From military to millinery
Husband-and-wife fashion label Kaminsky believes the future of Russian fashion lies in a touch of national flavor.
Published: November 14, 2012 (Issue # 1735)
Models demonstrate creations by the Kaminsky fashion house during the Aurora Fashion Week this fall.
Without a degree in art or design or any kind of artistic background, a former bomb technician and an ex-taxi driver are now running an avant-garde fur fashion brand, arguably Russia’s most eccentric.
The history of Kaminsky, the brand in question, is a truly original start-up story. Back in the 1960s, when Marina Kaminskaya was choosing which university to go to, she decided on the Military Mechanical Institute for the most trivial reasons: “It was very close to home, and I knew for a fact there would be many guys there so I could be sure studying would be fun,” she said.
“As for the degree, well, that degree would be as good as any,” she says, talking in her office, a cluttered room that is a peculiar hybrid of an office and a showroom, with fur hats filling high shelves, awards stacked in a glass cupboard and the most artful designs displayed on mannequins.
In the early 1970s, Kaminskaya met a friend who was starting up a private furrier’s shop. As their conversation progressed, she became excited. “I suddenly remembered that my grandfather was in fact a furrier; he had run his own shop back in the 1920s, during the years of Lenin’s New Economic Policy.”
And so she started helping out, and little by little the fur shop grew busier.
“Sometimes our apartment would resemble an improvised warehouse, with some 500 hats piled up in various places,” she said. “Every surface in the flat was covered with fur ornaments and half-finished hats.”
It is hard to believe that these humble beginnings would eventually result in an extravagant brand that today produces elaborate, state-of-the-art items that grace the haute couture collections of the maestro of Russian fashion, Vyacheslav Zaitsev.
Zaitsev, who created the first fashion house in the Soviet Union, won international recognition for his striking, ultra-feminine designs with a revolutionary flair. Sharp-witted French journalists dubbed him the Red Dior, and Jacques Chirac granted the designer the title of “honorary citizen of Paris,” the world’s fashion capital.
Timmy, the Kaminskys’ pet Maltese, models a fur-trimmed dog coat.
Marina Kaminskaya and her husband and partner Sergei Kaminsky have an enormous appetite for what they do. What appealed to Zaitsev about the Kaminskys was their passion for designs, their courage and their curiosity.
“There is a lot at your disposal when you create a new collection — contemporary technology, new fabrics that are appearing as we speak,” the designer says. “Curious souls indulge in this. Searching through ideas and then giving form to the right ones is huge fun and immensely rewarding.”
“How did we do it? We just tried various new and unusual things …we were the first company to create colored fur hats — red, green, orange,” Kaminskaya recalls. “At first, these sold with difficulty: The Russian market is very conservative. Everyone was convinced that fur must have its natural color — and I personally think this is utterly boring — so it took a couple of years for us to break this stereotype.”
When the Kaminskys first went to see Zaitsev in 2006, the couturier threw the couple a challenge. “Make me a fur hat and mantle,” he said. The resulting items were soon gracing the pages of fashion magazines, while Zaitsev presented the Kaminskys with a real test: To design an entire collection. The designer gave them a few sheets of paper featuring black and white sketches of hat shapes, with swatches of multicolored fabrics attached to them. The samples indicated the fabrics that would be used in the fashion collection, and the sketches showed the desired shapes.
The Kaminskys passed the test with flying colors. “Some guests at the show couldn’t believe how we had done what we had — they thought that we had painted the hats with dots and ornaments, but the colored elements on the hats were actually inserts of different fur,” Kaminskaya explained.
One of the most eye-catching items in the showroom is a peach skullcap made of French lace and decorated with embroidered elements and beads with large fluffy Arctic fur pendants on both sides. The elaborate hat seems to have come straight out of a fairy tale, and would certainly be fit for a tsarina.
But in response to a question about what the Kaminskys use for ideas and inspiration, Kaminskaya replies: “No archives — listen, I do not even draw. I go to the artists and tell them about my fantasies, the flashes of inspiration that I have.”
During a guided tour of the improvised showroom, the door bursts open and an athletic man enters the room, throwing a couple of new brightly colored books on the table. The title of the top book is “Sewing Patterns for Dog Coats.”
The new collection is inspired by traditional Pavlovo-Posad shawls.
The man with the books is Kaminskaya’s husband, Sergei, whom she met in a taxi while he was working as a driver. The couple did not wait long to get married, and Kaminsky soon joined his new wife in the fur business.
“Oh, let’s introduce Timmy to her,” says Kaminskaya, noticing this journalist’s fascination with the intriguing books on dog clothing. Timmy is a two-year-old Maltese dog, and the only pet in the world to benefit exclusively from the Kaminskys’ creations. Timmy’s wardrobe includes winter coats decorated with Arctic fox, mink and even sable.
The newest coat, made from a Pavlovo-Posad shawl — one of Russia’s trademark handicraft traditions — was clearly inspired by the fashion house’s most recent collection, which was shown in October at the Aurora Fashion Week and marked the brand’s 25th anniversary.
Jolly, playful and eccentric, the collection brings together the bold floral fabrics of Pavlovo-Posad shawls and regal fur welting. The show made a splash in the fashion industry, guaranteeing more showbiz and high-profile engagements for the Kaminskys, who dress Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, as well as opera diva Yelena Obraztsova and the risqué pop singer Lolita.
“Many people are sick and tired of Western brands, and they want to wear fashion items that are distinctly Russian, that have a particular Russian flavor to them,” Kaminsky said.
“Here is our answer to Chanel,” he smiles, pointing out a small square evening bag made of luxurious white mink.
“Gucci is finished,” Kaminsky continues, opening a cupboard and taking out an opulent pair of eccentric high soft-top boots made from Pavlovo-Posad shawl fabric and decorated with red Arctic fox fur.
While the latter statement may be a deliberate exaggeration, Kaminsky’s pride is not completely unfounded. The brand’s art is a bold creative statement, one which puts to shame anyone who still believes the common phrase from the 1990s that “Russia is a fashion cemetery.” The Kaminskys will tell you otherwise. Russian fashion today is a feast of courage and color.