After twenty years since it first started, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia keeps ongoing as one of the most exciting events in the industry. “Russian fashion, generally, is quite young and emerging”, affirms its founder, Alexander Shumsky, who’s also the President of the Russian Fashion Council. This interest from both the media, buyers and clients in up-and-coming brands and designers, those who’re interpreting from the periphery the trends ‘dictated’ by traditional luxury brands, is one of MBFW Russia’s secret weapons. With more than one hundred designers, fifty-two shows, ten presentations and one performance, we attended the Spring/Summer 2020 edition to discover the hottest names in one of the coldest countries.
In these last two decades, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia has seen many international designers present their collections – among many others, Vivienne Westwood, Jeremy Scott and Jenny Packham. However, it’s been a while since the organization shifted its focus towards more independent, emerging names. “Now, we understand that we don’t need celebrity designers”, Shumsky affirms. “We need international designers from the same generation as Russian designers so they understand that they’re not different from others”, he continues. “It’s the same bunch of new fashion around the world. The only things that differ are talent and creativity, so designers should sharpen their skills to gain exposure”, he concludes.

That’s why, among many other projects, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia launched the Global Talents contest last season, which this time received more than one hundred applications from all over the world. An international jury is responsible for choosing the ten best that will be presenting their collections in the runway – this time, the jury included industry heavyweights like Sara Sozzani Maino, Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Italy and Head of Vogue Talents, or Lucien Pagès, founder of his communication agency that works with the likes of Jacquemus. This season, the winners of the Global Talents programme came from nine different countries, including Belgium, the United Kingdom, Argentina and Switzerland. “We sponsor their visit here: we pay for the travel, accommodation, the models, and we stage their show”, explains Shumsky. So, despite many of the designers are putting their first runway show together for the first time, they can do it in very professional conditions.

One of them is 21-year-old Spanish designer Alvaro Mars, who presented a beautiful and rather shocking collection focusing on upcycling, layering and out of proportion clothes. Or Swedish designer Linus Leonardsson, who presented his graduate collection. However, there were a bit more experienced designers as well, like New York-based Chinese creative Leaf Xia, whose pop, colourful and super fun collection wowed the audience because of its mix of original prints and comfortable silhouettes and fabrics; or MLTV Clothing, a Swedish brand that conquered the audience’s hearts because of its minimalism, simplicity and understated elegance.
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Alvaro Mars
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Leaf Xia
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MLTV Clothing
This international fame is due to, in large part, the deal with Mercedes-Benz, which became the fashion week’s main sponsor in 2011. “It definitely helped, not only in terms of money”, explains Shumsky, “but there was a shift, and I felt it immediately in the first season.” More media applied and other professionals in the industry started taking it more seriously. “When we signed the agreement, there was a shift in international exposure. There were a lot of people – international media, mostly – who understood that this is not a freaky local event but something internationally renowned”, he concludes proudly.

Indeed, he can be proud of the work done at MBFW Russia. “Moscow became a member of the Mercedes-Benz fashion family, and now, we’re the biggest”, he affirms. That’s also in part thanks to their great online coverage. Shumsky knew right away that the digital world was something he had to focus on, and that’s why he’s partnered with several websites during these past years and every runway show is broadcasted. “We started internet broadcasting in 2012 or 2013 approximately, but we do it differently than other fashion weeks”, the event’s founder explains. “That’s why we generate five million views in five days”, he continues. That explains one of the most shocking facts as an attendant of the event: every show is on time. “Have you seen any fashion week that does that?”, he laughs. “I don’t know any other event that can make fifty shows in five days all on time.”

We weren’t late to any, of course. And if you were busy with your own stuff, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. As usual, there was a bit of everything, so we’re gonna highlight some of the most interesting stuff. For example, the debut of Expats Collective, a brand founded by a Russian-American collective led by Stephan Rabimov (who’s also a journalist and editor). The collection, styled by Farnaz Dadashi, was inspired by three great figures/moments in Russian history: the ‘polenitsa’ (mythical women-warriors), the House of Romanovs, and the October Revolution. Also imbued with historical references was the collection of Atelier Odor. A few months back, we interviewed its founder, Nikita Kalmykov, and he explained us some of the intricate details in his clothes, like some teardrop baroque pearls on the tips of collar and trousers, which “were made as a metaphor of frozen tears, a romantic reference”.

History was also an inspiration in Daniil Kostyshin’s collection; this time though, it was his own. The Russian designer turned 21 this year, and to pay himself and his family an homage as a coming-of-age, he reinterpreted some looks he wore as a child – the collection wasn’t that remarkable, but the sweet, humourous and fun presentation (with pictures of a 5 and 6-year-old Daniil projected onto the screens in the background) was a nice way to end the second day. Other highlights of this MBFW Russia’s edition were the presentations of Not Today, which was very performative and frantic, and Futureisnown, which despite being entirely in Russian (the founder was explaining the brand’s and collection’s ideas through a video), was understandable enough to know that it’s fighting against the technologic control imposed by big corporations and governments. But however remarkable these shows were, here’s a list of the best collections we saw down the runway.
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This was one of the most powerful shows of MBFW Russia. The sound was low and unnerving, lights were flashing, and the background screen showed a mysterious DIY video. With a dark atmosphere came even darker looks: a guy whose face was covered by a balaclava, a soprano singer (she sang as she walked down the runway in a super tight metallic skirt) with her face also covered by a gem-encrusted mask, or the closing one, an elderly woman sitting in a shopping cart-turned-wheelchair while she was connected to a sort of tubing pumping pink slime. Most of the clothes seemed to fit a post-apocalyptic world, something you’d wear to survive: lots of workwear and tech-wear like overalls and dungarees, mostly in dark colours like green, grey, brown and black. And all the models performed somehow: a couple talked to each other, a guy threw some pamphlets, the following model picked them up, etc. Brilliant, experimental and shocking – a phenomenal show.
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N. Legenda
One of the favourite designers among Russia’s creatives, Olga Kapitonova presented an urbanwear collection with touches of glam. Following her unisex approach, the clothes ranged from tank tops to raincoats, to oversized jackets and sweatpants. Most of them came in black, white or checkered print – black on white and vice versa –, but the designer went for a fun ride with glimmering garments in either aquamarine blue, bold red or holographic rainbow. A lovely shimmering trench coat, a multi-pocketed raincoat or a rainbowish full look (culottes, jacket, and also a fanny pack) sparked on their own and gave the catwalk a necessary touch of playfulness.
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Red September
Olga Vasyukova presented yet another great collection for Red September. Featuring some of her characteristic details, like the milk carton-inspired shoulders – “they chose me”, she told us a few months back when we interviewed her – but in a less exaggerated version or the biker pants with padded knees, most of the pieces were wearable and cool. Focusing on urbanwear, the designer sent down the runway lots of bomber jackets, hoodies, sporty raincoats and tracksuits. However, she also presented many other tailored and deconstructed pieces like shirts, trench coats and perfecto biker jackets. And in addition to these, there were pops of brilliance with a more fun approach, like glittery pink pants, acid-washed fabrics, jean pieces made of cut-outs like corsets or a long coat, and even some inflated-plastic garments filled with white beads.
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Linus Leonardsson
Forget everything you know or think of about Scandinavian design. The Swedish fashion designer took part in this season’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia after being one of the winners of the Global Talents contest, and it’s no wonder why. After being noticed by Antwerp-based brand Komono, for which he designed an organic and colourful pair of sunglasses (which, of course, the models were wearing), Leonardsson makes another step by participating in a prestigious international fashion week. At MBFW Russia, he presented his graduate collection, inspired by raves in the forest of his native Sweden. The fun, original pieces came in very bright colours like fuchsia, acid green, electric blue or purple, and also featured floral prints. From gowns to dungarees, to blazers and high-neck tops, pieces were intentionally out of proportion and even featured strategic cuts on the torso or the armpits.
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Traditional menswear gets a modern spin by this Moscow-based brand. The pieces were mostly classic, yes, but the key is in the details: the cuts, the colours, the styling, or even the black-and-white floral print of the last look; they all screamed contemporary elegance. Young men who want to ditch the father-looking old-fashioned suits can easily find updated versions of shirts, trench coats, blazers, tailored pants and long coats here, with fun touches such as a navy blue velvet suit, an oversized double-breasted orange coat, a divine cape-like white coat, multi-pocketed shirts or blazers with the tailleur oblique cut.
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In his third collection, Artem Bakhtin continues with his characteristic rock and punk-inspired garments – and this time, also informed by his childhood in the 1990s. For Spring/Summer 2020, the designer presented more tailored, fitting clothes than in previous seasons. Now, he’s done more suits – in pinstripe or checkered fabric as well as more personalized prints –, blazers, shirts and shirt dresses. With a special focus on monochromatic black and white looks, he broke the stark aesthetic with some splashes of red as well as with fun, bold prints, like that of newspapers, Cool Magazine covers (a youth magazine defining of the ‘90s) or one resembling a blackboard full of mathematical equations (also recalling his time growing up). His strongest point, however, is the attention to detail: maximalist zippers on a jumper’s sleeves, cuts to show inner thighs or the stomach, or a ruffled sleeve on a tailored jacket.
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A coat with stuffed ‘Z’ and ‘A’ letters reading ‘Za Za’, which reminded of infamous Viktor & Rolf’s ‘No’ and ‘Dream’ coats presented at their Fall/Winter 2008 collection, opened the show. After this one, other statement coats followed: a couple of them in checkered fabrics or another one with playful, even naive digital prints (a pineapple, a dog, again the ‘Z’ and ‘A’ letters, a panda bear, a colourful flower…). There were other statement pieces like long dresses or deconstructed trench coats. However, the focal point of this collection was the unsettling effect of some prints in the clothes, which featured arms, hands, bodies or mouths, and distorted the models’ appearances just like a trompe l’oeil.
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The opening look – a dress with a graphic print in black, red and pink sported by an androgynous model – was already promising. The following one, a yellowish utilitywear-style long jumpsuit, made it clear it would be good. And indeed, the rest of the collection by designer Evgeniya Malygina played masterfully with deconstruction and proportion, thus offering new takes on the understanding of one’s body. With an avant-garde approach resembling that of Rick Owens or Gareth Pugh, the Saint Petersburg-based designer showed great skills in pattern-making, layering and construction through a collection whose clothes didn’t follow standard proportions. In addition to this, she also included a few pops of colour that broke from the all-black-everything general vibe, like some electric blue, red and purple.
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