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The Russian fashion industry revisited: part two

Donnerstag, Dez. 2, 2010, 10:20 / Russia

In our previous report on the Russian fashion industry, we noted there is a significant market niche for affordable and passable quality fashion, and that the consumers in Russia have become more style conscious when it comes to individual clothing choices. Obviously, Russians love to dress up, and fashion plays an important role in their lives. Could this be a chance for local designers to step in and make an impact by offering a distinctive style, produced locally and purchased easily?

We all can name the major capitals of fashion – Milan, Paris, London, New York and lately, Tokyo. Moscow remains a mystery, although Western brands selling their products there enjoy commercial success, despite the volatilities of the market. For a country so big, what about local fashion houses, design schools and the state of the fashion industry? Why does the new generation of Russian designers remain unknown to the global fashion community?

To answer these questions one has to make a little journey back to USSR. A few designers at that time – Zaitsev and Yudashkin are the most well-known – enjoyed their celebrity status dressing Kremlin wives. Yet, overall the industry was developed to merely produce functional clothing, not to create high-end fashion styles. Soviet fashion houses produced mass collections of apparel approved by endless committees to meet standards and quality. A few studios imitated Dior and Yves Saint Laurent for eager fashionistas, mostly film stars, who were willing to be different and spend money on the styles they little knew about.

The late 1980s and the early 1990s saw the biggest changes so far, as the industry simply ceased to exist due the lack of demand and consumer buying power. Fashion was considered simply getting hold on the Western brands and catching up with the rest of the world. D&G and other high-end brands were popular at the time, highlighting the financial status of the wearer – or rather, her husband.

At the same time as the Neo-Punk movement reached the country’s youth we saw a wave of ‘soviet-style’ fashion with a hint of irony: Red stars twinkled in the collections of Olga Soldatova, Nina Neretina and Donis Pupis dedicated fashionable odes to Yury Gagarin, Katia Mossina transforming army coat fabrics into a new sexiness with generously open cuts, the “USSR” signature appeared on T-Shirts by Denis Simachev (who captured the momentum in the early 2000s). The target audience, born after 1970, welcomed the styles with nostalgia and joy. But did the mood help the designers to mark own signature and establish their business?

Denis Simachev has presented collections in Milan and London, and has reached a breakthrough point in 2009 when he secured an order from Barneys New York; he was the first Russian designer to be stocked in the luxury department store. However, according to Barneys’ managers, the brand failed to deliver ordered items, illustrating the core problems of the Russian fashion industry – production, management and infrastructure issues.
Most of the production for Russian fashion houses is placed in Turkey or Lithuania. Domestic facilities are very expensive and unreliable, and distribution and delivery are complicated due to poor transportation network and vast distances. All of these problems are reflected in higher prices for Russian designs, simply unable to compete with their better-known Western counterparts. As for Simachev, the former designer now runs his own bar and feels no desire to return to fashion at least in the near future.

The Russian fashion industry, in the eyes of Western buyers and experts, is mostly associated with the shows and fashion weeks hosted twice a year. Moscow alone has two major events – Russian Fashion Week and Volvo Fashion Week Moscow – showcasing local designers each of the organisers managed to woo accordingly. The portfolio contains likes of Kira Plastinina, a billionaire’s daughter who attempted and failed within the U.S. market, and Alena Akhmadullina, promoted locally as one of the industry’s leading designers thanks to her private investor’s money, but has zero recognition in the U.S and Europe.

Saint Petersburg is catching up too, with the Aurora Fashion Week at least offering some interesting names to pay attention to. Although producer Artem Balaev states in a typical Saint Petersburg understated, slightly pessimistic tone that “Russia really lacks successful designers.” Gosha Rubchinsky who showcased at Aurora and regularly shoots his videos in the city is one designer with an extremely high potential, targeting younger audience of sport fans, skaters and snowboarders. Rubchinsky’s collections are not manufactured in large quantities, yet there is substantial market opportunity as the brand reflects consistency and good quality, and the honest, down-to-earth attitude of the designer.

There is no question – Russian fashion designers have talent and potential. Take Katia Mossina, the brand with a unique history and intriguing future. Katia studied in Berlin and attended classes by Vivienne Westwood, which is reflected in her limited edition high-quality collections, made of playful styles. She chooses to present off-location, yet still manages to attract the major Russian lifestyle press. When asked about the biggest problems with Russian designers, and their inability to become internationally recognised, Katia gives a thoughtful and honest answer of someone who has lived through it: “Fashion should reflect the spirit of time, and as we live in the beginning of the 21st century, this spirit is still to be defined, globally. But Russians did not have the opportunity to experience fashion development as did the rest of the world. That’s why very often when you visit fashion weeks in Moscow nothing reflects the fact we are now in the year 2010.“ Mossina considers her brand a concept that should work, provided it is managed well and has a team of professionals to support it – which is rare to find in Russia.
Vika Gazinskaya, a much celebrated young designer, agrees: “A fashion designer in Russia often does everything himself: management, sales, PR. Lack of resources – financial and human – results in developments far from ideal. Fashion design is a long-term process and not a short-lived game, as many here would imagine. And the consumers in Russia do not help either, as they still prefer Western brands.”

Aliona Isaeva, Editing Director of Marie Claire points out “We do not specifically support Russian designers as much as we did early on. They should be part of the entire picture, and to be honest the criteria for us is whether a designer has ability to sell and deliver, as we run a magazine for consumers looking where to buy things.” Isaeva mentions her favourite Russian designer duo - Nina Donis, who among others - Alexander Terekhov is another raising star to watch - chooses to show their collections at the Cycle & Seasons by MasterCard, an art and fashion platform hosting series of events and shows.

There are enough promotional opportunities for those who are willing stay in business. However promotion alone does not guarantee success in any form, be it an international recognition resulting in sales numbers, or a new signature in the style still to be defined.

Russia remains a mysterious place when it comes to fashion – and we cannot foresee what the future holds. Perhaps Moscow does not need to become another global fashion capital, and perhaps our expectations are simply too high. Only time will tell, and it would be a pity if Russians would not play a role in fashion, as they do in music, ballet, chess and literature. We wish them good luck!

To read part one of report on the Russian fashion industry, visit

Alexander Terekhov:
Denis Simachev:
Gosha Rubchinsky:
Katia Mossina:
Nina Donis:
Vika Gazinskaya:
Cycles & Seasons by MasterCard:
St Petersburg Aurora Fashion Week:
Russian Fashion Week:
Volvo Fashion Week:

Natasha Binar | TribaSpace

Interested in reading more stories like this? Keep an eye on the TribaSpace Magazine:

Produkt-Gruppen: Casual Wear, Buying, Ready-to-Wear, Representation, Production, Sales, Fabrics, Textiles, Creation
Märkte: Men's, Children's, Women's, Other

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