MOSCOW — The search is on for the next Gosha Rubchinskiy — and the Russian government is getting behind the effort.
Hoping to capitalize on heightened interest in homegrown fashions — and give designers a leg up against powerful foreign players — the Russian Fashion Council and Moscow Council, a branch of the department of culture, have established Futurum Moscow, a platform for new talents.
Its first volley was a fashion show on Oct. 12 in a packed warehouse at the Museum of Moscow, staged on the eve of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia, which winds up on Wednesday. Twenty labels participated, including Alkhanashvili, Daniil Kostyshin and Six One Six. Many designers paraded collections with a streetwise edge, while artists exhibited their works at stands dotted around the event.
While the investments behind it are small — less than $400,000 over the last two years from the Russian Fashion Council — Futurum is seen as an important signal that even the state finally spies potential in fashion.
Futurum Moscow is also supported by Dmitry Peskov, director of the Young Professionals division of the Agency for Strategic Investments, or ASI, and is part of FashionNet, a branch of the ASI’s National Technology Initiative, whose aim is to spur industries through innovation investments and new technologies. While ASI is not officially part of the government, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the implementation of the National Technology Initiative “one of the key tasks for the future of the Russian economy.”
Alexander Shumsky, president of the Russian Fashion Council, touted that the current Moscow Fashion Week will shine a spotlight on more than 175 local brands through the Mercedes-Benz event, Futurum and an initiative called Pop-Up Shop.
He asserted that Russia harbors as many as 50 designers that could potentially break through and follow the footsteps of Rubchinskiy, who did so with his Nineties-inflected streetwear, tight connections to Moscow’s local skating scene, and a powerful partner in Japan’s Comme des Garçons.
“This is a sort of historical problem as fashion was always not well perceived in the Soviet Union and Russia after 1993,” Shumsky said in an interview. “Customers were obsessed by Western brands 25 years ago, but not now. It is changing quickly. I would say that sanctions created some demand for local brands too. It is a sort of patriotic consumption…and the demand has been increasing the last decade. This lets new brands enter the market.”
Overseas sales and media are seen as vital for a Rubchinskiy-style success, yet Shumsky projected that Made in Russia fashions could double their presence on the domestic market, citing a Russian State University poll showing that more than half of consumers are willing to purchase locally produced goods.
Echoing more established incubator programs in France and America, Russia’s Futurum scheme includes an accelerator program that links with big corporate players including Bask, a Russian maker of outdoor apparel. “Creative designers get the experience of working with big factories and vice versa, and the result of this collaboration will appear soon,” Shumsky said.
“The difference with Paris and Milan is that top fashion countries have multibillion-euro brands in the list. Russia has not. Russia had a lot of great talents but economically they are invisible,” he added, describing FashionNet as “an alternative strategy for an emerging Russian fashion industry that targets only the business-to-consumer segment.”
Made in Russia apparel accounts for only about a quarter of a 2.7 trillion ruble, or $41.29 billion, market with the designer share representing less than 2 percent, according to the Russian Fashion Council.
On a broader scale, the FashionNet initiative aims to involve tens of thousands of small companies and brands in the fashion and creative industries, according to ASI’s Peskov.
“Today, technologies and creativity will transform our lifestyle. We are at the beginning, but the rules that will shape the market are already understood,” he said. “We see that all the new market segments are developing like the Internet market…FashionNet is the face of such market transformation.”
Peskov acknowledged the Russian government is still learning how to support emerging talents and business. He said regional authorities in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad and Ivanovo support the creation of accelerators and training programs.
“At the federal level, support is still insufficient,” Peskov said. “This year we are starting a study and the first training programs on scaling sales at FashionNet together with Facebook, Instagram and Google.”