turning moscow’s obsession with wealth on its head
Outlaw Moscow are redefining and reimagining the Russian capital’s brand-mania.
Moscow is widely known as the city of extreme luxury, glitz and excess, fast cars, high heels, gold and fur. Russians' obsession with brands and display of wealth is rooted in the 90s when the political turmoil served as a backdrop for an avalanche of goods and culture from abroad. Now, over 25 years on, independent label Outlaw Moscow is the choice of the new generation of Russians who seek to redefine luxury and challenge the power of the brand.
Outlaw Moscow signature piece for this season could have been easily seen on the streets of 90s Harlem: it is a robe sewn together from large fragments of knockoff scarfs made in China and covered with familiar logo patterns of Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes. The logos are thrown together and stripped of their value - with a good pinch of irony. In the age when Demna Gvasalia says he himself wouldn't pay the price for his own creation at Vetements, the irony is very much needed.
"We are very much influenced by rap and grime culture," says one of the brand's founders Maksim Bashkaev. "We were raised watching American films and videos where rappers wore oversized branded outfits. When travelling in the States I heard about Dapper Dan who used to customise fake luxury clothes. We found the fake branded scarfs at the Chinese wholesale market and just made Outlaw Moscow robe out of it. The robe is symbolic of the ironic attitude to those who are obsessed with the concept of luxury, who buy expensive clothes just to feel safe and support their social status."
Designers Dilyara Minrakhmanova and Maksim Bashkaev launched Outlaw Moscow in November 2014, in the midst of economic and political crisis in Russia. Their key motivation was to represent their peers who, although keen to work and create in their native country often feel alienation in the still predominantly conservative society. "The educated youth, the creatives and young intellectuals can definitely relate to Russian environment around them but at the same time they feel disconnected from the traditional conservative atmosphere that the government is trying to establish", the Outlaw Moscow founders explain. "We are inspired not only by our love of fashion but by representing the small but energetic young generation of Russians who stand for peace and equality, who support freedom and human rights. We have that passion for art, for self expression, we want to contribute to our culture, we want to represent those people who are often unheard in Russia".
Outlaw Moscow's work is largely about a close-knit creative community, and the clothes they produce works perfectly as a uniform - a way to recognise your crew in the crowd. The uniform is playful and almost mischievous: graphic silhouettes are combined with crazy colours and large almost childish appliques. The brand's statement pieces - bombers, coloured faux fur coats - often have OUTLAW spelled out in large letters on the back, have become a staplee for Moscow-based rappers, and recently passed one of their jackets to ASAP Nast before his gig in the Russian capital.
Outlaw Moscow is a good example of a young independent Russian brand: they aren't subject to the fashion calendar and don't show at fashion weeks, and for promotion rely on social media and the circle of friends. "We sell online, a lot to overseas, have our own little showroom in the centre of Moscow, also also sell at Tsvetnoy mall, one of the best fashion spots in Russia", Bashkaev adds. The production is also based in Moscow, with a staff of eight people responsible for all the pieces.
What is it like to run a young fashion label in Moscow right now? "Generally doing any business in Russia or Moscow is an adventure. We often laugh that running a fashion brand here is like being in the Wild East. There is no established industry in Russia, the good quality materials from Europe cost too much, and most of the substitutes are low quality and come from China, so obtaining the right materials is a struggle. The biggest challenge is to build a business model; the costs are high, the local currency is low, the demand is unstable. The only positive thing is that when you are more into art than business - the competition is low and the opportunities comes from the unexpected places".
Still, it feels like the designers kept Moscow in the name of their brand for a reason: it's a sign of a strong bonds with the place which provides the luxury of opportunities and inspiration. "We love Moscow, but it is difficult city. It is like the local climate: extremely cold or extremely hot. It can burn and can freeze. But definitely Moscow is a hyper energetic place", Bashkaev says. "We are inspired by the mix of the cultural patterns you can find here. The three epochs - Russian Empire, Soviet Union, contemporary Russia - merges together in everything: architecture, people, art. It is super controversial and contrasting city. It can shock but it also pushes you".
Text Anastasiia Fedorova