ANASTASIA ROMANTSOVA, the woman behind the A LA RUSSE fashion brand, is not a society column regular. She doesn’t post selfies or pose to photographers at every fashion week. Not quite the modern approach, as her publicity manager keeps nagging her; but Anastasia really can’t be bothered.
“I don’t believe in clothes that you can’t raise your arms in, or have difficulty walking,” she says. The selection of dresses at her boutique in Malaya Bronnaya street seems better fitted for leisurely walks along the linden alleys of an old-time country estate than for wearing them to work in Moscow. Russian culture underpins the brand’s aesthetic, as indeed the name suggests. The particular sources of inspiration are as varied as they come: 19th century aristocracy, Romanov Russia, mythology, or, as in the case of her latest collection, the motif of a birch.
Peculiarly, Anastasia’s designs begin with prose. She invents a female character, gives her a personality, and describes her circumstances. It is only after a discussion of that character profile with all her colleagues that they get to the question of what she would wear. “I’ve always been a fairly good writer, but I don’t have any ambitions there,” she says; “it’s just a way of working that I find convenient. I guess I’m not a writer because I don’t have to write — whereas I can’t not design beautiful dresses.” With Anastasia, that is a lifelong interest. As a schoolgirl in Krasnodar, she stood out in her elegant fur coat with a velvet-ribboned handwarmer — made by her grandmother; her older sister, now a colleague, had sown her first school uniform. Not a designer by education, she does, however, hold a degree in fashion marketing and management (and another in international relations); she also used to be a presenter in a fashion TV show.
Anastasia admits to being difcult to work with because of her perfectionism. “I’m familiar with the entire production chain; in the early days, I did everything myself, right down to making cofee for our customers. It’s not as good now that a cofee machine has taken over,” she says, smiling. Besides a long list of domestic celebrities, A La Russe’s customers include Beyoncé. As the owner and creative director, Anastasia is in charge of many things at once. A La Russe presents four collections a year; it also has a line of jewellery, a perfume, a school uniform collection, a line of souvenirs made for a number of museums and, since recently, a new general-market brand of clothing, ARnouveau.
Far from the historicity of A La Russe, it’s all about the present and the future. Prints of cats, aliens and even a (pacifist) political slogan have made their way into the winter collection, aimed at professional, well-travelled young women who value comfort as much as beauty. “Modernity interests me too; I am not, as some might think, living in a Russian museum — notwithstanding my collection of antique spinning-wheels,” Anastasia says. “I ought to donate them to a museum, I think.”