There are a few names to watch, ones which target a more popular but no less discerning market, with fun and stylish pieces and democratic pricing. They might not have the same international media exposure as their haute luxury colleagues but they are steadily investing in production facilities, developing skills and expanding distribution beyond the country’s borders. Those in the know, pop by their workshops and studios for sneak previews, styling tips and custom- made gifts. Here are a few of finds among Russian clothing and accessories brands, whose personality reflects the charismatic, creative and tenacious people behind them.
The journey to jewellery was a somewhat crooked one for Petr Axenoff, via interior decorating and theology and back to art where the artist expresses his natural flair, love of aesthetics and acute sensitivity for the Russian soul through semi-precious metals, stones (precious are available on request) and enamel. Axenoff draws inspiration for his enchanting designs from Russian heritage—cultural. Imperial and religious. Even his folklore motifs on earrings, tiaras, tie-pins and cufflinks make a nobleman or woman out of the wearer. There’s more than a touch of theater at Axenoff Jewellery too, a fact underpinned in the designer’s choice of muse—a former ballerina. Look at Axenoff's "War and Peace" collection for BBC series or at iconic Samovarchik earrings: immaculately painted enamel ovals, with Gzhel-style blue samovars on a white background... divine.
Alexandra Kaloshina knows all there is to know about silks and satins, having represented prestigious Italian fabrics in the market for over 15 years. So much so that she recruited a design team in Moscow, which works around the clock drawing patterns under Alexandra’s expert eye. They are applied to silks at a factory in Italy and sell in over 15 countries but she took the concept further still to realize her dream of developing a Russian accessories brand. Radical Chic scarves are often compared to Hermes for their quality while limited edition designs by local artists add local flavour—the latest by Petr Frolov burst with colour, drawing on peasant and regal themes with humor and irony.
The tagline Little Joys, sums up Anna Slavutina’s eponymous costume jewellery brand beautifully. She and her team work like elves before Christmas in a workshop off Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s equivalent to Oxford Street, London. They thread beads, stars and crystals; tie bows; fix pearls to dainty lace collars, creating playful bracelets, necklaces and rings, best modeled by the designer herself, who in her spare time, performs in student productions at her father’s theater nearby. Anna Slavutina is available in over 90 shops and beauty salons in more than a dozen cities in Russia. But Moscow stylists know that she’s still prepared to make a bespoke piece at short notice for a magazine shoot, a TV presenter’s wardrobe or for you! If you seek a chic souvenir to take home, her matrioskha earrings make the perfect present.
Asya Malbershtein is an Internet shopping phenomenon, which started in St Petersburg only 6 years ago and now ships online orders for edgy leather backpacks, belt-bags, harnesses and purses to a unisex audience all over the world. Partners Asya and Masha, lead a production team of friends who bring former architect Asya’s designs to life, while Masha runs the business. More recently they added a capsule clothing collection: shirt dress, trench, space-age silver leather skirt and black leather shorts, all true to brand world, which might be described as St Petersburg meets Tokyo? Their oversized gold- metallic clutch is a staple in my wardrobe.
Husband and wife team Valentina and Andrei Pronin, have been making luxury coats in Moscow for well over 20 years, which is not nearly as long as their marriage! Local professionals are responsible for each stage of production, from design to delivery, while the fabrics: cashmere, silk, cotton, and linen come from the best suppliers in Italy, where Samos Fashion Group is so respected that Lora Piano afforded them exclusive use and distribution of its sports fabric Storm System Rain and Wind Protection. The firm’s recently launched signature label BSBY gives Max Mara a run for their money, in terms of quality and style.
Competition is stiff for Russian brands developing in Russia, while demand for foreign labels with big marketing budgets and powerful ad campaigns persists. However, I read a book last year called Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow (by Marsha Sinetar) and the secret of their success dawned upon me. Each founder is passionate about his/her work and plays an ambassador role.
So if you’re looking for fashion retail therapy in Russia which is a little under the radar for a flying visit, consider my top tips and it’s sure to become more rewarding, inspiring too.