Essay: Russia's Young Creatives

by Anastasiia Fedorova on 4 March 2014

Anastasiia Fedorova discusses Russia's young creative stars and explains how the country's education system and traditions can hinder change.

Anastasiia Fedorova discusses Russia's young creative stars and explains how the country's education system and traditions can hinder change.

Still from Somnia (2014)

I meet young fashion designer Artur Lomakin in a place that you most likely have never been to, by the metro station Chertanovo in the outskirts of Moscow. We’re in the middle of a snowstorm, 12-storey high rises are melting in grey haze, and I’m blinking from large snowflakes on my eyelashes. Dressed in a long black coat of his own design, Lomakin takes me to his flat-cum-studio. We walk through the bleak surroundings for 15 minutes, our coats and shoes getting wet, my hands freezing. Lomakin looks down at the mud mixing with snow and says, ‘Look, it's beautiful, this is our own, Russian marble.’

Artur Lomakin of Forget Me Not was one of the first Russian independent designers I ever heard of, and I fell in love with his sophisticated vision and simple yet powerful designs. His speciality is minimal garments made from rich tactile materials like wool, mohair and thick cotton. He is self-taught, never had much money, but couldn’t live without being a designer. Thick wool sweaters in his early collections were knitted by his mother and her friends (just like the early Riccardo Tisci pieces were hand made by his mother and eight sisters in Taranto). In my mind Lomakin is the new face of Russian fashion: designer against all the circumstances, seeing marble in muddy snow.

Russia doesn't have the best conditions for raising creative talent in fashion. Educational institutions are conservative and not supplied with the latest technologies. Even the biggest fashion weeks are not very well organised and hardly attract any buyers. There are no official supporting structures for emerging talents and just a few shops for independent designers to sell. The production side is not a bed of roses, on average the costs are higher than in Europe and the only way to get things right is extensive research and precise control on every production stage. For decades Russian fashion has been a privilege of the ones who had money to invest, either born into wealthy family or lucky to get a sponsor.

Lomakin and his frequent collaborator Polina P (she started out by making dresses from old tights under the label Chaos Reigns, named after Lars von Trier's talking fox) were the first to do things differently - with the help of digital media. Their small collections lived in their own visual universe of lookbooks, videos and campaigns, shot on concrete stairwells or against the walls of their apartments: no budget, no plans, just wild, rough creativity. At the moment Russian fashion is in a stage of fundamental change. Not in terms of fashion institutions, more in terms of the understanding that there is no need for institutions in the 21st century.

On a nice sunny day last Summer, I was drinking tea with Sasha Wider. She was still a bit stunned by her unexpected success. Her graduate collection won the hearts of top Moscow fashion editors and buyers. With gentle references to Russian folklore and neo-futurists, it was slick, intellectual and sexy - both very Russian and universal. Sasha comes from a simple background, her studio is her bedroom, and she invests everything she earns into her namesake brand. A few smart moves got the internet buzz going, white transparent bomber jackets and subtle flower print dresses all sold out, and the press (including me) were begging to see what’s next. The answer: head to toe black minimal pieces - even more desirable.  

I believe that the fashion of the future will come from destinations far away. Not necessarily geographically, but from the ones which used to be off the fashion map.

At the end of the interview, Sasha told me a story. Once she was styling a photo shoot, it lasted for hours, the clock were far past midnight. She was exhausted and had lost all enthusiasm, but when unpacking one of boxes she stumbled upon a gem. ‘I opened the box and there were lots of flower headbands by Asiya Bareeva. You know this feeling when you encounter too much beauty. They were so beautiful I wanted to cry.’

The flower headbands, handmade from Japanese clay, were finishing touches in Asiya Bareeva’s Nomads collection. With her voluminous silhouettes, rich patterns, collage of textures and complex layering, Bareeva is a bit of a black sheep among Moscow’s contemporary minimalists. She is an enigmatic figure, and her high cheekbones, piercing brown eyes and eccentric outfits only add to it. Bareeva channels multicultural Russia, where Christians, Muslims and Buddhists and hundreds of nationalities are spread around the endless rolling landscape of the country. She plays with rituals and non-verbal narratives, and occasionally sneaks into an empty sealed warehouse to shoot a fashion film.

Young Russian designers have one thing in common: they rarely stop at just making clothes. Lacking conventional education, they can’t sketch in Adobe Illustrator but would be aware of literature, art and their complex cultural heritage. They would have the whole world intact attached to a single garment. Not long ago Moscow-based self-taught minimalist Panika Derevya travelled with her collection to Guangzhou, China. Trapped in one of the high-rises by rain and waiting for the sun with friends she found the perfect setting for her subtle futuristic vision. Stillness, soft light, silk and wool with metal light-reflecting details. ‘Powerful spirit inside a fragile look. It seeks to show profoundness in simplicity and reveal the intangible in the everyday routine,’ as she puts it herself. Just making clothes is never enough. 

Most promising Russian designers live in the capital city Moscow. It’s a bustling metropolis, loud and locked in traffic jams for hours. It’s grand - sometimes you walk for 20 minutes and it seems you didn’t really move, you’re so small compared to the buildings. Acknowledged talent Tigran Avetisyan recently came back to Moscow after finishing his degree at Central Saint Martins. He started his career challenging conservative menswear silhouette and producing rebellious messages written in chalk on black paint. For the next season he added voluminous grey jersey and posed a simple question: ‘What Will Remain?’ Tigran is a free spirit and complains about Moscow’s atmosphere – it’s not as crazy and creative as London. Yet Moscow has a lot to promise, it gives him a chance to develop his own brand without many competitors.

I believe that the fashion of the future will come from destinations far away. Not necessarily geographically, but from the ones which used to be off the fashion map. Russia is one of these destinations. It was the right moment for emerging designers in Moscow and beyond to realise, it’s time to do this ourselves.



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