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Analysis & Opinion
20.10.10 After A Fashion
By Rose Griffin

Moscow has built up a reputation as one of Europe’s most glamorous cities, and boasts a wealth of luxury stores selling the world’s most exclusive brands. Research and consulting firm PMR estimated Russia’s clothing, footwear and accessories (CFA) market to be worth 1.525 billion rubles ($48.1 billion) in 2009. But this spending power and thirst for luxury has yet to translate into demand for home-grown fashion talent. According to a Levada Center poll conducted earlier this year, 79 percent of Russians between the ages of 16 and 45 own at least two items made by Western fashion brands. In contrast, only eight percent owned an item produced by a Russian designer. The reasons for this are manifold, from problems with production and distribution to a lack of recognizable brands.

Ukrainian designer Lilia Poustovit has been showcasing at Russian Fashion Week since the first event in 2000. She believes that although underdeveloped, the Russian market does not suffer from a lack of potential. “It’s just opening up for local designers, in every region there are already beautiful shops, which are practically ready to sell designer clothes produced in Russia,” she said.

Poustovit has built up a successful brand since her first show in Moscow, both within the CIS and further afield. She currently sells through shops in Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Western Europe, including cult London concept store Dover Street Market. With this experience behind her, she said that the attitude toward fashion in Russia needs to change before Moscow can fully develop as a fashion capital. “Street style needs to reach a certain level, then it will be important to people not only to dress well, but also to look for creatively designed clothes,” she said. But to the new crop of designers graduating from Russian institutions, this may sound like a pipe dream.

Juliya Sadchikova is working at this year’s fashion week as a make-up artist with event sponsor Maybelline. But by education she is a fashion designer, with work experience in London.

“Compared to London, Russian Fashion Week is very weak,” she said, “We are still trying to copy the West but we’re behind, and everything is much too commercial.”

Sadchikova sees education as one of the major barriers to Moscow reaching its fashion potential. “State education in design is very bad. If you are Russian and you want to study design, the only options are private institutions here, or travelling abroad.” Despite graduating from the Institute of Modern Design in Moscow, a private institution, Sadchikova is looking to move abroad, and accepts that if she does so, she will probably have to retrain. Most of her fellow graduates are facing the same choice. “There’s a lot of potential and talent in Russia, but most people want to move abroad, to go to Italy or to London,” she said.

And for those trying to stay and work in Russia, there are a number of barriers to success, not least the problem of how to turn creative talent into a successful business. The New York based research and consultancy company Russian Trends Watch produced a report on the Russian fashion industry earlier this year. The report highlights that in many cases, the designer is also the CEO of the fashion house, which “effectively stops the Russian fashion sector from maturing into the corporate environment.” Securing investment was also seen as a problem, with most funding coming from private funds or venture capital.

Poustovit also cited business development as a key factor currently holding the Russian industry back: “Of course, development of the industry itself is also important. Fashion week on its own means very little without a fashion industry, which functions as a business,” she said.

However, there are areas where Moscow is capitalizing on the thirst for luxury and the local spending clout. It is the foremost fashion week in the CIS and is using this position to attract talent from smaller industries based in other countries to the Russian capital. While dominated by Russian brands, this season’s event also featured designers from Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine. “Russia is a really important market for us, particularly Moscow, where we’ve been selling in Bosco Family [the Moscow chain of stores] for years,” Poustovit said. “We’re also in Russia’s best concept store Le Form and we’re really proud of that cooperation.”

Moscow is also proving a successful showcase for international designers, whose product has the potential to be as popular, if not more so, on the Russian market as at home. One of these is Italian designer Vinicio Pajaro, a specialist in flamboyant fur pieces. His current collection includes matching lime green coats and hats, as well as more familiar statement fur pieces – perfect for a Russian market which has the climate and the attitude to pull these looks off. “Russia is our number one market, and Moscow itself accounts for about half of our Russian sales,” Pajaro said.

The second time he is showing in Moscow, Pajaro has also taken part in fashion weeks in Almaty, Kiev and St. Petersburg, and believes that Moscow is the most important among those. “There is a lot of money in Russia and Russian women like their fashion, and particularly their fur,” said Pajaro, although he added that he sometimes sees a lack of personality in the Russian style. “If one type of hat or coat is popular in Russia, then everyone is wearing it. It’s not like in Europe, where people dress with a bit more personality.”

Pajaro is confident that this will change though, and that the Russian capital will gradually become more influential on the international market. “Moscow is not yet as important as Milan or Paris, but I think that in two to four years time it will be.”
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