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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Slava Zaitsev Still in Fashion at 60

Christian Dior, Versace and other champions of the catwalk got a lucky break Tuesday when Slava Zaitsev, Russia's top name in fashion, said he would refrain from toppling them from their pedestals.

Zaitsev's name still doesn't ring many bells in international fashion circles, even though the famous yellow tunic he designed for Vladimir Zhirinovsky during the 1996 presidential elections dazzled television cameras from around the world.

But as the man credited with bringing Soviet fashion out of the generic age toward the realm of couture, the flamboyant designer had a captive audience Tuesday at a news conference to mark his 60th birthday, which is next Monday.

"I'm a danger there in the West, competition. ... I could create an empire to challenge the likes of Dior, but I will never leave Russia," said Zaitsev, announcing that he will stay on home turf after his encounters with the world of high fashion in Paris and Rome in the late 1980s left him cold. "All those false smiles and decorations, they just want to own you."

Describing himself as having lots of enemies because he always speaks his mind, Zaitsev said his unorthodox approach to art and design during his 36-year career left him shunned through most of the Soviet period.

"But I didn't let it get me down because of a strong desire to give generations of Russians the potential I knew exists inside me, to create fashion not for collections, but fashion for people who crave beautiful, good-quality dresses, shirts, lingerie -- anything, and perfectly made."

Today there is no fashion industry in Russia, just a mass of talented people who work as they get money, Zaitsev lamented. He said his own House of Fashion on Prospekt Mira has been crippled by a 92 percent tax on revenues, and now only has 130 employees left compared with 500 at its peak in the 1980s.

Dressed as usual in a high-collared white shirt, black jacket and slacks, and sporting a close-cropped hairdo with blond highlights, Zaitsev was quizzed as to his New Russian leanings.

"I'm a toiler, not a New Russian," he protested, just as his mobile phone rang in his pocket. "A present," Zaitsev added hastily before answering the call.

The designer's name drew a blank Tuesday in queries to the London offices of magazines Vogue Fashion and Harpers & Queen, perhaps most charitably explained by the fact that most of their staff members were attending the London fashion week events.

Zaitsev, no doubt, would put it down to his aversion to inaccessible designs that pervade the Western scene.

"I don't do collections or pr?t-?-porter. My work is the most accessible clothing both in terms of style and expense," he said, adding that for a mere $400, doting husbands can pick out an exquisite dress of his design for their wives to mark Women's Day on March 8.