The Russian Style Evolution

Moscow’s new style setters are subverting cliches to establish a bold new fashion order.

People » The Russian Style Evolution

Julia Kalmanovich

Kalmanovich, 30, literally grew up with Russian fashion, surrounded by the fanciful costumes her mother created for a small Moscow musical theater. She went on to study at the Zaitsev Fashion Lab, founded by Slava Zaitsev, one of the only couturiers during the Soviet era. Kalmanovich’s 2006 graduation show of ultrafeminine frocks became the basis for her namesake ready-to-wear line. “For some designers, it’s something of a hobby to make beautiful things and play dress-up,” says the designer, whose clothes are sold at boutiques in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. “For me, it was very important from the start to build a business.”

Kalmanovich sweater and skirt; Balmain earrings.

The Russian Style Evolution

Moscow’s new style setters are subverting cliches to establish a bold new fashion order.

I have no idea how, but even in Soviet times, Russians knew everything about international fashion—we just couldn’t get our hands on it. Our country was completely closed off. Even if you had money, you couldn’t buy designer labels because the stores didn’t carry them. So, following the latest trends from afar, we had our clothes made to measure by local craftsmen, or we sewed them ourselves. When Russia finally opened up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, people tried their best to be stylish but were understandably clumsy in their efforts. Imagine a child who has been long forbidden sweets and is suddenly granted full access to the dessert table! To be fair, it also wasn’t the most elegant moment in fashion history. Businesswomen wore broad Dynasty-like shoulders, students were into grunge, and rich socialites had gone totally baroque. I remember seeing the wife of a pharmaceutical king at the opening of the Thierry Mugler boutique in Moscow wearing a glittering silver minidress, her hair done up with gerbera flowers and a diamond tiara. I also recall the long queues that formed when Versace opened its shop here. They were like the lines that people had stood on in earlier times for butter or sausage. Dior, Chanel, Fendi, and Dolce & Gabbana followed soon after. Hermès arrived in 2000, providing the ultimate vote of confidence for the fledgling Russian economy—this is a brand that enters new markets with the utmost caution. When I started working in fashion—first as a journalist and as the founder of a PR agency, then for 13 years as the editor in chief of L’Officiel Russia—there was not much local talent. The few existing Russian designers were part of the older generation. We wanted fresh names. I spent a lot of time developing up-and-comers, like Vika Gazinskaya, Alena Akhmadullina, and Julia Kalmanovich—all of whom went on to gain international recognition. And, in 2000, I cofounded Russian Fashion Week (now Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia), and I still choose the young designers who show there. Right now, I’m particularly excited about Maria Golubeva, Olya Shikhova, and Yanina Vekhteva. In an effort to develop the next wave of editors, I also teach a fashion journalism course at Moscow State University. Today we’re seeing the first generation of moneyed Russian women who can—and do—wear whatever they please but express themselves in an elegant manner. They are students or burgeoning professionals, like the ones here, who gracefully mix the best designer labels with clothes from vintage stores and pieces they’ve created. They’re the next big thing in Russian style.