By  on October 30, 2007

MOSCOW — Alexander Shumsky is explaining that even though there are, technically, two competing fashion weeks here, really there's only one. That would be Russian Fashion Week. The "so-called competition," Fashion Week in Moscow, is for wannabes.

"They pick up all the designers we refuse," claimed Shumsky, whose public relations firm, Artefact, runs Russian Fashion Week, or RFW. "Their business is to sell space. They're selling space for a trade show."

Dmitry Goryachkin, managing director in Russia at IMG, which produces Fashion Week in Moscow, or FWM, is equally dismissive of Shumsky's operation.

"We try to bring world-class sponsors like Visa and Volvo," Goryachkin said. "We run New York. We run Los Angeles. We do London. We do India. The only thing I know is the guy who is president of the other event, he used to be p.r. director of this event and there was some kind of conflict and they split, and Mr. Shumsky decided to form his own event. I don't really care."

With October being the unofficial month of the pakaz modi (fashion show) — RFW spanned Oct. 14 to 21 and was followed, three days later, by FWM — the battle for the fashion week mantle has raged across the city. There were advertisements on billboards and banners on Tverskaya Ulitsa and Pokrovka, parties, press conferences and plenty of snipes and counter-snipes in local glossies.

What's incontrovertible is that in a town hardly teeming with designers, there's no need for two fashion weeks. "There aren't even enough for one," said Natalia Turovnikova, a representative for Kopenhagen Fur in Russia, who formerly reported on the Moscow fashion scene for television and magazines here.

Elena Vassa, one of Russia's best-known designers and the head of a nationwide chain of boutiques bearing her name, agreed with Turovnikova. "There are two competing teams, and they are trying to split the market," said Vassa, who was once allied with RFW but has since distanced herself from it. "If they were thinking about the future of Moscow, they would unite, but they don't care about Moscow's image."What they care about is money, Vassa and other fashion industry insiders contended. While RFW barely breaks even, Shumsky said, it gives Artefact a chance to forge connections between buyers and designers, and build name recognition.

Take Max Chernitsov. Shumsky, who also serves as vice president of marketing at TSUM, said he introduced Chernitsov to the luxury mall, and now Chernitsov, who kicked off the first day of RFW, is the only Russian designer being sold there.

But there's more than a few deals at stake. There is also Moscow's public image, which designers, retailers and concept-store owners here are increasingly concerned about as the city seeks to insert itself into the international fashion galaxy. Sixteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow is just beginning to acquire an independent identity. The question is: What kind of identity will it be?

RFW has the air of an underfunded SoHo boutique. As fashion consultants here say, Shumsky and company have a lot of the right ideas about how to put on a show, but lack the organization to implement those ideas, particularly given the competitive environment. "I think he had great ideas in the beginning," Vassa said of Shumsky, "but he has problems now."

On one hand, RFW has an edge when it comes to style: The kickoff party was at Diaghilev, one of the city's toughest clubs to get into, and featured a cavernous room full of models dancing, smoking and drinking until the sun came up. Fashion shows took place at artsy venues like the Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater for opera and ballet, and Art Angar at the Vinzavod contemporary-arts complex.

On the other hand, there's a certain confusion that reigns at RFW. Press credentials take a long time to get. Venues change: The Nicky Hilton show that was supposed to happen at TSUM mysteriously relocated to Art Angar about an hour before liftoff. Worse yet for RFW, it's shrinking. In 2005, RFW hosted 73 shows, Shumsky said. This year, the figure dropped to somewhere between 45 and 50.

Shumsky said RFW is simply getting more selective and that FWM that has no idea what it's doing. "If you have more than 50 or 75 shows, it will be a mess," he said. "It's ridiculous."True, FWM has a convention-like quality to it. Situated at Gostiny Dvor, the huge showroom-shopping mall near Red Square, FWM last year hosted 63 shows and more than 100,000 visitors; organizers expected more of both this year. Also, there were the stadium-style fluorescent lights; the massive, bronze-colored dress hanging from the ceiling, and the bazaar of designers and chain stores hawking their wares outside the huge black tent used to cordon off the shows, all of which contribute to a Las Vegas feel reminiscent of many of IMG-organized fashion weeks around the globe.

But FWM has the establishment — or, as they say in Russia, the power, "the structures" — behind it, and that could spell death for RFW. The mayor attended the opening ceremonies, and Valentin Yudashkin, the country's best-known designer, is a permanent fixture at FWM. (Designers privately slammed the Yudashkin show, saying it lacked imagination, and the exhibition-style bazaar, which includes Gap-style labels such as Kira Plastinina and Vintage Queen.)

"I'm not feeling like this is where the trends are being set," an unidentified woman sporting a boa confided before slipping into the crowd at Gostiny Dvor.

More ominously, RFW allies suspect — but refuse to say publicly — that FWM has used its connections to deny RFW a permanent location. In years past, RFW erected a pavilion on Vassiliev Slope, behind St. Basil's Church. Inexplicably, that is no longer an option, and RFW has been forced to divide its shows between multiple venues. Shumsky and other RFW supporters claimed that FWM paid some RFW designers to switch sides a few years back. Goryachkin said he only recently signed on and can't comment on the past.

He stressed that at FWM "there are no conflicts, no scandals. They are stable." Goryachkin said one of the clearest signs of FWM's government support is its name. To use "Moscow" in a brand name requires authorities' approval.

The infighting has led some of the country's most promising designers to flee the fashion-week scene altogether. Alyona Akhmadullina, who is widely regarded as the country's most groundbreaking designer and once took part in FWM, has avoided both fashion weeks in recent years and is now a part of the Lexus Neo Couture show, which is scheduled between the two fashion weeks. Akhmadullina was joined this year at the Lexus event by Vassa and Sergey Teplov, a young designer from Yekaterinburg.Turovnikova of Kopenhagen Fur suggested that Akhmadullina, Vassa and Teplov may be onto something. "People are getting tired of those two weeks," she said. "My hope is that in five years...there will be more independent and financially strong designers."

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