Away from the traditional style capitals, new hotspots are beginning to develop and champion local talent.
According to the stereotype, Russia’s ultra-wealthy are mostly interested in international brands – be it properties, newspapers or football teams – but fashion is beginning to tell a different story. This year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia (MBFWR), which took place in March in Moscow, demonstrated that homegrown designers are increasingly attempting to define their own aesthetic – and local consumers are taking notice.
Alexander Shumsky, who founded Russian Fashion Week in 2000 (Mercedes became a sponsor in 2011), says that even five years ago “it would have been quite hard to say what Russian fashion was, and, basically, no one would buy it.” Now, he says, a certain aesthetic cohesion is emerging.
This year’s shows varied a good deal in terms of size, fanfare, and quality but the dominant themes were Russia’s dark winter, ethnic patterns, and snow-covered wildlife.
Alena Akhmadullina is one of Russia’s more established fashion names, selling in both the US and France, as well as her home country. For autumn/winter 2013, she sent out heavy fur capes and coats, multicoloured knits, and dresses covered in wolf prints. Urate Gurauskaite, editor of Russian InStyle magazine, describes the result as “fantastic prints, colours, cut and a devotion to traditional Russian fairy tales”.
Lilia Poustovit, who worked in western Europe before returning to develop “national fashion” in Ukraine, projected a tough femininity on the catwalk, pairing boots with long, soft dresses in polka dots and geometric star patterns in her eponymous line – which she also showed at Ukraine Fashion Week in Kiev. “It looked just like a student going to a library,” says fashion consultant Mariam Koberidze. “Romantic but with a strong personality.”
Ria Keburia, a young Georgian who lives and works in Paris, embraced “postmaterialistic” spiritualism with Japanese origami-style hats. By contrast, her more established fellow Georgian designer, Bessarion, put lily-white models in black peasant caps, as well as bright industrial blue and red suits, coats and skirts, in a collection that recalled both life in the eastern European countryside and the early Soviet avant-garde.
Fyodor Golan, the London-based fashion house of Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman, won local plaudits for strict tailoring combined with fantasy; one model’s head was surrounded by what looked like a perfectly symmetrical ball of blue butterflies and snowflakes. “The aesthetics here are being refined but so is our ability to produce more in Russia, which allows us to sell alongside big European brands,” says Polina Kitsenko, who oversees buying for Podium fashion stores.
However, neither Kitsenko nor her team felt the need to attend the local fashion weeks, a sentiment shared by the local press.
“The glossy magazines pay attention mostly to outside designers still, though there is more and more attention here,” says Gurauskaite. “Russian designers now get 10 per cent of the space in magazines,” she says, pointing out that this compares with almost nothing in 2009.
“People need to come together and create more unique trends,” says Koberidze. “It’s the 1990s generation that still rules and shops: the ones who became very rich very quickly, wanted to show off, best summarised by Versace with a huge logo. But there is a new generation coming.” And now, they will have something new to buy.
“There’s so much great news lately,” says Lucía Cordeiro, executive director of La Asociación de Creadores de Moda de España (ACME), pointing to Madrid-based label Delpozo’s debut at New York Fashion Week this year. “It marked a turning point for Spanish fashion,” says Cordeiro. Indeed, though high street brands such as Zara and Mango, shoe brand Camper and historic names Balenciaga and Paco Rabanne have a high profile, there are relatively few well-known contemporary Spanish designer labels: Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Custo Barcelona and Loewe.
But things may be changing. Apart from Delpozo, there’s Emilio de la Morena, a London-based womenswear designer whose spring/summer collection featured layered and ruffled skirts in red, white and black. Then there is the Cortefiel Group, which has just made award-winning Spanish designer, Carmen March, creative director of its upscale line, Pedro del Hierro Madrid. The group is Spain’s second largest apparel group. It operates in 65 countries, running 1,900 stores, and has four core brands – Cortefiel (urban fashion for men and women); Springfield (youthful, casual styles); Women’secret (lingerie); and Pedro del Hierro (contemporary fashion for women).
There is also Amaya Arzuaga, who shows in Paris at the Spanish embassy; think clean, asymmetrical designs favoured by pop stars Fergie and Lady Gaga, which sell in Japan, the Middle East, Europe and the US.
According to Fashionfromspain.com, an initiative of ICEX, the Spanish government’s trade and investment agency, the most significant trend in Spanish fashion is its expansion overseas. In 2012, exports reached €15.6bn, thanks largely to brands opening stores overseas. According to ICEX, the Spanish fashion sector employs 200,000 people directly and generates industrial output in excess of €13.5bn at home.
“Spain used to be far behind other countries,” says designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada. “This has turned around during the past 15 years, with government investment in fashion weeks and the promotion of Spanish designers.” Ruiz de la Pradaherself now has flagship stores in Paris, Milan, New York, Madrid and Barcelona.
Custo Dalmau, the creative force behind Custo Barcelona, which was launched in 1981 and has shown in New York since 1997, believes this is just the beginning. “Spain is a country with many cultural interests and fashion is one of them,” he says. Cordeiro adds: “We are optimistic that we are reaping the rewards of many years’ work paving the future for the next generation. Training future designers is key.”
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