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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putting Women In Uniform

Viktoria Andreyanova's newest clients are a far cry from the lithe and leggy supermodels who grace the catwalks of Milan and Paris. With their big waists, overflowing breasts and short statures, the women of the Moscow metro have the image of all that is unhip.

The 44-year-old fashion designer plans to change all that, having scored the metro uniform makeover gig in February.

While the 15,000 metro employees she's now charged with outfitting would probably not have felt at home at her old Ulitsa Petrovka boutique, Andreyanova says all women everywhere want the same thing -- for their knees to look nice.

Indeed, she seems to relish the challenge of making the metro staff -- mostly middle-aged or elderly women who spend all day manning ticket booths, turnstiles and escalators -- attractive. She says she has no desire to design clothes for size 0 waifs.

Style critics charge that Andreyanova's work is too mundane to be called fashion.

"She makes clothes to hide, not to show -- they're for curvy women," said Anna Karabash, fashion features editor at the Russian edition of Harper's Bazaar. "They're clothes for somebody who loves not to be noticed in a crowd."

Andreyanova has experience transforming styleless masses into, well, masses with style: The metro contract comes on the heels of a uniform-revamp project she did for Russian Post. She's just done Aeroflot, and is in negotiations with Russian Railways. And she maintains a crop of 50 or so private clients, including some State Duma members and the family of peasant-turned-Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon.

Andreyanova's office denied rumors that she designed clothes for first lady Lyudmila Putina.

Growing up in Moscow, Andreyanova attended stage-design and textile schools. She first designed for the state-run President-Service, which makes clothes for fashion-conscious State Duma members, their families and anyone else who can afford it, though the president himself doesn't shop there.

Her eponymous 1990s collections, presented in Moscow, were practical and everyday, not intellectual or intent on pushing boundaries. Still, she took first place at the "Dress of the Year" competition in 1995, and "Careful! Woman!" won the golden mannequin -- the top prize -- at Moscow High Fashion Week in 2000.

The duds she created for employees of the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow in 2002 were among her first for corporate clients. She designed the clothes worn by attendants at events celebrating St. Petersburg's 300th birthday in 2003. At Aeroflot, she dressed stewardesses in blue pashmina shawls and aprons with plaits printed down the side, and put ground staff in dungarees.

For 15 years Andreyanova has worked from a tired Soviet complex near the Kutuzovskaya metro station, west of the center. She employs 30 staff, and the elder of her two daughters, Yulia, 21, has started working for her. Her hours are typically 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and she earns enough to have bought a five-room apartment in Sokol. Her Ulitsa Petrovka boutique closed in 2004, as she shifted her focus to corporate clients.

For designers like Andreyanova, working with Soviet-era uniforms or their successors, there's a wealth of opportunity. The Soviets "loved to put people in uniforms. They didn't like to see individuality," said Alexandre Vassiliev, a historian of Russian fashion. They were often poor-quality and uncomfortable, he said.

But a uniform revamp has to be complemented by retraining, for example, if a company wants to erase bad impressions, said Nigel Marlow, director of business and consumer psychology programs at London Metropolitan University.

Andreyanova is already doing what she can in that respect, holding master classes for legions of employees on how to wear her uniforms. The designer -- who doesn't do much sewing anymore, only designing -- warned that they could murder her outfits if their hair wasn't right or they mixed items that didn't match.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Andreyanova's private clients include Duma deputies.
She says the new metro uniforms will be bright and sporty, though the company is conservative and asked that she tone down a blue suit. She wants to put ticket-office staff in white scarves printed with the metro map. Dresses for all ages will be knee-length, with the option of being raised or lowered 5 centimeters. She'll keep the red hat, but remodel it into something trendier. There will be winter and summer collections, and also a transitional one for in between.

Andreyanova toured stations as part of her research -- and noted that getting into the mind of a client is the first step in creating a successful product.

"The uniforms are an element of respect," she said. "If a turnstile attendant tells off the people that go past her, they should respect what she's saying and listen to her. And that's only possible when she has a corresponding appearance -- if she's dressed, not expensively, but presentably, dignified."

And the current military colors and itchy fabrics? "It lowers their status."