Russian Retail Revolution

Moscow may harbor as many designer boutiques as any of the world’s major fashion capitals, but given the solid display of talent seen during the city’s recent fashion week, it seems surprising that more of those boutiques aren’t fronted by Russian designers. And yet, three of the country’s most celebrated names have recently opened their own shops in the capitol, combining innovative design and lifestyle elements with a distinct national flavor.

“When my brand was established in 1998, it was quite difficult to open new boutiques,” says Igor Chapurin, who has since built his eponymous brand into one of Russia’s largest luxury lifestyle empires. “Russian customers didn’t buy national designed products at all. Nowadays the situation is changing, not only in Moscow but in other regions. Russians are beginning to notice national designers. As a consequence, many new Russian brands have emerged and the existing ones continue to grow and gain customers.”

Chapurin, one of the few homegrown brands to break through the national consciousness early on, has now opened his fourth boutique. Designed by Chapurin himself, the space is all sharp angles, painted glass windows and rich dark wood, filled with the brand’s clothing, jewelry, interior design objects and furniture. A sleek bar serves wealthy clientele, loyal fans of Chapurin’s couture suits, dramatic cocktail dresses and the designer’s own signature charm.

Another recent boutique launch was that of Alena Akhmadullina, who has become a Paris Fashion Week mainstay since her debut in 2005. Located in a historic building on Moscow’s Nikolskaya Street, Akhmadullina’s concept shop combines elements of Russian folklore with European design components such as Italian marble, Belgian tile and Parisian art nouveau accents. This darkly glamorous tableau is an apt setting for the designer’s creations, which merge European-style tailoring and silhouette with traditional Russian elements, like a print from her spring/summer ’09 collection, inspired by the Russian Pavloposadskiy headscarf.

On the other end of the spectrum is Denis Simachev, who also just opened his first concept shop. A combination of industrial warehouse and Parisian cabaret, Simachev’s boutique also includes a nightclub that’s quickly become a hotbed of celebrities and fashion types. Such a showy space isn’t surprising when considering the flashy nature of Simachevs menswear and womenswear lines—all crazy prints, shiny fabrics and blinding hues.

Despite the success of these three labels, there are still many challenges that face other Russian designers. “Very few Russian designers can afford department store rents, let alone those of a street boutique,” explains Yuna Zavelskaya, deputy editor-in-chief of Russia’s PROfashion magazine. “In the central part of Moscow, these prices are about €2,000-2,500 per square meter each year. Plus, not many Russian people are willing to pay the same price for Russian fashion as Prada or Gucci.” Chapurin, Akhmadullina and Simachev have, at some point, all received strong backing from investors, helping to offset these astronomical costs.

While this trio may be exceptions to the norm, Chapurin believes that it won’t be long before more Russian talent follows suit, eventually creating spaces totally devoted to their own creations. “Compared to the world fashion industry, the one in this country is only making the initial steps in its development—serious investment is yet to come,” he says. “But the Russian economy is growing rapidly, causing the middle class to grow rapidly as well. As I mentioned before, new names are emerging, existing ones are expanding and I see the future for fashion designers in my country as very rosy.”

—Erin Magner

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