NEW YORK — Katya Dobryakova has a strong subversive streak. When reports surfaced in May 2009 that Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva, had given birth to his love child, the Russian designer created a T-shirt with the-then prime minister’s face and words from a Pushkin story, “If he had married me — I would give our Tsar and heir. Handsome, brave, beyond compare.”
Dobryakova sold out of hundreds of T-shirts, which prompted her to launch her collection in 2010. She called the Putin shirt with the Pushkin quote “a twisted fairy-tale. All of my slogans are double entendres.”
Last week, Dobryakova, 34, opened a 650-square-foot store at 463 Broome Street here. It seems that political satire and notoriety sells in any language. Her latest collection is themed around the circus with clowns embroidered on jackets, coats and sweatshirts. She brushed aside the recent reports about Halloween creepy clowns trying to scare children in New York and New Jersey in what appears to be a national trend of recent clown sightings, saying the collection has been selling well.
Dobryakova is a survivor who’s reinvented herself more than once. Trained as a graphic designer, she created CD covers for popular Russian artists. “I got bored,” she said, noting that she worked as a freelancer. “I was spending a lot of time with my laptop at home and I wanted to get out.”
So she became an interior designer. But Russia’s economic crisis and the decline of the ruble forced many of her clients to sell their apartments. It was time for another reinvention.
“I designed the interiors of some big restaurants in Moscow,” she said. “I did pillows with the faces of Bjork and David Bowie. I had one pillow with Michael Jackson. Everyone asked me to make T-shirts like that.”
Dobryakova went to H&M and bought plain white T-shirts, then printed Jackson’s faces on them. In 2010, she opened a showroom in Moscow, followed by a store at the same location.
“My first idea was to do prints on fabric,” she said. “Production is so hard in Russia. After perestroika, factories were ruined.”
Dobryakova briefly had her designs printed in India, Belgium and other countries, but it was prohibitively expensive. “It didn’t make sense to print abroad,” she said
Then she bought an embroidery machine. “Our production is so much easier and cheaper,” she said, adding that the machine, which cost $80,000 to $100,000, was paid for with the proceeds of design work she did for Disney, Intel and Phillips. “I had big projects, which gave me the possibility to buy something important,” she said.
Dobryakova’s sweatshirts are embroidered with a harlequin, $350; circus elephant balancing on a ball, $325; acrobat, $170, and musician, $215. The collection also includes velvet dresses, $400; flounced skirts; miniskirts with the word “magic” embroidered along the side, $135; fur-trimmed parkas, $1,175, and jean jackets with Mini Mouse hand-painted on the back, $1,000. A jean jacket with Frida Kahlo embroidered on the back is $475.
Dobryakova also designs jumpsuits and children’s clothing. “I don’t feel comfortable with difficult cuts,” she said. “I’m doing things that fit everybody, so you don’t have to have a fitting room.”
An embroidery machine in the store allows customers to personalize their purchases.
E-commerce launched last week in the U.S.
Dobryakova, whose wholesale accounts include Harvey Nichols in London and Saks Fifth Avenue in Kazakhstan, hopes to sell to U.S. department and specialty stores. “Next year, I’ll look for production in the U.S.,” she said.