In the center of Moscow, there is a museum dedicated to – or more accurately, gifted to – the designer Valentin Yudashkin. It’s a private museum, accessible by invitation only and housed in an 18th century Baroque mansion with rooms devoted to: outsized, Duchess Catherine-styled fascinators, ballroom dresses (loud and overwhelmingly satin), bijoux jewelry, separates (i.e. fur) and a handful of very organza-heavy, unapologetically fluffy wedding dresses fit to steal the hearts of 7 year-old princesses world over. It’s the very definition of indulgent, a fantasy of gratuitous nouveau riche in the form of a government granted self-celebration. The Kardashians may think they’ve made it, but they have nothing on the Yudashkins—when it comes to flash, the Russians do it better.
A little background: Valentin Yudashkin, age 50, is the official designer of Russia. This means he designs clothes for the military (“When the Russian infantry attacks, they will look like a swarm of butterflies,” one nationalist told The Washington Post when Yudashkin first presented his designs in 2008) and dresses the government officials’ wives in the sparkliest, most crystal-laden gowns imaginable. Gold is the color of choice and Versace is the influence. He’s arguably the most visible voice in Russian fashion, and very much embodies everything you think about when you think about post-Soviet fashion. Last week, he treated myself and a handful of other Americans to a lunch at his museum. Everything we ate was pink – amaranth caviar, blush salmon, rose champagne brut – with the exception of an equally decadent white chocolate medovik.
Yudashkin was welcoming us to Moscow Fashion Week, the Volvo-sponsored show week that overlaps just slightly with Mercedes Benz Fashion Week (same concept, different designers), independent designer’s own shows (often more globally respected than those on the official program), and for a short time, Cycles and Seasons, a more performative alternative fashion week spearheaded by Kuznetsky Most 20 director (Moscow’s answer to Colette) Ivan Makarov in hopes of shifting the focus from the stereotypical glitz and glam to something a little more…aesthetically driven.
Fashion week in Moscow is unlike any other. You don’t apply to get in; you buy in. Many of the presenters don’t so much make clothes, as put on shows—i.e. the goal is to entertain a certain social group—not to introduce an industry to marketable, conceptual, wearable items. Many of the designers produce just the samples for the runway with no thoughts of future production in mind. There are a lot of flowers gifted post-presentation. There is Valentin Yudashkin.
That being said, it’s not all shine without substance. There’s Andrey Artyomov, the 32-year-old former L’Officiel Russia editor who’s two-and-a-half year-old line, Walk of Shame, is like a young Russified Kenzo for the new generation. Think irony-drenched, self-consciously sleazy-cum-artful creations like baby pink “I’m a Luxury” sweaters and embroidered satin bomber jackets. Natalia Valevskaya collaborates with contemporary Russian designers like Dubossarksy and Vinogradov (2009’s Venice Biennale representatives) to make print-heavy dresses and separates – very Katrantzou-esque. Gosha Rubchihnskiy looks to Russia’s 80’s punk scene—bands like AVIA and Auyton—for a very modern take on Soviet skate style. You can find his sporty androgynous designs at Commes de Garcon—there is some room for global crossover. There’s a hopeful implication in his ability to infiltrate the greater market: in a country where sartorial difference was, for so long, not an option, where in the aftermath of opening the wall, Dolce & Gabbana dominates a seemingly homogenic luxury market, there’s still room to commodify subversion—just like anywhere else.