It’s notoriously difficult to get an audience with fashion designer and street-style icon Vika Gazinskaya. After much toing and froing, we finally meet at Coffeemania on Trubnaya Square in central Moscow, just round the corner from her studio. She’s wearing a stripy dress with a pair of Nike trainers, her honey blonde bob sitting perfectly in place. She isn’t wearing a speck of make-up or any jewellery. “I don’t have time to get dressed up or wear make-up,” she says. “At home, in Moscow, I go round in trainers because it’s comfortable.”
Gazinskaya has a reputation for being a perfectionist. Stories about her temper tantrums are plentiful. True to form, when she arrives at Coffeemania she asks to move to another table. Once everything is just so, she orders a low-calorie, berry-filled dessert and a large cappuccino. “This is the only place in Moscow I like to eat,” she says with characteristic bluntness.
The 32-year-old is a well-known member of the Russian Fashion Pack, a photogenic group of young women who have come to be known for their impeccable personal style. The group, which includes socialite Miroslava Duma, model Elena Perminova, stylist Anya Ziourova and designer Ulyana Sergeenko, have shown the world that Russians have moved on from the kind of ostentatious garb in vogue a decade ago. It all happened two years ago at Couture Fashion Week in Paris, Gazinskaya tells me. “Miroslava, Ulyana and I were at the Ritz and our outfits went well together, although we each had our own style,” she says. “Tommy Ton [photographer known for his fashion blog Jak & Jil] photographed us and after a week or two said, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’ That’s when the article, The Russian Federation, came out on Style.com.”
Soon after, the “Russian Dolls”, as they also came to be known, were in every high-end glossy magazine from Vogue to French Elle. “I still get proposals from magazines around the world — Norway, Bulgaria, Mexico, Brazil. Everyone thought that Russia was all about gold, Cavalli-schmally. But that was in the Nineties. They were so surprised to discover that Russians can dress subtly, tastefully and quite idiosyncratically.”
There may be similarities between Gazinskaya and the others in the group but there are also stark differences. Unlike the others, Gazinskaya is not the daughter of an oligarch. Nor is she married to one. Hers is a rags-to-riches story of a girl from an ordinary family who dreamed of becoming a designer. What makes her story even more uplifting is that she succeeded in a country where money and connections — of which she had neither — open doors.
“Everyone thought that Russia was all about gold, Cavalli-schmally. But that was in the Nineties. They were so surprised to discover that Russians can dress subtly, tastefully and quite idiosyncratically”
Before striking out on her own, Gazinskaya worked as a stylist for the Russian edition of L’Officiel fashion magazine. It wasn’t long before she left, got together a team (she now has ten employees) and launched her eponymous label. She says that every penny she has ever earned is always invested into the next collection. “For me, fashion is my calling. It’s not just a pretty picture; it’s a serious, difficult craft,” she says. “And that’s what I’ve always been striving for, my first desire, what I want to do, who I want to be.”
Vika Gazinskaya, the brand, is best known for its bold, clean geometric shapes. High-quality fabrics are sourced from France and Japan, and, unlike her peers, Gazinskaya never uses real fur or leather. Her 2013 Autumn/Winter collection typifies the label’s style: faux-fur coats, bags and fox stoles; exaggerated A-line skirts paired with billow sleeve blouses; and dresses with beaded appliques. Gazinskaya looks to fashion and art history for inspiration (she is particularly fond of the uncompromising strength of personality of Van Gogh — “He really chimes with my inner state of mind,” she says). When it comes to contemporary art, she exercises more judgement. “90% of contemporary art will, God willing, be forgotten in ten years time and 10% will get a place in history,” she says. “You need to be able to tell the difference.”
It helps that Gazinskaya is a walking billboard for her clothes, which she wears to every fashion week. And, every time, without fail, her outfits trigger a wave of photos on fashion blogs around the world, where she is scrutinised like a work of art. Not that she minds of course. “Thanks to bloggers I get the chance to show my wares: it’s the only direct way for a designer from Russia to reach western consumers,” she says. “Bloggers helped me formulate my identity as a designer in the past. They’d turn up, take photos for their blogs and then buyers would come and pick stuff.”
Gazinskaya was first snapped by Scott Schuman, the creator of The Sartorialist, at the Dior show during Paris Fashion Week in 2009. She caught Schuman’s eye with her bright clothing, which ensured she stood out against a backdrop of fashion editors dressed head to toe in black. “I thought I’d blend in with the crowd,” she says. “I figured that everything in Paris is amazing and bright. But it turned out that it was the other way round: nowadays the average fashion editor has moved toward more colours and prints but back then everything was dark. When Schuman asked me to pose, I didn’t even know who he was.”
“For me, fashion is my calling. It’s not just a pretty picture; it’s a serious, difficult craft. And that’s what I’ve always been striving for, my first desire, what I want to do, who I want to be”
Next to Gazinskaya is a large suitcase. She’s just returned from a trip to the US where she met with the press and worked on developing her brand abroad, where she is already a hit. She comes highly praised by New York Times fashion journalist Cathy Horyn and her clothes are sold at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Colette in Paris as well as online at luxury fashion websites Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi. At home, it’s a similar story. Yet, call her a successful designer, and she immediately disagrees.
“That’s not what I call success,” she says. “Success is much more. It’s only the beginning for me.” Gazinskaya’s sense of ambition grows more and more palpable as she speaks. “In Russia, there was never anyone to learn from or train with and that’s still the case,” she says. “I’ve always tried to emulate the best in the fashion world, Miuccia Prada and the rest. Not just from a design point of view but from a business perspective. That perfect combination of a smart commercial story with creativity. Deep down, in my mind, I’ve always been in competition with them.”