On the catwalk

On the catwalk

The city prepares for the regular Defile on the Neva fashion week.

Published: April 6, 2011 (Issue # 1650)

SIMON ELIASSON / The St. Petersburg Times

This year’s Defile on the Neva fashion week features shows by 20 Russian fashion designers.

“Fashion Without Borders” is the slogan of the 23rd Defile on the Neva, the city’s homegrown fashion week that kicks off in Lenexpo on April 6 with shows by the renowned St. Petersburg designer Lilya Kissilenko as well as by Tatyana Sulimina, Polina Raudson and Natalya Soldatova.

Running through April 9, the fashion week features shows by 20 Russian designers of the caliber of Tanya Kotegova, Stas Lopatkin and Yanis Chamalidi, as well as a daily MEGA Fashion Show prepared by the omnipresent MEGA shopping center.

“However breezy and lighthearted the image of the fashion industry might be, the art of dress-making is something that should be taken very seriously,” said Irina Selyuta, director of the Lilya Kissilenko Fashion House. “A vast proportion of what, for instance, ethnography collections display to give an idea of a country’s culture during a certain period of time, is essentially fashion garments.”

For the first time in its history, Defile on the Neva is introducing a new format to its events, juxtaposing showrooms and the catwalk itself, meaning that each collection being presented will be promoted both through the show and the accompanying showrooms.

“The range of showrooms will be diverse enough to include not only the designers who are presenting their collections, but to introduce original jewelry and accessory brands as well as hair salons or cosmetics brands,” said Irina Ashkinadze, director of Defile on the Neva. “This approach should help to consolidate the rather fragmented Russian fashion market.”

Originally an invitation-only affair, Defile on the Neva has retained the unorthodox system of admission that was introduced when it was established in 2000. The easiest way to get a ticket used to be by shopping at the Defile boutique, where one could shop for any item seen on the event’s catwalk. The boutique has since closed down, and now, regular customers of the leading local designers that typically present shows at the event have the best chance of getting a ticket.

SIMON ELIASSON / The St. Petersburg Times

Models at last year’s event.

The project is, however, showing signs of opening up, and this spring, anyone interested is welcome to visit the showrooms at the event’s host venue, Lenexpo, free of charge during all four days of the shows, from 2 p.m. till 6 p.m. on April 6, and from midday till 4.30 p.m. on April 7, 8 and 9 (in the evening, when the shows take place, showrooms are only accessible to those who hold invitations to the actual shows).

It is expected that this week, Defile on the Neva will attract from 12,000 to 15,000 visitors.

“My main ambition is that Russian people start to wear Russian designers and develop a taste for Russian fashion,” Ashkinadze said.

“Russian designers are often criticized, if not ostracized, for ‘not being as striking or commercially successful as Western European designers’ but I would argue that they have their own very interesting faces and they actually do not have to compete with anyone,” Selyuta said.

One serious problem faced by Russian fashion labels and designers is that there is almost no domestic textile industry to support them. Russian fashion is largely made using foreign fabrics, foreign buttons, and foreign zippers. Very often it is even produced abroad.

Local fashion industry professionals and fashion historians alike nurture the idea of establishing a Costume Museum in the city.

SIMON ELIASSON / The St. Petersburg Times

The focus is on local designers.

Some argue that the roots of a widespread uninspired approach to fashion in Russia —plain dark clothes dominate, as if everyone works for the police and must be inconspicuous — can be explained not only by a lack of choice and financial limitations, but rather by a lack of historical connection and a sense of how fashion has developed in Russia during the past few centuries.

There is an unwillingness in Russia to stand out — both in the sense of producing a political statement that goes against the grain or making an original fashion statement. Individualism was not advised in the Soviet Union, and it is not among the modern concepts that Russians have embraced.

Restoring the historical connection, Defile on the Neva has teamed up with the Russian National Library and mounted a display titled “Messengers of Fashion” showcasing an impressive collection of Russian fashion magazines from the early 18th century through the present day.

The first samples on display show artistic sketches of high society ladies in fine clothing, and eventually the publications offer more and more practicalities. A few decades on, and the drawings are accompanied by detailed sewing patterns.

“Peter the Great was a genuine fashionista of his time: the Hermitage Museum collections hold at least 300 of the tsar’s garments, all of them works of art,” Selyuta said. “Indeed, if that much has survived, one can only imagine what a wealth of designs he once possessed… I assure you, if you ask any local whether Russia’s great reformer tsar had any connection at all to fashion, the question would be laughed at. But if there was a display reflecting the Russian ruler’s relationship with fashion, it would give our people an important insight into the country’s cultural development in general.”

For full schedule of the shows, visit www.defilenaneve.ru

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