the moscow fashion graduates to watch out for
"In a post-Soviet context, the complexities of the socio-political and economic context form the agency, drive and ambition to reimagine the future of Russian fashion design."
Velina Sukasyan. Photography Eugene Shishkin.
Fashion graduates in Moscow face a unique set of challenges when trying to establish themselves as designers, both creatively and commercially. Despite Russia’s rich cultural legacy -- spanning everything from philosophy, to ballet, to modern art -- the fashion market remains in its infancy compared to the rest of the world’s international fashion capitals. Consequently, for those hoping to pursue a career as an independent designer, bridging the gap between their work and the country’s wealthy customers is a hard task.
“The post-Soviet generation that formed the new middle class generally have a thirst for internationally prestigious brands that conspicuously display wealth,” explains Clare Lopeman at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia in Moscow. The course director of BA Fashion at the British Higher School of Art & Design -- part of a consortium of Moscow-based independent educational institutions -- for the last 10 years, Clare has a unique insight into changing landscape of Russian fashion. “Self-esteem gravitates towards highly visible, luxury codes of status as opposed to expressions of personal individuality through design, brave choices and character.”
Clare's course, described by some students as “like Hogwarts -- a safe bubble”, offers a space for students’ creativity to flourish. “Russian universities, on the whole, concentrate on technical aspects and hard skills. Many continue to use Soviet approaches that are mainly teacher centric and technically driven. There is a need to realign educational practice to embrace independent critical thinking."
This, combined with “the small scale of the industry as a competitive field”, means for many Russian fashion students, after graduation the only option is enrolling on an MA at college outside Russia. “Much of this is deep-rooted, related to aspects beyond design -- such as education, production, sales, logistics and business practice. A professional infrastructure of mentorship and investment is much needed to nurture and support young talent, in order to transform local perceptions and enable Russian designers to compete creatively and professionally on a global platform.”
Yet, against a difficult tide, the frustrations can also become the motivations to create incredible work and be the spark that the country needs to change perceptions towards fashion design. “In a post-Soviet context, the complexities of the socio-political and economic context form the agency, drive and ambition to reimagine how the future of Russian fashion design can be both characterised and expressed,” Clare explains further. At this season’s Moscow Fashion Week, nine designers from Clare’s BA Fashion degree were chosen to showcase their graduate collection in a showcase a little reminiscent of London Fashion Week's Fashion East talent incubator. “Yes, students are aware that fashion week in Moscow is at a different stage of development when looking at the bigger picture of the major international fashion weeks, but they're optimistic that certain aspects of the fashion industry are moving forward. The country has a rich, layered and complex history spanning politics, science, literature, music and the arts. Those major cultural shifts and sociopolitical challenges form the fabric and fertile ground for creativity and invention.”
Following a week of highly-wearable collections at Moscow Fashion Week, the graduate show, which came on the penultimate day, was a much more conceptual affair. Deconstruction and total reimagination of traditional shapes, cuts and silhouettes gave the show a fresh and exciting energy. Here, we speak to seven of the designers to find out more about their views on fashion in Russia right now.
What are you doing now you've graduated? I plan to go to MA Fashion Design Menswear in London College of Fashion. What do you think of Moscow Fashion Week? Certainly for me it was a memorable experience to show my work to such a large audience. But if we talk about the Moscow Fashion Week as a whole, many collections presented do not reach a global level. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? I think that the biggest challenge for Russian students is working with fabrics. Russian manufacturers were completely destroyed in the 90s and all we have left is stock stores with imported fabrics. Is the course a safe space for people who may otherwise experience prejudice in Russia? Yes. The only thing that matters is your skill and eagerness to learn.
What inspired your collection? My collection was influenced by surrealism, which could be described as a symbol of freedom of mind, however, everyday life requires self-control, so surrealists always have to keep their mind cool so as not to be perceived as insane. What are you doing now you've graduated? I am working at a studio of a Russian fashion designers’ and I am planning to enrol for MA in London College of Fashion to study Fashion Design Management next year. What do you think of Moscow Fashion Week? It was such an honour to participate in it. However, to be honest Moscow fashion designers have to work a lot more to achieve global recognition. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? Looking for fabrics and materials to make unusual clothes. The fabrics are usually expensive, even if the quality is very low. Is the course a safe space for people who may otherwise experience prejudice in Russia? Definitely yes.
What inspired your collection? The collection is based on the memories of my grandmother and her experiences of the wars and the mass eviction of people from Chechnya and Ingushetia. The main focus is on the juxtaposition between tradition and conflict: traditional menswear tailoring fused with disrupted, layered and aggressive textures. What do you think of Russia’s fashion industry? Recently, interest in Russian designers has been growing. They are beginning to be taken more seriously, not only in Russia, but also internationally. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? The biggest challenge for me as fashion student in Russia was to find good quality fabrics of a certain shade. However, it made us look for workarounds -- to create our own fabrics using various dyeing and bleaching techniques.
What inspired your collection? The collection is based on the idea of discovery and finding yourself through trips and encountering new cultures. I found inspiration on from a journey to North Africa. What are you doing now you've graduated? For me it's a moment to pause, to take a breath and enjoy what I've experienced. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? There are not a lot of places where you can be creative and get a decent salary. Many go abroad. Some create their own brands but this does not always work, because you need a very strong business plan.
What inspired your collection? I was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams. Being Armenian, I could not fail to mention the Armenian Genocide in my collection. What are you doing now you've graduated? I’m trying to find myself. I think that in order to achieve the best results in any field, a person must truly know themselves. What do you think of Moscow Fashion Week? I think that it’s developing every year. More and more talented young designers are appearing in Russia.
Lianella Al Nadzhi
What inspired your collection? I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. What are you doing now you've graduated? I'm working on my new collection and I'm applying to an MA next year. Besides all of this, I have some orders that I'm working on. What do you think of Moscow Fashion Week? I think it was a great success. Especially for graduate students. It's really a big deal to have the opportunity to take part. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? Promotion and finding the right clients.
What inspired your collection? Nomads and their way of life. Sometimes we think of perpetual travellers as merely those globetrotting in search of something that is missing in their lives. The idea of wanderlust itself is the ravenous compulsion to go and observe the world. What are you doing now you've graduated? I’m starting my own project. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? Changing people's attitudes towards fashion in Russia. What's the reality of trying to find careers in fashion in Russia after graduating? Hard. You need to spend a lot of time to find a decent internship and then work. In most companies in our country, the Soviet approach to business still remains. It is impossible to develop yourself in them. I think that is why most graduates go abroad.
What inspired your collection? The main source of inspiration for my collection was my favourite cartoon, Anastasia. This cartoon narrates the myth of the Russian princess Anastasia Romanova who survived during the Russian Revolution. What are you doing now you've graduated? Now I am an intern at the Russian kids clothing brand called PlayToday. What do you think of Moscow Fashion Week? This is an inspiring event that gave me a wonderful opportunity to show people my work. What is the biggest challenge fashion students in Russia face? Probably the complexity of the perception of fashion in Russia. There is a conservatism in the mentality and it is difficult for people to accept something new. Is the course a safe space for people who may otherwise experience prejudice in Russia? Yes, in the BHSAD a student can reveal their individuality and not be afraid for the reaction of people.
The below images are taken backstage at both the British Higher School of Art & Design BA (Hons) Fashion and the British Higher School of Art & Design Course in Fashion Design graduate collection shows.
Photography Eugene Shishkin