CH4RM: the brand reinventing Russian provincial glamour for the post-internet age

There is something irresistible about Russian fashion label CH4RM. A little like your high-school crush, the brand’s images catch your attention but linger in the back of your mind. Overflowing with glam 00s revival, CH4RM is the embodiment of creation in the post-internet age: new and fresh, but with the ghostly presence of familiar references.

“I think the biggest misconception about CH4RM so far is that we’re all about the 2000s — that is just a part of our inspiration. CH4RM is about the current moment, and the future,” says Nikita Chekrygin, the label’s founder and designer.

It’s not hard to track the 00s references in CH4RM designs: satin corsets, pastel colours, extremely low-rise jeans and playful quotes which could be pulled straight from R’n’B: let’s keep it online only”, “bad boys on their best behaviour”, “we all lose”. But nostalgia is certainly not the label’s only focus. The designs are timely to the point of becoming almost futuristic. Chekrygin describes CH4RM’s essence as “confidence, sexiness, sentimentality, and a hint of irony”. There is also, however, a deeper and more nuanced level to his work: his continuous appreciation of Russia’s contemporary visual culture, however strange, or even ugly, it may sometimes be.

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Chekrygin has been working in fashion for a few years: he founded his first brand CH-4 in 2017. In 2020, the label evolved into CH4RM when he joined forces with his friend Diana Feldman, who is now the second half of the label’s team. Chekrygin lives between Moscow and Tula, his hometown in western Russia, where CH4RM’s production is located.

I notice that in smaller towns outside of Moscow you have a different sense of time. It is a lot vaguer than in the capital. People who live there are much less captured by trends; they are mostly guided by their own understanding of the world. A lot of women haven’t even raised the waistline of their jeans [since low-rise went out of fashion]. To me, that encapsulates why our inspiration isn’t just “the ‘00s” but the translation of an alternative present,” the designer says. “People in rural Russia will still feel “sexy” and “cool”, because that’s how they see the world, even if people in Moscow say they’re “unfashionable”. I admire that and try to adopt that feeling into both my life and my collections”.

Growing up in Tula in the 1990s and 2000s certainly impacted Chekrygin’s sense of style. He witnessed Western pop culture merging with a very Russian reality, and at times, that would take strange forms. “Boys and girls were so absorbed by hip-hop and R’n’B culture, and dressed like their favourite stars. Girls imagined themselves as members of Destiny’s Child or the Pussycat Dolls, and boys seemed to be influenced by Chris Brown,” he remembers. “But there was always this mismatch, because the background [in our own lives] wasn’t Brooklyn or LA but blocks of flats from the Khrushchev era. That made this whole aesthetic take on new meanings.”

In part, CH4RM aesthetics are sleek and futuristic, but even this very global visual trend has a local twist. “The futuristic part of my work stems from Russian interiors,” he says. “After the ‘90s there was this trend for vivid green, plastic, glossy kitchens, decorative plasterboard ceilings. I guess these lines, colours, and style in the brand DNA are often mistaken for futurism.”

CH4RM is unique on the Russian market. Yet despite the label’s endless appreciation of its own background and heritage, it also creates designs which are universally saleable. Sources of inspiration go beyond locality too: the brand’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, Pollination, draws on flowers dusted with pollen to create colourful patterns accentuating the body’s curves.

There is also appeal in the brand’s careful attention to production and craft. When asked if he has a favourite item, the designer hesitates: “Frankly, there are no pieces that are not our favourite — we cherish every item. If I don’t feel that way about the final version of something, I just get rid of it. But this season, I particularly like this top we made from silicone pads: partly because we worked on them for more than six months.”

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As a young brand, CH4RM has a long path ahead, and it’s not without challenges. Chekrygin admits that the Russian fashion industry lacks systemic support, but he is lucky enough to have a community to lean on: “our friends can help with advice, in production, in the studio, and in the most difficult and crucial moments.”

Chekrygin is determined to find a way to create and sell his unique designs, securing a global future for his vision. “I guess the biggest problem is the adaptation of an original product. There are a lot of stereotypes in Russia about Russian brands,” he says. “But I think that fashion is not attached to a particular geographical location, and I want CH4RM to be free of this labelling, to be easy to understand, and available worldwide.”

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