Russia’s fashion industry has made great leaps in quality in its ten years of existence. Have Russians’ perception of fashion changed since then? Have people in Russia become more well-dressed or not? We discussed these topics and many more with local fashion expert and creative director of the Arctic Explorer brand Kseniya Chilingarova.
MOSKVAER: Kseniya, the Moscow fashion market has developed quite actively in recent years–a number of new local designers have shown up and some bright names in the local fashion industry have gotten famous in the international arena as well. At the same time, if we talk about the relationship between fashion and the masses of ordinary residents of Moscow, and probably the whole country, there aren’t any noticeable changes quality-wise –the vast majority still dresses, to put it bluntly, are tasteless. Why is that?
KSENIYA: You know, Moscow was not built all at once, too. In a relatively short period (well, what is 10 years for the whole industry?), we have done what we could.
I think the main problem is that our people are great enthusiasts. So, they buy some new and nice clothes, and they want to put them it on all at once and feel like they’re on top of the world. I believe that this is some kind of national feature: to live like any moment could be your last. There is a feeling that today is the very last chance to show up in all of your most beautiful and shiny clothes. I think, when it comes to clothes, such haste should be tamed. Have you bought a good bag and good jeans?–Perfect. They can be worn separately.
What trends can you identify in Moscow street fashion today?
KSENIYA: The trend leans towards casual clothes–not only in Moscow but also in any metropolis: convenient, comfortable and fashionable clothes all at the same time. The so-called fan-style is becoming fashionable in Moscow. It originates from the culture of sports fans–with such aggressive pitches, large lettering and so on. Many of today’s designers take inspiration from it.
Generally speaking, in the city are two important factors that play into what’s vogue today: convenience and the ability to self-identify. Clothing must comply with some internal manifesto of a person to tell something about his/her personality in an understandable language.
Very interesting. It seems to me that lately Moscow appreciates only one trend, and it’s the opposite–the trend of facelessness. Like when people are happy to buy the same as others, such as jackets by Uniqlo, UGG boots by UGG, handbags by Michael Kors and so on, intentionally or not, unifying their appearance.
KSENIYA: Well, then it has nothing to do with fashion…
You know, it’s like an art. In the 20th century, the motto “Art to the masses” has spread but I do not agree with it. Ask ordinary people what they think about Malevich. Then ask an art expert about the same stuff. Art is not clear to most people, and therefore is not available. Fashion is the same way.
What share of the Russian market is now occupied by local brands?
KSENIYA: I am afraid that it’s a very small share. In the area of 5%, unfortunately. There are many reasons, one of which is the fear and reluctance of stores to buy from Russian designers instead of risking purchasing garments from a Russian designer and not being able to pay the designer later on. You must pay the designer in arrears, meaning he must put his own funds up to create the product in the first place, and rarely do designers have that much money laying around. Thus, designers get the cash gap, where they have to pay for production, but there is nothing to pay with because they haven’t sold anything yet.
Another reason is probably because the price of Russian designers’ products are sometimes, to put it mildly, really surprising…
KSENIYA: I can tell you where these prices usually come from. For example, I really want to make a jacket cheaper. But the hardware costs in dollars, fluff costs in dollars, while the production says: “Pay us now 100% in advance, and we will make it for you at the old prices, while in the other case the production will cost you more.” In addition, you need to pay rent, pay employees, and maintain an office. I, like many designers, live at the mercy of turnover, when you need to always sell more clothing. And we can’t sell a lot, because we don’t get a lot. That’s how it turns out that designers produce five things, and they cost like ten.
Where are Artic Explorer garments made?
KSENIYA: In two cities–Rybinsk and Severodvinsk.
I noticed that the fur coats–a cult of Russians–appeared in the latest collection of Arctic Explorer. Tell us what you personally think about fur and this peculiar Russian fever of fur coats?
KSENIYA: Historically, in our country a fur coat is a normal attribute of each family. No matter what material it is made from, it should be owned. We live in a cold climate, but for a long time the theme of feather jackets, parkas, was not quite clear for Russians–those were the clothing of only Northern explorers. In Soviet times, the coat became also an indicator of wealth, as many people still think.
For me it’s a problem, because I do not really like working with natural fur, nor wearing it as well. But at the same time I firmly stick with faux fur–I have a lot of things made from faux fur of different colors. A fur coat from the collection of Arctic Explorer that you’re talking about is also made of faux fur, but we made it warmer by using a special material, so that it would be quite comfortable even in the winter cold, down to -20 °C. That is why, by the way, it looks a bit cumbersome (though it’s very slight), but we are still working on the design.
Is it true that in recent years Muscovites have started moving away from fur and started moving towards the feather jackets, parkas?
KSENIYA: Let’s divide people into generations. The generation of my mother barely shifted from fur to feather jackets. The Generation of in their forties can be stuck in their ways but can be persuaded to change. They may buy a parka for the outdoors. The generation in their thirties or younger are more likely to choose parkas; for them this thing is more understandable than the fur coat, more convenient.
Again, back to your manifesto. If your point is to show richness, then, of course, you choose a fur coat. I do not want to sound categorically, like “Fur coat? Never in my life!“. I used to have a mink coat. Now I would hardly put it on as I prefer parkas or, again, fake fur. Even sheepskin coats are more relatable to me, and by the way, they are back in style now.
In general, if you look at Russians closely, then you will find out that still there are many more people who have fur coats than those who have down jackets. Although Arctic Explorer, for example, sell pretty well in Yakutia (one of the best regions in terms of sales), where it is very cold and fur coats are quite handy.
In your collection, there are so-called “Soviet parkas”, in fact–a sheepskin coat (“tulup” in Russian). Is it a tribute to the current vogue for all things Soviet?
KSENIYA: I often find inspiration in authentic things. That coat is just such the case. It became very attractive to filmmakers due to frost resistance, the length and convenience.
Not long ago, Zahar Prilepin and fashion designer Yegor Zaytsev jointly issued a collection of so-called ‘vatniki’, also a reference to an authentic past. Do you find them to be competition?
KSENIYA: No, to the contrary. I think that the more people in Russia produce something–the better. The symbol of Arctic Explorer is that of an icebreaker ship that clears the path for other vessels. In this, we see our mission.
Arctic Explorer is more focused on men. In Russia men aren’t really into trends and everything about men & fashion here is complicated. Tell us more about your audience.
KSENIYA: Men, of course, follow fashion much less than women. Those who go to work every day wear a work “Weekly” suit + sweater and jeans on weekends. Those who follow fashion, choose, of course, more unique things in line with what’s trending.
We at Arctic Explorer produce men’s clothing with an emphasis on comfort and only then adding that it is also fashionable. In general, having just started to work in the fashion industry, I am strengthened in the understanding that men are all about convenience. Comfort is very important for them. They need a lot of pockets. Do you know why? I could not understand, and then it dawned on me that men do not use bags as women do. Handy and all these big purses–is so-called hellish hell, therefore, more or less stylish men want to spread out all the right things in their pockets. Passport, keys, money, something else. Everything has to be stuffed into a down jacket. Some men even want to have a separate pocket for a dog leash! All this is a matter of convenience.
Some of them attach importance to the status. So if it is a down jacket, it should be made of some kind of super-high-quality and expensive material.
At the same time most Russian men are still conservative when it comes to fashion. They want everything to be black or, in extreme cases, dark blue. If Russian man chooses gray, consider him as modish. Surprisingly, this winter the list of the popular men’s colors was supplemented with red.
In general, I have noticed that the demand for bright colors is gradually growing in Moscow, even among men. Blue, green jackets are bought well; yellow ones are generally sold to zero. There is a widespread belief that bright or white outerwear in the winter is mauvais ton. I absolutely disagree, and I believe that colorful down jackets look very stylish and that white is well worth wearing in the winter.
And what, on the contrary, is not worth wearing in winter?
KSENIYA: Everything that does not comply with weather conditions.
Well, thanks for the interview and good luck!