Contemporary fashion is not about perfection anymore. Eastern European girls — tall, skinny, angelically beautiful — have been the top casting choice for the past couple of decades, but the rules of the game are changing. Model agencies are trying to cast more ethnically diverse models and to provide a wider range of characters and body types. The Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy was among the first to cast his models from Russia’s streets — from friends, skaters and various types of lost youth. For Rubchinskiy, casting individuals rather than generic models was a way of putting a face to the story of post-Soviet youth.
In his wake, now comes the Moscow-based model agency Lumpen, set up by film director Avdotja Alexandrova, who founded the company based on her fascination with faces and characters who didn’t fit the standards of the fashion industry. Those outsiders were featured in Alexandrova’s films and video works but this wasn’t enough for her. She wanted to create a means for them to be employed and appreciated, and to receive more credit for their stories.
“I became a photographer and a film director because I’ve always been fascinated by unusual types. I used to think that I love really striking, bold faces simply because I have bad eyesight, but now I realise that my interest is deeper than it seems - I am drawn to both appearance and character of my models, to their stories and experiences as much as their faces,” says Alexandrova.
Lumpen models have already been featured in international fashion magazines, in a video by London-based fashion brand ZDDZ and in the latest Vetements Paris fashion show. Lumpen and Vetements, the French fashion brand often described as a successor to Nineties-era Maison Martin Margiela, were a real match: dressed in strangely oversized, disproportionate garments and leather, the Russian outcasts were in their element. Lumpen male models have also made unlikely poster boys for LGBT rights through editorials by British photographer Harley Weir and stylist Lotta Volkova for Re-Edition and Document journal exposing a different side of Russian masculinity.
The story, however, is not limited to pages of fashion magazines. Lumpen is interesting as a collective portrait of the new generation of Russians. These are the faces that would otherwise go unseen, the boys and girls living in their ordinary neighborhoods, in ordinary Russian cities, with no obvious connection to the international fashion world. Kids who just happened to pass someone who appreciated them for the way they are. They’ve lived most of their adolescence under a conservative government, in an environment hardly welcoming of individuality. Lumpen is a step towards appreciating the different, and in today’s Russia, it’s badly needed.