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November 22, 2017
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"Russian Dressing" by Felicia Atanasiu (source: feliciaart.com).

It's hard to believe that only 20 years ago, the concept of a fashion industry was not applicable to Russia at all. During the Soviet era, talented Russian fashion designers were working their craft under a centralized system, unwittingly laying the foundations for a next generation of fashion designers that would be operating in a capitalist society. Today, Russia is a country with its own fashion houses, churning seasonal prêt-à-porter and haute couture fashion weeks.

This article tells the stories of Russia's three most famous designers, the careers of which reflect the general trajectory of fashion in Russia. The first suffered oppression under Soviet power and yet is often recognized as the pioneer of the Russian fashion industry, the second has effectively utilized modern marketing strategies and has gained popularity on the world's catwalks, and the third has created a fashion house backed by strong management and business-savvy.

Slava Zaitsev (Source: zimbio.com).

Slava Zaitsev: Red Dior.

Name: Vyacheslav Zaitsev.
Date of birth: March 2, 1938.
Place of Birth: Ivanovo, Russia.
Education: University of Chemistry and Technology in Ivanovo, specializing in textile painting. Bachelor's degree in painting and design from the Moscow Textile Institute.
Brand: Slava Zaitsev.
Year Founded: 1982.
Notable Quote: "My fashion house is my happiness. I have visited many regions of Russia to mentor and advise designers and to supervise many fashion design competitions. I do it with great pleasure. Earlier, during the period of developed socialism, I did it under constraint."

Long before the fall of the Iron Curtain, before fashion was a serious industry in Russia and before the proper infrastructure was in place for such an industry to function, let alone thrive, the international fashion world knew the name "Slava Zaitsev". He is considered by many to be the pioneer of modern fashion design in Russia.

In 1962, Zaitsev began his work in the industry at a garment factory where he oversaw the production of women's clothing for retail stores in Moscow. Only a year later, in 1963, Zaitsev attracted attention when he designed a chic version of the telogreika and other basic Russian work wear pieces. By 1967, Zaitsev had attracted worldwide attention for winning the Grand Prix at the International Fashion Festival held in Moscow for a dress he created called "Russia". The Western press quickly christened him as the "Red Dior".

His collections, comprised largely of work wear, triggered great interest in Western Europe, however, they were not approved for production by Soviet "experts". Even though by the mid-1960s his collections were regularly being shown outside of Russia (often, as a demonstration of the potential of Soviet designers), Zaitsev was not allowed abroad. The State feared he might never return. Upon his collections being shown in the United States, an American company offered to open Zaitsev stores worldwide, however, this proposal too was rejected by the Soviet state.

However, by 1982, for reasons unclear, the Soviet government allowed him to label his own clothing, the first Soviet couturier that was permitted to do so. In 1988, he became the director of the Moscow Fashion House on Prospect Mira, turning it into the first European-style fashion house in the country. Later, this house was renamed "Slava Zaitsev", in honour of its founder.

Zaitsev's dream of becoming a designer who made clothing for the working people did not end up coming true. He has always designed for, and continues to design for, the well-heeled, the reason for which can be partly attributed to the specifics of his fashion vision. Zaitsev pays great attention to Russian folklore motifs in his collections, and as a result, many of his pieces are often considered too pretentious to wear on a daily basis. After 1991, when the Russian economy began to open up and Russian designers started opening their own shops to the public, Zaitsev lagged behind. He was used to functioning under the old Soviet regime and he simply did not know how to play new (Western) marketing game to appeal to a wider client base. 

Today, he is 73 years old and is still creating two collections per year, most recently opening Mercedes Benz fashion week in Russia. Zaitsev's collections are available at his online boutique and at his fashion house in Moscow.

Valentin Yudashkin
(Source: stylebistro.com).

Valentin Yudashkin: A Window to Paris.

Name: Valentin Yudashkin.
Date of birth: October 14, 1963.
Place of Birth: Bakovka village, Odintsovo district, Moscow region, Russia.
Education: Moscow Industrial College, specializing in the history of costume design and make-up.
Brand:  Valentin Yudashkin.
Year Founded: In 1987 he founded Vali-Moda, but renamed it to the Valentin Yudashkin Fashion House in 1991.
Quote: "The woman remains a woman - even online. None of the fantastic and phantasmagoric things destroy the integrity of a woman. I think that women always want not only to see, but also to try to put things on themselves. Fashion is the condition which you must try on yourself."

Valentin Yudashkin began his career as one of Perestroika's leading success stories and was the first post-Soviet designer to bring the world a contemporary take on Russian fashion. His ability to market his brand successfully to a wider international audience has contributed to his great success, in a much different way - and in a different time - than for his predecessor Zaitsev.

Yudashkin created his first collection in 1987 and soon gained sufficient cachet to win the honour of dressing Raisa Gorbachev. He exploded into the international spotlight in 1991 when he exhibited his "Fabergé" collection during Paris' haute couture fashion week, the first Russian designer to do so. Audiences and designers alike, Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne among them, delighted in his dresses inspired by the famous Fabergé eggs, some of which were soon transferred to the Louvre's esteemed collection. In 1996, Yudashkin became the first Russian designer to be adopted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and, in 1997, he opened his first boutique store in Moscow.

Given the ubiquity of his designs amongst pop, theater and ballet stars, not to mention the entire Russian army that is suited in his attire, the expression "by Yudashkin" is uttered with a touch of snide these days. Unperturbed, Yudashkin continues to create fashion collections. These days, Yudashkin is planning to open the Academy of Fashion in his hometown, where young students will be able to get a professional fashion education inspired by one of Russia's most talented designers.

Igor Chapurin (Source:
volvo-mfw.livejournal.com).

Igor Chapurin: The Fashion Businessman.

Name:  Igor Chapurin.
Date of birth: March 21, 1968.
Place of Birth:  Velikie Luki, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Education: Vitebsk Technological Institute, majoring in fashion design.
Brand:  Chapurin Couture.
Year Founded: 1995.
Quote: "I set only one goal when I'm working in fashion - to realize my ideas about happiness and joy. To be engaged in fashion in our country is terribly difficult, but it is very interesting."

Igor Сhapurin has built a strong fashion brand by combining his unique design sensibilities with his strong business instincts. The history of Chapurin Couture began in 1992 when he entered a design competition for young designers held in honour of Nina Ricci. Chapurin's talent stood out in the competition and he placed amongst the top ten. In December 1992, he was invited to Paris to represent Russia at the 10th International Festival of Young Clothes Designers.  After his time in Paris, he came back to Moscow and began creating dresses for beauty pageant winners. All Russian women who participated in beauty contests such as "Miss Universe", "Miss Europe" and "Miss Russia" were known to have been wearing dresses designed by Chapurin.

His first solo collection was shown at the Metropol Red Hall in 1995, bearing a nostalgic name "To Russia With Love". But it was 1998 that was to be a landmark year for the designer. The Chapurin Fashion House was launched in 1998, opening it's first boutique in Moscow; he won Harper's Bazaar Russia's Style-98 award; represented Russia at the European Ball in Paris; and Princess Irene Galitzina invited him to design for the Italian fashion house Galitzine. Working with the finest fabrics and materials, including diamonds, Chapurin started dreaming about owning a jewelry collection. Thus, he teamed up with Vasily Konovalenko Art Jewelry Company to create a jewelry line in 2000.

Undoubtedly, Chapurin and his counterparts have extended Russian design into the chartered territories of uniform - from military to theatre. As global markets are ready to embrace what Russia has to offer in fashion and beyond, Chapurin dials up his business savoir-faire by adding to his stream of brands. Chapurin brand has since expanded to include Chapurin Casa in 2003 and Chapurin Child and ChapuriNRG in 2005, the latter, a line of skiwear that was the first of its kind in the Russian market. He also opened Chapurin Bar, an upscale venue that quickly became very popular spot in Moscow.

***

The careers of these designers mirror the characteristics of a Russian fashion industry that have changed quickly over the last 20 years. Today's Russia is far from the Soviet state that Zaitsev started out in, a state that did not recognize fashion as a legitimate industry. Increasingly, Russian fashion houses have been standing on par with international brands. From worker to designer to businessman, the pioneers of Russian fashion have been building their empires, all the while inspiring young Russian designers to be hungry for the next frontiers of the Russian fashion industry. 

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