Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


I huddled down in the mosh-pit of fashion photographers as the main hall of the Kino Rossiya began to fill up. Five rows down is Vladic Monroe (a bloke who got famous dressing up as Marylin Monroe) sitting with some pop star women, who's bald head is painted with ivy leaves. A few rows away from them, on the other side of the runway is Igor, the owner of St. Petersburg club Port, and general bon vivant, surrounded with his usual kindle of gorgeous women and rich young men. His wife, Nellie, is one of the models in tonight's show. The tusovshchiki are here and the rest of the crowd are the usual emissaries of money, media and business.

The lights dim. A small Japanese woman in a cream coloured kimono shuffles out under a spotlight, in the graceful way the Japanese have of moving about slowly. "Welcome to Alexei Grekoff spring collection, pr?t-?-porter."

Music kicks in. A model appears from behind the 2-meter-high white letters that run across the length of the stage, spelling out "GREKOFF," and cruises down the runway. The show has begun.

Grekoff is maybe the No. 2 of three big name Russian post-collapse fashion designers. He comes out of those that were designing for Gorby and managed to make the transition. For instance, one of Grekoff's main rivals, Valentin Yudashkin, began his career designing clothes for the staff of the Hotel Ukraine and Aeroflot and now makes big clothes and ball gowns in collections called things like "Catherine the Great," "Faberge" and "Ballet."

Likewise, Grekoff's stuff doesn't grace the pages of young hip magazines such as OM or Ptyuch, but he is in the big league -- by Russian standards.

At his last show in November 1997, he introduced his "New Denim Philosophy," i.e. jeans. Big business in Russia. He's the Calvin Klein of Russia.

When I say Calvin Klein, I am not just drawing a parallel, but mean exactly that. If you think that Russia is open to the rest of the world, think again. When it comes to things like fashion and music the Russians have an amazingly cheeky talent for looking out and shamelessly copying concepts within; adding nothing of their own on the assumption that none of the punters will know any better. For example, why the Japanese translated introduction? It was never explained and I couldn't see anything Eastern in the clothes. But then that is typical of the Russian creative types. They have this thing about making a statement -- something to mark them out from the original -- but not actually saying anything that makes sense. It is not even as deep as the Zen idea of saying nonsense that can shock you into enlightenment. It is just meaningless.

I guess that's why fashion labels are so important here. It is not about good taste at all. Half the people in this hall couldn't tell a d?collet? from a boob tube. They need a label to tell them what is beautiful.

Even if the Cucumber isn't about to join the golden plaid triangle of Paris, London and Milan, it remains a huge business. Russians spent a whooping $1.2 billion on fashion last year, not including purchases madeoutside of the country. (I bet Nellie and her mates have doubled that number by themselves). The designers realize the importance of image.

Yudashkin, for one, has an office in Paris and a manufacturing plant in Italy, but sells most of his stuff in Russia. Grekoff is riding high on this "Russia is with it" vibe. Anyone who has a pop at doing something that the rest of the world does will get famous here. They have fashion shows in Paris -- we have to have fashion shows here. They have La Defence in Paris and Canary Wharf in London -- we have to have the City Project here. And the media hype it all up with a subliminal: "We're still great," message running under everything. Grekoff great? No. Getting better? Give you that.