Fashion: more show, more business

Today, there is a real surge of interest in everything to do with fashion. Thousands of young people dream of becoming fashion designers, and competition at the leading fashion colleges is formidable. This may be with the result of rapid growth of the Russian clothing market - approximately 20pc per year. Moreover, Russian consumers spend on average twice as much on clothes as Europeans (13pc of income as opposed to 6pc in Europe).
But in order to compete for this market on equal terms with Western brands, Russian fashion still has a great deal to learn. A priority is to forge a competent business strategy. Only then can a Russian designer become not just a successful dressmaker for a few wealthy clients, but a real trend-setter.

Historically, Russia has never had major fashion houses. The only exception is the acclaimed Nadezhda Lamanova, who made clothes for royals and courtiers and received the honourary title of "Purveyor to the court of His Imperial Majesty". Nevertheless, dressmaking was always on a high level in Russia. Everyone knew how to sew - from peasant girls to aristocratic ladies (a skill that helped the latter to survive when they fled after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution).

In the Soviet Union, the craftsmanship of private seamstresses was also in demand. Everyone who really wanted to dress fashionably - from actresses to the wives of party officials - ordered their clothes exclusively from private seamstresses because there was a very limited selection in the shops.

Finding such a seamstress was not easy - recommendations were required, and her reputation in terms of fashion and style had to be considered impeccable. Some women trusted their seamstresses' taste and skill so much that they would give her a piece of fabric and say, "make something of your own choice".

The first fashion label in the Soviet Union was Dom Mody Vyacheslava Zaitseva (Vyacheslav Zaitsev Fashion House). It was established in the 1970s. Zaitsev promoted traditional Russian style and dressed his models in dresses made from Pavlovoposad shawls and embroidered quilted jackets.

Later another fashion name appeared - Valentin Yudashkin, who made the heavy opulence of the pre-revolutionary royal court his trademark style. The 1990s saw a galaxy of talented fashion designers - Tatyana Parfyonova, Igor Chapurin, Yelena Makashova, and Viktoria Andreyanova.

They became real pioneers, having to overcome prejudice against Russian fashion at their own peril. At the time, most people wanted to wear foreign fashions which were difficult to get hold of.

The situation has changed. Having been given access to virtually all Western labels, Russian consumers want individuality and have turned to local designers. It was no coincidence that at the last Moscow Film Festival, most popular actresses specifically chose outfits by Russian designers.

Every year, there are around 3,000 applications from all over Russia to Russian Silhouette, a young designers' competition, and the most prestigious of its kind in Russia.

Only 70 collections make it to the finals and no more than three or four names become renowned afterward.

This is not so much because of a lack of talent, as much as a lack of investment. For a long time it was thought that investing in fashion was too risky.

No wonder such Russian fashion stars as Tatyana Parfyonova and Igor Chapurin have still not been able to go beyond a high-priced private fashion house with small collections and several boutiques.

But this situation started to improve. Successful Russian brands with their own production such as Vassa and Sultanna Frantsuzova for SoFrench have appeared. They opt for intricate classical patterns, quality fabrics and feminine style, which is particularly popular with their customers. Alyona Akhmadullina is seriously intent on fighting for the Russian market and her investors have already devised a business strategy. And Denis Simachev is successfully making use of the fashionable vintage trend.

Fashion industry experts believe that the real vogue for Russian designers is only just beginning and their best times are yet to come. Unsurprisingly, 89pc of the audiences at the latest shows during the Russian Fashion Week said that they would like to buy clothes from Russian designers. Very little is needed for this to happen - the clothes must be made on a commercial scale and sold in major retail outlets.

Alexander Shumsky on Russian fashion

"Russian fashion design has long gone beyond the amateur stage. Six or seven Russian designers took part in big international shows in 1999, 25 in 2001, and 50 to 60 are here now. At first, our fashion gurus would not see why spring and summer garments should be shown in winter, and the other way round. They preferred to show winter clothes in the autumn, and sell them directly off the podium. Now they have accepted this.

"Big business came to Russian fashion design in 2000. Now we invite potential investors to shows. Not that it's so simple to get money - designers all too often regard investors as mere philanthropists. We are, however, growing to realise that creativity and capital can go hand-in-hand. Russian couture appears, little by little, in the larger shops. I think Russian designers will have their boutiques in all major department stores in three years or so. There is a lot of talent in Russia, and I hope Moscow will eventually get on a par with London in the fashion world."

When Russia ruled the catwalks

Though Russian designers have never been international trend-setters, Russian style occasionally inspired top couturiers. It started with Serge Diaghileff's Saisons Russes in Paris early in the 20th century, demonstrating the best Russian artistic achievements. Everything Russian became the rage in France. Paul Poiret made a collection of Russian-style dresses and coats.

Russian fashion became all the more popular after 1917, when émigrés established 20 fashion houses in Paris. Russian embroidery became the most sought after. Coco Chanel promptly introduced Russian-style high-collared dresses, embroidered blouses and fur-trimmed coats.

Later on, Christian Dior and Valentino amply drew on Russian motifs. Yves Saint Laurent demonstrated one of his most memorable collections in 1976 - the Ballets Russes, inspired by Russian history, as he said. Russian motifs have repeatedly appeared on catwalks since then. Last year's New York Fashion Week saw several American designers' Russian-style collections. The latest Caractere collection bears the telling name of "Siberia", and a Gucci designer says she borrows ideas from Russian art books. So Russia is always in vogue in the fashion world.

5 facts about fashion

1.A European survey of international markets said clothes and footwear sales in Russia would reach £4bn in 2009.

2.A project in Russian fashion industry - for example, to start up a designer's workshop - requires an investment of at least £150,000.

3.According to Romir monitoring service, fashion preferences of Russians have changed. While five years ago most RFW visitors chose the most trendy brands, now they pay less attention to the label, and simply choose the things they like.

4.The most expensive designer T-shirt made by a Russian costs 30,000 roubles (around £600). An 0.05 carat diamond on the front highlights an earring in a picture of a girl.

5.Moscow hosts two fashion events: Fashion Week and the Russian Fashion Week, every six months, featuring 120 designers.

Kira, the 16-year-old who's taking on the world

Kira Plastinina is a phenomenon. At 15 she was showing off her designs at Rome Fashion Week and now, at 16, she is more popular than all other Russian fashion designers put together.

It was only last year that she presented her first collection at the Russian Fashion Week; today, she has 40 shops in Russian cities carrying the Kira Plastinina name.

Rumour widely attributes her soaring career to the financial support of her father, a businessman, who has allegedly invested tens of millions of dollars into his daughter's success.

But the biggest effect in her campaign followed the Moscow visit of American celebrity Paris Hilton, who appeared on the catwalk alongside Kira and praised her collection, and bought half the stock the next day. Hilton even planned to wear a diamond-studded dress designed for her by Plastinina to the Oscar ceremony. Unfortunately, Hilton was not invited to the ceremony, and had to put off the dress's "debut".

The young designer says her collection targets the teen audience and, with prices ranging from £15 to £50, is quite affordable for secondary school and college students.

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