When you consider that Russian Fashion Week, as it was called until it joined forces with Mercedes-Benz last year, was born in 2000 with just 20 designers, in a country where home-grown fashion could never previously exist, it has come a long way.
‘We’ve been picking up designers from other cities, searching for talent in our schools and universities,’ said Alexander Shumsky, president of MBFW Russia which now hosts 150 designers, 60 of whom have been awarded grants over the last five years, he explained.
‘We want to make Moscow a hub for Russian speaking designers,’ he added. Hence, Olga Vilshenko, Timur Kim and Fyodor Golan, all of whom have studios in London, along with designers from Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus have all been invited to show here.
Ria Keburia, from Georgia, showed her collection yesterday - positively avant-garde by Russian standards, this young designer put her models in conceptual concertina pleats and golden helmets. The procession of all black pieces, sometimes highlighted with golden squares or criss-crosses, came out on high metal block shoes to haunting churchly music. Two finale models clutched their bare chests, wearing only long stiff black pleated skirts.
Another highlight was Svetlana Tegin, a Russian designer who focused on sweeping knitted shawls over black knitted bodies. She called her collection ‘Paris’ and every model wore a black Louise Brooks-style wig, the occasional beret and over-the-knee socks with high courts or loafers. She closed with chevron striped matt black sequins on a slim long white skirt and blouse.
Shumsky said that the Russian home clothing market, from footwear and apparel to textiles, is estimated at 45 billion Euros a year. Of that, the luxury market is worth between 3-5 billion Euros. ‘Export isn’t what our designers need,’ he said, ‘Our domestic market is huge and here they have the advantage; they speak the same language and understand the mentality of the clients. Also, Russians want to buy local designers.’
It’s not just the search for new talent, it’s the developing of that talent here in Moscow that represents the biggest challenge. As yet, there are no government-supported schemes to help designers take their first steps and many Russian designers are being educated abroad.
‘Our institutes produce either artists or technical people, nothing in between. Somewhere like Central Saint Martins in London gives a wider knowledge,’ he said. ‘But we are beginning to see change. While our designers who started in the 1990s during the Soviet era are not developing at all, the younger generation is showing so much promise and perception of home-grown talent in Russia is positively changing.’