Moscow, last week: 35,000 rich Russian women, journalists and buyers descended on a hotel on the edge of the city’s financial district to see, among other things, a model sporting Day-Glo plaits in a neon-hued jumpsuit suddenly flip onto her hands and start doing the splits.
Was it the Moscow circus? No. A modernised Kirov? Uh-uh. Rather, it was the YanaStasia show, held during the 21st Russian Fashion Week, one of three competing ready-to-wear events currently taking place in what is perhaps the most mature of the major emerging luxury markets. (There is also a Moscow Fashion Week, which wrapped up earlier this week and and showcases established names such as Yudashkin and Denis Simachev, and a “Cycles and Seasons” Mastercard-sponsored fashion week that takes place in mid-November.)
Indeed, the fact that there are three such events is indicative of the growing sophistication of the local consumer – and her growing desire to both design, and think, for herself. YanaStasia’s idiosyncratic styles aside, this isn’t the blingy Russian bimbo of yore.
“Russian society has stopped trying to convince itself that it is ‘fashionable’; people are trying to be themselves,” says Igor Chapurin, a Russian designer who shows in Paris and has dressed celebrities from Cheryl Cole to Beyoncé. According to Chapurin, after the end of the drab Soviet years Russian consumers gravitated to colourful western designers such as Versace and Valentino, but since then local tastes have moved on, and Russians now favour monochrome, low-key looks by Belgian designers – and their own home-grown talent.
Chapurin believes that there is a growing market for Russian designers that defies the sex’n’Swarovski stereotypes of the way Russian women dress. “When we show in Paris we raise the hemlines a few inches,” he says. “When we come back to Moscow, we drop them.” According to Chapurin, whose autumn/winter collection was inspired by Siberia, with leather jerkins, huge fur collars and skinny leggings, Russian women want modest clothes that will mask any imperfections in their figure.
“Russians now really want to stress their individuality,” Chapurin says. “They live in the 21st century in a megalopolis.”
Alexander Shumsky, president of Russian Fashion Week, says that seven years ago Russian consumers were obsessed with being seen in the right brand, “but now they want their own style”. Hence Russian Fashion Week, which aims to discover up-and-coming talent from as far afield as the Urals and Belarus, and propel native designers such as YanaStasia into the spotlight.
To be fair, however, YanaStasia’s athletic aesthetic is not exactly exemplary of this new Russian style (it was just very eye-catching). Rather, during Russian Fashion Week, the overriding colour scheme was matte, and the clothing tailored, and tight.
New Belarusian name Olga Samoshenko, for example, showed a series of 1940s-inspired dresses with rosettes of fabric crowning the sleeves and necks. Tatiana Chekish, meanwhile, who was holding her first show after winning a national design competition, focused on tailored white dresses with high necks and sharp lines reminiscent of 1960s sci-fi styling (ditto sequinned and studded white Barbarella-type mini-dresses). And Egor Zaitsev, the son of Slava Zaitsev, Russia’s premier fashion designer in Soviet times, created fairy-tale tailoring in the form of red, aubergine and violet suits, and dresses sporting geometric explosions of fabric.
Then there was Dasha Gauser from Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains, whose collection was inspired by paper, and featured a neutral palette of beige, black and white and pastels, not to mention wide-sleeved coats with origami-like folded collars, slim pants, pencil-dresses, and sexy one-piece mini-suits. Gauser has only been in business for three years, but has already acquired a cult following among the Russian elite.
Still, developing a signature style is but one hurdle local designers have to overcome. Russian designers may understand their clients better than foreign designers, but giving retail outlets what they need is another issue. “Shops will come to a designer wanting to order something they’ve seen on the catwalk only to be told that they don’t have it in the original material because they have run out of fabric,” Shumsky says. “Designers will change other details in production, so it is often easier for a Moscow store to go straight to a showroom in Italy.”
However, the Tsum department store, Moscow’s high-temple of fashion, which is like Harrods and Harvey Nichols rolled into one, has sent a buyer to Russian Fashion Week this year to choose a designer for a new Russian corner in the store that will showcase local collections – just as they do for up-and-coming names from the west. And according to Anna Nazarova, a buyer for Perfetta, a chain of stores across Moscow, “Fashion Week is a really important event for us; we have already started negotiating with new Russian designers to stock their clothes in our shops”. Today Moscow, tomorrow …Printemps?
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