At Fashion Week in Moscow, There's Room for (Very) Young Designers

Still in its infancy, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia is a prime opportunity for early-stage brands.
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Eliza Brooke
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Still in its infancy, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia is a prime opportunity for early-stage brands.
Backstage at Saint-Tokyo. Photo: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia

Backstage at Saint-Tokyo. Photo: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia

All this week, Fashionista's Eliza Brooke is hanging out in Moscow, Russia — and by hanging out, we mean zipping around to shows to report semi-live from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia. (Hey, there's a seven-hour time difference.) Catch her daily diary here

Fashion's obsession with youth is nothing if not well-documented; critics of a disapproving bent have at their disposal an evidentiary treasure trove of advertising campaigns in which thin, smooth-skinned teens are cast to sell product to women three times their age. At the same time, the industry loves a wunderkind. The churn of hype and success around Alexander Wang wouldn't be the same if the designer hadn't staged his first runway show at age 24.

Of course, stories like Wang's are rare. It's hard to break into the industry, especially during fashion week, when editors' schedules are jam-packed and leave little room for unknown quantities. That's why I was somewhat surprised, at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia, to see a number of very young brands led by very young people given emphatic promotion by the publicists tasked with ferrying our horde of foreign reporters to various venues and events all week.

One such label was the St. Petersburg-based Saint-Tokyo, designed by 25-year-old Yury Pitenin. Being a genius, I missed the runway show due to a timing mix up but made it backstage afterward to see the collection, which was part breezy floral prints and fluttering silver fringe and part combat-ready leather pieces (see photo above). It was an homage, Pitenin explained, to love in all its forms.

The goods at Outlaw Moscow. Photo: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia

The goods at Outlaw Moscow. Photo: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia

Outlaw Moscow, an outerwear-focused brand founded by two 25-year-olds, Maxim Bashkaev and Dilyara Minrakhmanova, had its latest offering on view in one of the main venue's presentation spaces. There was something for everyone: silky embroidered bombers, heavy camel coats and leather jackets with colorful patches stitched onto the back — a risky affair for a start-up tight on cash, since one misplaced puncture mark would ruin the leather. The presentation at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, on the other hand, cost the Outlaw team practically nothing, Bashkaev said. 

While that's a financial coup for a young brand, it also speaks to the fact that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia is still very much working to establish itself — a point proven by the budget allocated for flying in international press and putting us up at nice hotels. (Timely disclosure: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia paid for my trip and accommodations.) If this event reaches a more prominent position among the various global fashion weeks, will it not become a more challenging environment for young designers, too?

Regardless of the visibility they've been granted thus far, Saint-Tokyo and Outlaw Moscow did come out ahead of the pack. (Although the quality of the designs and workmanship from other designers was often much lower than what you might see in New York or Paris, so the competition was not as fierce as it can be.) And it was a 24-year-old who presented one of the best collections of the week: Jenia Kim, who showed her work at a casual boutique party on Thursday.

To celebrate a Saturday spent working the floor of its pop-up showroom, the Outlaw Moscow team hosted a party at a rooftop bar that night. Kim stopped by to say hello, and students volunteering at the event milled about with Moscow mules and Heinekens in hand. By 3 a.m., our crew was crowded around a table with Bashkaev and his friends, yelling about politics and singing along to Missy Elliot. Just your standard night out with a bunch of 25-year-old kids.