MAD FRENZY is not your typical streetwear brand. Leading the label is Vadim Neumeikov, and unlike anyone else you probably know, Vadim comes from one of Russia’s infamous “forbidden cities.” These highly isolated cities were created to host secret military operations and other nefarious activities. Most of them don’t even appear on maps. In a hidden city covered in darkness for seven months out of the year, Vadim grew up surrounded by barbed wire fences and nuclear warheads.
Now he makes streetwear.
His Moscow-based label is starting to blow up, catering to local and international style-heads seeking an authentic post-soviet Russian aesthetic. So, when did Russia become a new global style hub? Of course, the irrefutable success of Gosha Rubchinskiy has normalized westerners wearing sweaters with Cyrillic script and scuffed-up white sneakers.
Meanwhile, Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia ascended to the height of relevancy with his divisive, post-ironic fashion label Vetements, which regularly feeds in from the influence of Russian culture — such as the ultra-exclusive Zemfira hoodie. The knock-on effect of these high-profile designers dictating fashion discourse over the past few years has been a new wave of interest in creatives from Russia and the rest of the former Soviet bloc.
We spoke to Vadim to check in with the style scene in Moscow, see what the real-life impact of Gosha’s success has on Russian youths, and to learn about how he went from living in a fashion vacuum to building his own streetwear brand from the ground up.
Hi Vadim, can you please explain a bit more about where you grew up?
I was born in Siberia, Russia. Until the age of 18 I was living in a closed city called Seversk with a population of 100, 0000 people. In winter the temperature there falls to —40c. This is a place where nuclear warheads used to be produced; the city is surrounded with barbed wire two meters high and is set up with armed guards. At the entrance to the city there’s a checkpoint with car inspection, identity checks and all that stuff, and every resident has a special ID card.
What was that like?
Heroin addicts, depression, cold and the military. People there were too narrow-minded to accept anything new. They knew the world shown in TV news that was trumped up by the government.
But I have good memories from my youth; me and my friends used to spend summers skateboarding and drawing graffiti. These are the probably the brightest memories of my whole life.
Everything was cool but the older we got, the more depressed we were with all the shit going on around us. It was like polar night for seven months a year. Some of my friends from that time have already passed away, some stepped on a slippery slope with drugs. But a few managed to break through all that shit.
Was there any interest in fashion from people in Seversk ?
Nope, nothing like that, never. Come on, I learned about Raf Simons only a couple of years ago when I moved to Moscow. There were no brands in my hometown, we didn’t even have Nike. All we had were some made in China knockoffs. I kept working on my personal style, getting more information about fashion from the Internet. On the verge of 2012, when the internet became more common in the city, the situation got a bit better.
Who were the first designers/brands you became aware of?
I was brought up on American sportswear. The first designer piece of clothing I remember are Calvin Klein black skinny jeans. The brand I was really obsessed with was DC Shoes, especially the T-shirt designs – they just blew my mind. It definitely shaped my vision of fashion. Do you remember Nike 6.0? Those sneakers were so good, I felt really dope wearing them.
How did fashion design enter your life?
I started making clothes when I was 15, producing small quantities of T-shirts for my friends. I even tried to experiment with sheets, the ones you make up your bed with. Then I moved to Moscow, entered university and things just jumped off. I really owe it to my first MacBook that I got at 15 – it helped me to boost myself to new extremes. I got into graphics and video editing thanks to all those programs I found on the laptop. I guess it was the best buy in my life.
Talk to us about Gosha. What impact has he had on young Russian creatives?
He’s changed Russian fashion for good. He’s influenced the millennials’ minds – and still does. The young people who grew up on Gosha’s aesthetics have him as an example – yes, you can create your own brand, even at the age of 15-17. He’s like a local hero, you know. But there are downsides. Now everyone wants to be a fashion designer. They create shitty one-day brands just to make money. Yesterday it was hot to call yourself a photographer, today it’s all about designers.
When Gosha showed his first collections back in 2008 the Russian press didn’t want to hear about him. Years passed, there’s a huge hype around him now and everybody loves him. Russian fashion magazines will mostly write about well-known brands; the only way an up-and-coming designer can be put on the pages is by paying them. This can’t be a norm. Magazines use fashion to get money, without giving anything back. It’s bullshit.
Tell us about the street style in Moscow? What are people wearing ?
The Russian fashion community reminds me of the ducks that live in a pond near my house. They swim all together, in a certain place, and only a few of them dare to go in another direction. They’re seized with fear.
There’s very few people you could call trendsetters, but there are brave ones who aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd. The main brand for Russian fashionistas is probably Supreme and Gosha. Young guys also wear a lot of ASSC, though I can’t share their admiration. I don’t see much of Balenciaga or Vetements on the streets – I guess it’s too expensive for Russia. For sneakers, most guys wear Nike, Yeezy, and Raf Simons Ozweego. Turns out, it’s just like everywhere else.
Who is your customer ?
Our clients list ranges from 15-year-old teenagers who love art, to 50-year-old businessmen, to rappers, to IT geniuses, to guys pushing drugs. I’m inspired by them because all they influence contemporary culture in a certain way. I’d probably compare my brand with Highsnobiety – you write not only about fashion, but also about cultural shifts happening every day. I do the same, cause I speak to a whole lot of people from different spheres.
What is it like it to be a fashion designer in Moscow? Is this your only job right now?
You wake up in the morning, check your social media and see people calling you an asshole. This is funny – why the hell are they doing that? I think being a designer is similar to being an artist. It’s stressful but still you enjoy it. You show your inner world, and people put up their judgments. For now making clothes is my one and only job. I really love what I do, and in the future I want to make staff uniforms for big companies because that’s what we see on every day basis – in the streets, in shops. I want to change the image of the city through clothes, I want to change people’s minds and raise up the culture.
Your vision is from Moscow but your components come from everywhere. Why do you have to source everything internationally?
Italian coat wool, the best Turkish cotton you can find, Japanese zippers, American textile paints – this is what we work with. In this particular moment Russian manufacturers can’t satisfy my demands on fabrics and other materials. There’s no good zippers, no silk screen printing inks, because there aren’t any factories that could produce it. Although I can say that Russian leather is great. Lately I’ve visited a leather factory the size of a city, and I was amazed with what I saw there.
How do you want Mad Frenzy to grow in 2018?
MAD FRENZY is going to break through the local boundaries and reach the world. We have online orders from the USA, Europe, etc but next year we want to start working with offline retailers from Japan, USA and Europe — so that people could see the quality live. I bet they’ll be surprised these clothes are produced in Russia. I want to work more with painting, silk screening; some really unexpected things can made now we’re working with brand new technology. Maybe we’ll launch goods like duffle bags and satchels. Also next summer we’ll be participating in Pitti Uomo fair. Speaking about my own dreams, I want to do a collaboration with a big shoe brand – I already have some design ideas that would blow the market.
There’re many amazing and talented people in Russia; we’re always glad to share our experience and our culture with guests from other countries. And I personally wish that people from all over the world shared their experience with us – for me in particular. This is the meaning of life – you give a piece of your soul, your knowledges and ideas to other people, and they give theirs back. Only this way the world we live in can become a better place.