The sun is shining when Lesia Paramonova appears on the terrace of Oldich Dress & Drink, a Moscow bar and vintage store that has fast become a favourite of the fashion cognoscenti. Paramonova, who founded fashion label LES, sparkles in the mid-morning light, dressed in a pale yellow sweatshirt, a scaly silver skirt and a fluorescent blue backpack of her own design. She stands out among Moscow’s fashion crowd, who these days veer towards a more minimalist look.
LES, which sounds like the Russian word for “forest” (les) and her name, Lesia, was launched only a year and a half ago after Paramonova won a graduate competition run by Cycles and Seasons, Moscow’s alternative fashion week. Requests from buyers and the press swiftly followed.
Stepping into Paramonova’s world is like stepping in to the pages of a fairy tale. Her use of floral prints and translucent fabrics, mainly in white and pastels, are executed in a whimsical, almost hallucinatory style. Her shoots too have an ethereal quality to them, helped by liberal use of feathers, glitter, stars and all manner of foliage.
What makes Paramonova’s clothing stand out are the prints. These form a core part of her designs and are rich with curious flora and fauna, from flying insects and birds of every description to heads of mice that grow on stalks. “Most of my time and effort goes into creating small animals,” she says. “Flowers and monsters which can later be used for prints.”
Despite the dreamy note that her collections strike, Paramonova has a practical — not to mention maverick — head on her shoulders. When she’s not sketching prints, she’s thinking about how she can help the local fashion industry develop. While most designers choose to have their clothes produced more cheaply in Asia, Paramonova insists on everything being made in Moscow. “It’s doable,” she says. “You don’t need to print fabrics in Italy, you just need to keep an eye on the process and ensure the production company makes endless samples. The only thing is the price, as the labour here is quite expensive. Despite this, our products are 100% Russian.”
“I don’t want to follow seasons or trends. I like to create things that last and approach design as an art”
Paramonova is similarly unorthodox when it comes to the relentless cycle of fashion seasons. “I want to make one big collection a year,” she says. “Doing two collections doesn’t suit my rhythm. I don’t want to follow seasons or trends. I like to create things that last and approach design as an art. I consider myself much more of an artist than a designer.”
Paramonova’s decision to march to her own rhythm would have been impossible before the internet. Where once independent fashion designers depended on fashion weeks to present their collections to buyers and the media, the increasing ubiquity of the online world has changed all that. Now, designers have multiple platforms to broadcast their latest designs to fashion fans round the globe at any time of the year.
Paramonova’s online presence has been boosted by her friendship with top London fashion blogger Susie Bubble, who has been snapped wearing a LES design on more than one occasion. “I’ve been following her blog for ages and everything she writes appeals to me 100%,” says Paramonova. “After my first show, I decided to contact Susie, introduce myself and send her my lookbook. She wrote a post about me and as a thank you I sent her a set of clothes. She wore them to the London Olympics, which brought be a lot of attention from foreign press and stores.”
When she’s not online, Paramonova is busy finding other unconventional ways of presenting her collections. Last year, she organised a film screening in an open-air cinema in Gorky Park. “I deliberately made it an open event because I wanted as many people as possible to come,” she says.
The whimsical nature of Paramonova’s designs, which evoke the fairy tale-filled days of childhood, has helped LES gain an international following. “I have a company that promotes me in the US. We also have buyers from Dubai and Saudi Arabia, and I sell in online stores in Croatia. Many people contact us by email and we ship worldwide. According to our statistics, an equal number of Russians and non-Russians buy our clothes.”
One of her current bestsellers is a turquoise dress made from fabric that features a pale, skinny girl with sad-looking eyes and duck heads for hands, sitting atop a giant. Like all her other characters, she looks like she’s come straight from a children’s book. “For me, fabric is a surface like canvas,” says Paramonova. “It’s an area ripe for experimentation.”