Maria Usanova interviews Alexander Shumsky, general producer at MBFWR, about the developments inside the Russian fashion industry
Interview March 25, 2012 – Moscow, Russia
By Maria Usanova
Europa Regina: What is going on with the fashion industry in Russia? Does MBFWR differ from other fashion weeks professionally?
Alexander Shumsky: Professionally we do not differ from any other fashion week. It does not matter where a fashion week takes place Tokyo, Peking, New York, Paris or Milan, the principles are the same. It is the designers, who make the difference. Every fashion week is a national event demonstrating local fashion. In Milan and Paris fashion is a part of their national identity. That’s why it draws more attention.
Another thing is that some designers are more successful than the others. Some invite press and the buyers and some wait that the latter or fashion will take the initiative. But it does not work this way. Prada does not wait for the buyers to come. They do all the management themselves. Fashion week gives the designers opportunity to show more effectively. The other matter is that the designers might not do their best and thus they fail.
Europa Regina: What kind of failure do you mean?
Alexander Shumsky: For example, a couple of fashion shows were cancelled about 5-7 years ago the day before but no information was sent to the visitors. MBFWR stopped working with a couple of good designers because only about 10 visitors came to their fashion show. And after that designers claimed they were not satisfied with the organization of the fashion week. Some of them think that the fashion week should undertake all the promotion and management. That is not what fashion week is responsible for. Lack of professionalism is the main problem in Russia among the designers. There are many talented designers here but they have a very vague idea how to run the business.
Europa Regina: Do you mean that a lot depends on designers themselves?
Alexander Shumsky: Not a lot, but everything, always and everywhere. You do not go to Mario Boselli in Italy to ask what he does for Prada. He puts them on schedule. The rest is designers’ responsibility. MBFWR can only help the designers. We provide them with lists of buyers, with contact details, lists of journalists, if they need. We give all the information. The rest they should do themselves. We have over 50 fashion shows each season. Why should we prefer one designer over another? We should either manage all the designers or none of them. In other countries there are specialized PR agencies and they are paid for it. Try to ask IMG in New York to arrange invitations for you and you will pay 3 times more than you would pay for the rent of the runway.
Europa Regina: How can you describe Russian fashion industry? There are doubts if it exists at all.
Alexander Shumsky: Russian fashion industry exists. And we do our best to show our designers that production works and it is a very good business. This season we organized round table with Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade to give opportunity industrial enterprises that produce high quality clothes of Russian fabrics to enter MBFWR. You will be surprised to know how many brands of Russian origin produce and sell here. Roughly speaking it is every second shop. However they do not promote as Russian brands in Cyrillic but use Latin names.
Usually designers that participate in MBFWR do not make business on a large scale. And the reason is that they are not experienced enough and are not always ready to produce. It is hard to make a collection but the rest of the process is even harder. That’s what Russian designers have to learn a lot about. That’s what MBFRW constantly works on. Business program is an integral part of our schedule every season. We organize seminars, give information on marketing, production, tips how to work with buyers and so on. We organize meetings between designers and buyers; give accreditations to journalists, bloggers, funds, professionals, and so on. We give grants to the young designers, winners of numerous fashion contests such as Russian Siluette or allow them to make fashion shows free of charge. That is our contribution to the development of the industry.
Our goal is to make designers evolve more effectively. And many of them do.
Let’s take Sultanna Frantsuzova for example. She made some very impressive fashion shows at MBFWR. After that some investors who liked her designs came up to her. Their communication resulted in a big project. She opened a lot of shops and made big sales all over Russia around 5-7 years ago. Later she argued with the investors and disappeared for several years making clothes under another brand. She had a trial to protect her brand name. And now she is coming back as Sultanna Frantsuzova. Nevertheless this is a story of success. When designers can use given potential they always achieve good results.
Another example is Jenny Packham who participated in MBFWR for six seasons in a row. She arrives here every season, because she has clear understanding how it helps her to promote her business. After first year of exhibiting at our fashion week she enlarged her sales volume three times taking into consideration that she was selling actively in Russia before in TSUM and other largest shopping malls.
Europa Regina: What are the typical mistakes of Russian designers in your opinion?
Alexander Shumsky: Fashion houses in Russia are specific commercial units. As a rule they are atelier type. Very few houses are engaged in production. It’s a client oriented business here. That’s why private customers are invited in the first place to the fashion week or designers’ friends and family members, not buyers or press.
Moreover some investors like the idea to possess a fashion house and do not care if it’s unprofitable. For them it is not business but fun or a status thing. They do what they think is right to do. It is up to them to take part in a fashion week or not, make 10 dresses or 10 thousand, open shops, if they have money or not, go to Paris to make fashion shows or to another country. All failures are their responsibility. But it is difficult for them to confess it. Many designers in Russia like to describe themselves as the most perspective designers. But no one can be perspective for 10 years. You either succeed or…
For example the first wave of Russian designers that went to Paris failed. None of them had well organized business and they all went bankrupt. They all were investing in their ego not in business. Igor Chapurin was participating in Paris Fashion Week for 10 seasons in a row and spent around 5 million EUR but earned cents. He never sold anything in France in big volume.
In fact that was a very bad example for young designers depriving them of any motivation to work and develop.
Luckily all that ‘foam’ has been washed out by now. Those designers who were starring in 2000 are not interesting anymore. Unfortunately Russian fashion has not born so far any world class designer. Slava Zaitsev remains number one for 50 years already. How could that be? On the one hand it is good since he takes part in MBFWR, on the other hand there should be many more new names. So MBFWR is raising them.
A new generation of designers appeared 4 years ago in Moscow. They evolve in a different way. They do not think how to look stunning on a runway somewhere in Milan or Tokyo; they care for the commercial part of fashion process.
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Europa Regina: How is the progress in the Russian fashion industry?
Alexander Shumsky: The progress is great. Everything develops rather rapidly in Russia. When we were making the first fashion week 12 years ago we could hardly find 20 designers. We gathered everyone decent and made fashion shows, now we receive three applications a day and choose best of the best. There are hundreds of fashion designers in Russia and we discover the stars. Take for example Maria Golubeva or Yanina Vekhteva. The number of designers shows that industry is evolving and soon really high quality commercial projects will appear from this mass.
Europa Regina: How did the global financial crisis affect the Russian fashion industry and designers?
Alexander Shumsky: As I have already told fashion business was customer oriented in Russia. That is the luxury segment producing something very expensive, specially designed and in small quantities. If designers had 300 customers before the crisis, during the crises they had 250. Then they found some new and did not loose much. The crisis especially affected the medium segment, because it was underdeveloped in Russia. Mass market feels well because the people from medium segment went into mass market and switched from more expensive clothes to cheaper one. So I do not think the crisis affected Russian designers much. On the contrary it gave them a stimulus, made them more sober and revealed the existing problems. It ruined all those pseudo fashion houses that seemed to be large but hand nothing in reality.
Europa Regina: Do foreign designers come willingly to MBFWR?
Alexander Shumsky: Yes, they are quite many. MBFWR is an ideal entry to the Russian market. The vivid example is Jenny Packham or Polish designer Eva Minge. They know how to get the effect from the shows here. Eva Minge could enter the Russian market on her own expense. But it would involve very big investment. And at MBFWR she only paid for the rent of the podium. Every designer that shows here in Moscow gets very vast audience with minimum expenses.
And now communication systems are changing rapidly. MBFWR life streams are on Europa Regina. We checked the audience here and the result was fantastic. For three days almost one hundred thousand of unique visitors viewed our shows all over the world. Thanks to you and thanks to Fashion TV. From these 100.000 only 40 % are from Russia. The other are the whole world. Yes, you can show in Moscow, but you can communicate with the rest of the world.
The scale of presentation is changing as well as fashion weeks. In general fashion weeks stopped performing their old functions long ago. Do you know how they worked? In reality buyers came there, watched collections at runways and after shows made the orders. It was in the middle of 1990s. In 2000 business has changed. Fast Fashion (Zara, H&M, French Connection UK) changed customer’s preferences drastically. Even big brands now are sewing collections. They do not make deliveries to the shops twice a year as they used to, they do it many times. If you come to Prada’s showroom in Milan there will be 4 times more looks compared with what is shown on a runway. Now show it’s an entertainment for buyers and the source of information for mass media. All the orders are made beforehand. Now there is no need to go to the show directly, you can do it on the Internet. There was no such opportunity 15 years ago. Even 5 years ago Milan and London Fashion Week issued special accreditations for Internet magazines. Chinese photographers could not get accreditations at all because designers feared that their collection could be copied. Now it is clear that it is useless to fight with this. On the contrary we can make use of it.
Moreover it is cheaper to make a fashion show in Moscow than in any other European capital (7-10 times cheaper than in Milan or Paris, flight and accommodation are excluded). Paris, Milan or New York Fashion Week are highly competitive. Over 300 designers show within 7 days in NYFW for instance. Every time slot comprises several alternatives all over the city. To make real success there one should perform on the main week and on the main grounds, which are expensive, so it involves serious investment. That’s why Moscow can be a very good launch pad for foreign designers. They will get opportunity to win a very big audience. It’s very profitable and exciting to work on the Russian market. Professional foreign companies feel very comfortable here. We estimate annual turnover of the Russian market over 50-60 billion EUR.
Europa Regina: Please tell me about your relations with other fashion weeks such as Volvo Fashion Week Moscow or Aurora Fashion Week. Do you cooperate?
Alexander Shumsky: They can’t be called fashion weeks. These are private enterprises. Any trade show related to fashion can be called Fashion Week in Russia. To be a fashion week you need format. MBFWR is the only professional fashion week in Russia. There are hundreds of designers in Moscow now. We can’t accept all of them. That’s why such events as Volvo Fashion Week Moscow are organized. But this event is more like an exhibition. It’s not a fashion week from the professional point of view. There are some more fashion weeks in Moscow. The question is, what is shown there, how it looks and how it works. Is it professional or not? I think MBFWR has a very clear function. We want to gather the best designers and we constantly work on this. Big names do not matter much for us. The only name we acknowledge is Zlava Zaitsev. The other designers are on another level. In fact foreign press does not know anyone from Russian designers. They evaluate collections, clothes, designs, ideas. Italian Vogue presented this season at MBFWR. They look at everything and like what is really made well. But there were no famous names.
So the only important thing is what is going on on the runway. In this respect not many fashion weeks in Europe can be compared to MBFWR to say nothing about Russia. We show very good clothes and very good designers.
MBFWR cooperates with minor regional events such as Siberian Fashion Week, St. Petersburg Fashion Week (Defile on Neva). It’s not Aurora Fashion Week. Aurora is a so called “art project” sponsored by two oligarchs. “Defile on Neva” are already 10 years in the industry, but they are local. They are more professional in respect of selection of designers and other approaches. And you can see the result of our cooperation on the runway.
Last season we made show of three St Petersburg Designers. Tatiana Sulimina participated in this collective fashion show last season. This April she came back with a solo fashion show.
Europa Regina: Thank you for sharing your expertise about the Russian fashion industry.