Interest in Russian fashion is at an all-time high. The success of local wunderkind Gosha Rubchinskiy has attracted the global fashion press’s intense gaze, while a new generation of designers and internet-savvy youths are proving that there’s a lot more to Russia than fur coats and glitzy opulence.

The country’s volatile economy and faltering currency – which almost halved in value last year – may be wreaking havoc on import-based businesses, but many of Russia’s designers are finding it advantageous to stay at home rather than migrate to the world’s fashion capitals.

“The fashion scene in Russia is moving. Despite the crisis and the tensions, the industry is booming,” says Alexander Shumsky, president of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: Russia. Now in its 31st season, his organization flew in editors and photographers from across the globe to attend shows and meet with many of the country’s new designers, while helping fledgling labels with pop-up showrooms and access to production facilities as well.

“For Russian designers, the currency situation is an advantage. Outsider imports doubled in price, but local designers with local production are getting an advantage – their price points are more attractive now.” Russia’s struggling economy and the rock-bottom price of the ruble means that brands doing business internationally can essentially double their money at home.

Dasha Selyanova of ZDDZ London

Russian-born, UK-based designer Dasha Selyanova returned to Moscow’s fashion week to show her ZDDZ London label’s SS16 collection. A girls’ streetwear line that played with issues of depression and addiction via distressed garments and unsettling graphics, her presentation was a far cry from the West’s typical perception of Russian fashion; both pre- and post-Gosha.

“We’ve been boxed into this post-Soviet thing” she told us. “There’s a lot going on in Moscow…I feel like the American and European press chooses to see us as this Gosha Rubchinskiy thing, which isn’t necessarily truthful.”

While the success of Moscow’s golden boy has brought a lot of international attention to the city, it has also created a new stereotype of disenfranchised youths and grey tower blocks – motifs that many Muscovites find embarrassing and shallow. There’s much, much more to their city.

Tigran Avestiyan

Case in point is Central Saint Martins graduate Tigran Avestiyan, who told us “the spotlight is on Russia at the moment, everyone is interested in what’s happening here.” The Russian-Armenian designer produces unisex concept fashion that’s stocked in prestigious accounts worldwide – including Opening Ceremony, VFILES and 10 Corso Como. He moved his studio from London to Moscow in 2013, and admits that the economic situation in Russia has given his label much more stability than it would were he still based in London. “It’s an advantage to be here. It’s cheaper to produce, and when you’re exporting you get twice as much money because of the exchange rate.”

“It’s good to be outside of all the buzz, because you don’t get sucked into all the politics and who’s been at what party and whatever. I don’t get distracted by anything.” Five seasons in and Tigran’s witty collections deal with everything from airport fashion (bottling the smell of tedious duty-free lounges by blending four perfumes from Moscow Vnukovo airport), sexual commodification (erotically-charged leopard print is, on closer inspection, actually text saying “NO!”) and the perception of fashion through social media (commenting on our Instagram-obsessed world with garments with had been heat-pressed, a common tactic used to make clothes look better onscreen).

August Institute

At just 18 years old, the two Muscovite designers behind August Institute are similarly unfazed by their country’s economic instability. “Two years ago we were just messing around, upgrading our clothes because we were bored,” Anton Golubev told us.

With his partner Artem Nanushyan, the duo create streetwear with a gritty, DIY edge to it that sees hems frayed and patches roughly hand-stitched onto garments, while producing photography, music and videos too. Clothing prices in Russia are vastly inflated due to import tariffs and a weak ruble, so many kids shop from vintage stores and pillage their family’s wardrobes, creating free-minded looks that don’t care for fads or brand prestige (when we met, Artem was pairing COMME des GARCONS with surplus German army gear).

“Being designers in Moscow is strange, really strange,” Anton told us. “On the one hand you’re doing something cool, people like it, but on the other hand you’re a designer from Moscow!” While the Russian capital is home to a fascinating youth culture scene – one that’s refreshingly absent of trend-following hysteria – the designers, photographers and buyers we met during the week all spoke of a frustration with mainstream Russia, where people would rather flaunt ostentatious labels than buy something with substance.

However, with some help from their friends Gosha Rubchinskiy, Dazed stylist Lotta Volkova and Moscow destination store KM20, the two youngsters are generating a buzz thanks to their raw, DIY spirit. “We’re bored of monotony” Artem told us.

Sergei Pahotin of Sputnik 1985

Similarly, Sergei Pahotin’s Sputnik 1985 label (Спутник 1985 in Cyrillic) started as a makeshift project screen printing T-shirts on his bedroom floor. Inspired by his time in the punk and hardcore scene, Pahotin stocks his gear in his own small shop in a run-down backyard just off Moscow’s ulitsa Pokrovka, which can only be found by following some crudely hand-stenciled signs.

“It wasn’t difficult to start the brand because it was a DIY process – I just did it for fun,” he told us through a translator. “The difficulty in Moscow is that it’s hard to make a small collection, but we’ve found ways to do it – you just need to want to do it.” Raymond Pettibon’s illustrations, Russia’s graphic-heavy history and punk’s DIY spirit all inspire the brand, who routinely collaborate with local tattoo artists, too.

It’s not just global publications and domestic fashionistas that are backing the country’s brands – the Russian government is getting involved, too. “The situation is changing in the country, the government is more receptive to young designers – if designers want to expand and build up their business, now they have more opportunities than ever,” Shumsky related.

While the government is now subsidizing designers – in some cases paying for 100% of their exhibition costs – MBFW: Russia organization is negotiating fabric deals and Italian presentation spaces for brands, helping them find their feet in a highly competitive and unstable market.

With a thriving cultural ecosystem, international exposure and a favorable economic climate, the future is bright for Russia’s young designers.

For more from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: Russia, check out our sneaker reportstreet style gallery and recap of Gosha Rubchinskiy’s Youth Hotel book launch.

Words by Alec Leach
Digital Fashion Editor

Alec Leach grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives in Berlin, where he leads Highsnobiety's digital fashion content.

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