. veiled hat worn at holiday services

d. none of the above

2. A monk wears a skufia:

a. on his feet

b. on his head

c. wrapped around his wrist

d. all of the above

3. A Riassa is a:

a. formal garment

b. sometimes lined with fur for winter

c. has wide billowing sleeves

d. all of the above

4. A klobuk is:

a. a delicious pastry

b. woven prayer belt

c. hat worn during services

d. none of the above

5. Monks typically wear what beneath their robes:

a. dark pants and shirt

b. pajamas

c. underwear and T-shirt

d. none of the above

Answers: 1, a; 2, b; 3, d; 4, c; 5, a