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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mastering the Art of Designer Chic

ST. PETERSBURG -- On first impression Tanya Parfyonova is the antithesis of a successful, flamboyant fashion designer. She is short, plump and middle-aged. But her artistic talent is considerable enough that her creations are worn by Lyudmila Sobchak, the wife of St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and the opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya.


Even the famous Italian clothes designer Trussardi visited her atelier recently and bought a scarf from her latest collection, 20 silk pieces inspired by a Matisse exhibit at the Hermitage Museum.


"Matisse is a painter I love a lot," says Parfyonova, whose models have displayed her works on catwalks in New York and Los Angeles. "I consider him the painter of painters and I wanted to interpret his work into mine."


Each garment in the Matisse collection -- tunics, jackets and scarves in striking blue, yellow and brown French silk -- is hand-embroidered with exotic scenes from the impressionist works. Although this is a top-of-the-range selection, her clothes are a bargain by Western designer label standards and sell between $400 and $2,000.


Parfyonova, who has some 15 to 20 regular clients, started her business in the mid-1980s, when she made the risky decision to leave her job as a designer at St. Petersburg's Dom Modi. She was the first designer to take such a leap.


"They created the conditions that forced me to leave," she says of the directors of Dom Modi. "They didn't want to create new fashions. They never aimed to earn money or to fill the market with new or different designs. The work was boring and I felt stupid sitting there drawing all those sketches for clothes that nobody wanted to make."


Three years ago, during a presentation at the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, she met her Swedish business partner, Erik Warming of the Rabalder Fashion Company.


The partnership allows her to sell her own label in his shops in Oslo and Stockholm.


Together they plan to open a boutique on St. Petersburg's Nevsky Prospekt, but she says that Russia's complex tax legislation is holding them back.


The Parfyonova label has also received good reviews in the United States, where Parfyonova hopes to start working with an American partner in the near future.


She acknowledges that many wealthy Russians prefer to wear internationally-known designer labels like Armani and appreciates the fact that Russians now can make that choice. "Of course there is an element of snobbism about it, but that will pass when the market normalizes," she says.


Her passion for creating clothes stems from her desire to see people happy.


"I love to observe the metamorphosis of the person I create the clothes for," she says. "It's a wonderful feeling.


"You see somebody looking at themselves in the mirror. They change into something completely different. Their eyes shine in a different light. It's a feeling that this person has found a new life and is already thinking who they will meet when they leave, what they will say. They start a whole new life in connection with their new clothes."