By  on September 26, 2007

MOSCOW — In a city obsessed with billionaires, Bentleys and diamond-studded cell phones, the Belgium in Fashion show here seemed downright radical, jettisoning flash and frills for cooler, more reserved fall and winter lines.

The theme of the event at the cavernous Center of Contemporary Art was the Port of Antwerp at night. To add decorative heft, there was a rusty crane, a mist machine, a soundtrack featuring ocean swells and seagulls and a band of fake sailors and prostitutes accompanied by an accordion.

The estimated 600 guests on Sept. 13 included Australian pop star Natalie Imbruglia, members of the Russian pop group Hi-Fi, television celebrity Svetlana Bondarchuk and much of Moscow's business and media elite.

Clothes by Tim Van Steenbergen, Natan and Violetta & Vera Pepa were on display.

Rosa Kamenev, director of Cara & Co., which hosted the show, said that each designer brought a unique sensibility to the runway. Still, an unmistakable simplicity seemed to unite all three designers — a marked departure for New Russians enamored of the brash.

"I go for this very classic, pure look," Van Steenbergen said. "I think it's more that you choose a direction, really, and go for a pure line....I don't like too many details."

Indeed, Van Steenbergen hewed mostly to monotone, gray and black ensembles, dressing his models in cashmere sweaters and silk shirts with simple, gently arcing lines and curves. There was an elegance to his design, nothing Baroque or fanciful, nothing stark or shocking. His one departure — a bold red coat.

"If you make it yellow or really bright green, then it gets more difficult," he explained. "With red, you have this coat, and people understand it."

Van Steenbergen, 29, said he had been inspired by an early Sixties sense of style, a blend of idealism and odyssey. Jackie Kennedy and director Stanley Kubrick were the icons who most profoundly shaped the designs, he said.

The unanswered question is whether Muscovites will go for this kind of "intellectual fashion," as Kamenev described it.

"You have to be smart to wear our clothes," said Kamenev, who opened the Moscow branch of Cara & Co. in April, modeling the "concept store" after Colette in Paris, Corso Como 10 in Milan, and Dover Street Market in London. "You have to be not dictated by the big labels. Our focus is exclusivity."Cara & Co. launched in Australia before arriving in Russia.

Anna Lebsak-Kleimans, director of the Moscow-based Fashion Consulting Group, said "intellectual fashion" was a welcome addition to the local scene but added that Cara & Co. faces challenges.

"The concept is well regarded by Moscow trendsetters," Lebsak-Kleimans said. "Unfortunately, for some of them, the prices make it a beautiful gallery rather than a store. The people who might consider shopping here are well-to-do intellectual bohemians. Others who could shop here might be called wealthy nonconformists. Now here's an important question for this business: How many intellectuals in Russia are well-to-do? And how many of the newly rich are nonconformists?"

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