Feb 2, 2009
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Crisis spurs designer Simachev to return to Russia

Feb 2, 2009

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - After a break of several years, Russian fashion designer Denis Simachev returned to the Moscow catwalk at the weekend with a show evoking change and upheaval to support his homeland during the financial crisis.

Models sashayed with rectangular shoulder pads in stonewashed jumpsuits, tight leather mini skirts and red leopard print dresses under masses of big hair for the show, housed in the top floor of a disused weapons factory in the center of Moscow.

Simachev called his fall-winter collection 'Perestroika' -- a nod at Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's new political reforms of the 1980s before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, which many Russians remember as a period of euphoria and huge change.

The Muscovite designer made a veiled comparison between Soviets living during perestroika and present Russians' suffering during the crisis in a handout at the show.

"In reality their possibilities are extremely limited but what comes in short supply will never be an obstacle for the Soviet man," he said.

Against a backdrop of glowing disco balls, crowded paintings and red lighting, speakers blasted out a famous tune by Soviet singer Viktor Tsoi, which asks for change and holds intense emotional attachment for Russians who lived through the turbulent period.

The Russian love affair with luxury, which some homegrown designers say harks back to the time of the Czar and was buoyed by 10 years of growth on the back of high commodities and energy prices, is also beginning to see cracks in the financial crisis.

"We are showing in Moscow as we want to support our industry during the crisis," Simachev's spokesman Vadym Chernyshov said.

"It's to cheer Russia up," he told Reuters.

Simachev, who is known for his lavishly expensive 10,000 roubles ($282.4) cotton t-shirts with prints of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has in the past refused to show his collections at Moscow Fashion Week and instead opted for Milan or Paris.

Throngs of strawberry champagne-sipping socialites turned up for the show, which was his first on Russian soil in four years.

Members of the Moscow elite, including TV personality Ksenia Sobchak, who paraded a leather bikers' jacket and a thick sports headband on the catwalk, gave a standing ovation to Simachev.

"The rest of the world tries to show that we're tough, that we're strong, that there is opposition (to the crisis)," said American Bart Dorsa, owner and co-founder of budding Russian fashion brand Vika Gazinskaya.

"But then suddenly comes Russia and admits a weakness. That is when the underdogs become cool," he added.

Simachev's sole Moscow store -- in Europe his clothes are sold in boutiques -- is the only Russian retailer on a cobbled 18th century street, whose pastel-colored low-rise buildings house dozens of European luxury houses.

Though Simachev, who has all his often paisley-printed clothes and suede shoes made in Italy, refuses to reveal either his profits or revenues, industry insiders have said worldwide revenues last year were over $20 million.

He has 50 proposals to open new stores, from London to China to the United States, and plans to open several by 2010, as well as launch a yacht line and car line.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato)

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