Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Moscow Fashion Fandango

25th March 2008 16:13

Fashion week in Moscow has come a long way since its

rocky beginnings in 1994, an anarchic period just

three years after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

The models are stunningly beautiful, the clothes

exquisitely made, and you could be forgiven for

thinking that the country’s drab utilitarian Soviet

past never was.

Hundreds of tall Slavic women strut their stuff late

into the Moscow night beneath a giant glass roof in an

upscale eighteenth century exhibition centre near the

Kremlin.

Their public: Russia’s super rich, aspirational

Muscovites, international fashion buyers and hundreds

of journalists who produce glossy magazines that are

snaffled by fashion-conscious Russian women like bliny

and caviar.

The event is not yet in the league of Milan or Paris –

Russian designers have a long way to go before they

achieve the global renown of big name fashion houses

such as Versace, Dior or Christian Lacroix.

But its mixture of the gaudy, the luxurious and the

jaw-droppingly expensive is quintessentially Moscow. 

In a little under 15 years, the event has morphed into

a calling card for Russia’s fabulous oil-fuelled

wealth and become a glamorous mirror of a society in

flux.

In 1994, when organizers staged the first show, Russia

was broke, without a middle class, and its fashion

designers were unknown in the West.

Today, Russia is sitting on almost $500 billion in

gold and currency reserves, Moscow has more

billionaires than New York, and it is in the throes of

a consumer boom that has seen millions of ordinary

Russians rush to make up for seven decades of living

in black and white.

“The fashion industries in France and Italy took

centuries to develop,” says Dmitri Goryachkin, a

senior official at IMG Russia, one of the event’s

organizers.

“But what Russia has done in the last 15 years

fashion-wise beats all records.”

It was just a matter of time, he added, before the

country’s wealth was ploughed into marketing and

manufacturing and before Russian designers took their

place in the pantheon of global brands. 

“There is big interest in everything Russian. Russia

is again in a leading position internationally – in

politics, in art, in everything. It’s a question of

time before we have a breakthrough moment for a

Russian fashion designer.”” 

Collections dreamt up by over 50 Russian designers was

on display at the 19th Fashion week in Moscow, which

concluded last Friday and at least 100,000 people went

through the turnstiles to take a look. Not one single

foreign designer was in evidence though. Organizers

said rather tetchily that their priority was to

promote the Russian fashion industry.

On the menu: autumn and winter prêt-a-porter (ready to

wear) collections.

Valentin Yudashkin, the doyen of the Russian fashion

world, opened the glitzy event.

Yudashkin, whose long black locks are always elegantly

coiffed, is a favourite of Moscow’s powerful mayor

Yuri Luzhkov and his billionaire construction magnate

wife Elena Baturina.  The power couple came to offer

their support and pay homage to their favourite

tailor. A small army of black-suited sharp-elbowed

bodyguards cleared a passage for the rather portly

couple who then clapped as a succession of waifish

girls paraded Yudashkin’s newest creations.   

His new collection, Neo-Gothic, was black, ascetic,

and understated. Experts said it exuded a ‘stealth

wealth’ feel reflecting a partial move by Russia’s

super rich away from their love of gaudy in-your-face

labels.

The appetite for the showy and the tacky has not died

completely though. The loudest round of applause came

when Yudashkin came onto the runway with a model

wearing a Mini Mouse costume. The Walt Disney creation

is due to celebrate her 80th anniversary this year and

Yudashkin plans to place Mini Mouse motifs on some of

his garments.

In Russia, Yudashkin is fashion royalty. The country’s

most famous singers lined up to mark the 20th

anniversary of his business recently, his boutique is

on Moscow’s “elitny” Kutuzovsky Avenue, and the

country’s future first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, is a

personal friend. The blonde Medvedeva, wife of

Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor Dmitri, is also a

big customer.

Such political connections have seen Yudashkin’s

career blossom. His latest and most unusual customer:

the Russian army. When thousands of crack troops

goose-step across Red Square in May, they are expected

to be modelling a new Yudashkin-designed uniform.   

His success should be put in context though -- he is

one of only a tiny handful of Russian designers who

enjoy celebrity status and genuine commercial success.

Igor Chapurin, originally from Soviet Belarussia, is

in the same class and was also featured at the show.

His trademark self-coined “luxurious asceticism” is a

big hit with Russia’s political and social elite.

Ludmila Putina, wife of outgoing president Vladimir

Putin, is a big fan as are the growing ranks of

wealthy Russian businesswomen.

His creations have caught the eye of international

celebrities too. Whitney Houston has bought three of

his dresses, Cher purchased one of his mink jackets,

and Beyonce picked out an outrageous gold lame body

suit for one of her concerts. Not bad for a designer

who spent his early career toiling in penury in a

global fashion backwater. 

The only other established designer to show his wares

was veteran fashionista Slava Zaitsev, who turned 70

this year.

A sharp-tongued judge on a TV makeover show that is

Russia’s equivalent of Trinny and Susannah’s “What to

Wear,” his creations are typically rooted in Russian

peasant culture and popular culture. 

This year’s show was no different. Brawny men stylized

to be “village boys” wore fur hats with earflaps, long

leather boots, and luxurious blouson-style shirts.

Designers such as Yudashkin, Chapurin and Zaitsev draw

an elite crowd. Oligarchs’ wives and mistresses rubbed

shoulders with pop stars, fashionistas and Russia’s

homegrown IT girls.

Self-styled Paris Hilton clone Kseniya Sobchak dropped

in as did Oksana Robsky, a society scribe who

specializes in telling the masses in outrageous detail

how the oligarchs live.

Tall supermodel Oksana Fedorova brightened up the

opening press conference fielding a tricky question on

how Russia’s drab grey police uniforms can be made

more stylish. The question was not coincidental:

Fedorova, a former Miss Russia and Miss Universe,

trained as a policewoman. She explained how she used

to have her own uniform specially tailored and

recommended others do the same.

She was just one of many high cheek boned celebrity

models to take the catwalk. Svetlana Khorkina, a

former Olympic gymnastics champion, was

controversially another. Khorkina became a deputy in

Russia’s parliament last year and angry bloggers

wondered whether it wasn’t time for her to get stuck

into politics rather than glamour.   

When the last model had strutted her stuff, VIP guests

retired to champagne-filled after-parties at the

Metropole and Balchug hotels. It is a high life that

remains well out of reach for most of the population

and in sharp contrast to the hordes of female

pensioners who hawk cigarettes and vegetables in dank

metro underpasses to make ends meet. 

The collections the VIP guests had been ogling were

also out of reach for many. In theory, the general

public had the chance to buy what they saw. In

practice, many of the prices were prohibitively high.

Muscovite Lina Tekhucheva tried on an elegant overcoat

designed by an up and coming Russian designer. But

when she saw the price tag – 31,000 rubles (about 620

pounds) – she took it off.

“I could buy a Prada coat for the same price,” she

told REN TV. Lina said she wanted to add to her

wardrobe and support home grown talent but left

empty-handed.

Though people’s real incomes are rising there is still

a long way to go. The Russian government’s coffers may

be swollen with oil money and the rich may be getting

richer but people’s incomes are starting from a low

base. The Russian government said last week that the

average annual wage was just under 3,500 pounds.

Girls on the streets of Moscow like to dress up though

and do look the part, thanks in large part to fake

designer clothing made in China.

The uniform of choice for the long winter months:

knee-high black leather boots, skinny jeans, revealing

skimpy tops, and fur-trimmed jackets.

In summer: high-heels, mini-skirts, tight tops and

lots and lots of makeup.

Men are more conservative favouring jeans and shirts

in casual mode (but never shorts no matter how hot the

weather) and expensive-looking suits. Their accessory

of choice is a chunky often fake designer watch.     

The world of real designer labels remains rarefied

though and those young designers who do make a splash

usually have someone else’s money behind them.

Take 15 year-old school girl Kira Plastinina for

example who displayed her latest collection at the

fashion week before last. Her father, Sergei

Plastinin, is a top businessman said to be worth 350

million pounds. When she was just 14 he ploughed 50

million pounds into helping her establish a thriving

fashion business. His  generosity has not dried up. A

maestro in marketing, he paid a reported one million

pounds last year to get Paris Hilton to fly to Moscow

and plug his daughter’s creations.

Kira, who has been dubbed one of the “spoilt bratski”

by the British tabloids, plays down the connection

between the success of her growing chain of stores and

her father’s money.

“It’s not like I just went to my dad and said ‘I want

a store,’ and he gave me a store with my name on it

and I don’t do anything,” she told the St. Petersburg

Times recently.

Dasha Zhukova, girlfriend of oligarch Roman

Abramovich, is another couturier who has had a helping

hand. Her fashion label  -- Kova & T – is stocked in

leading US shops and will appear in Harrods from this

May. She set it up with Christina Tang, daughter of

billionaire David Tang, and with a little help from

her dad. He owns his own oil company while her

publicity-shy boyfriend is one of Russia’s richest

men. 

Trendy designer Denis Simachev who specializes in

Soviet-style kitsch and who made his name with

T-shirts bearing a portrait of Vladimir Putin also has

a wealthy patron. The two businessmen bankrolling him

refuse to disclose who but the word on the street is

that Roman Abramovich is the man who made Simachev and

set him up on one of Moscow’s exclusive lanes with a

boutique cum pub.

It is all a world away from the Soviet era when what

little there was of a pre-revolutionary fashion

industry was swept away in favour of mass-produced

clothes fit for a self-styled state of workers and

peasants. Less than two decades ago, women queued for

hours in Moscow department store GUM to get their

hands on a pair of clunky shoes from Poland, or tights

from Hungary. Today GUM is jam-packed with top

European and American designer boutiques. High prices

ensure that queues in GUM are a thing of the past

though – local wags call it a clothes museum.