#13 - JRL 7133
The Straits Times (Singapore)
April 6, 2003
Their days in fashion Siberia are practically over. Russian models are now hotter than a bowl of borscht. Or cooler than ice-cold vodka
By Lionel Seah
The Brazilians came first. Then the Belgian models were next. Now, Russian models look set to rule the international catwalk circuit.
First up is Natalia Vodianova. Barely 20, she is the face of Gucci, Calvin Klein and, more recently, L'Oreal, the world's largest skincare and cosmetics brand.
Then there is the much younger Anne Vyalitsyna, who was, last year, declared a face to watch by Guy Trebay of the New York Times Style Section.
Now 16, Vyalitsyna is the face of Chanel's new fragrance, Chance. Under her belt are also advertising campaigns for Anna Molinari, Versus and Chloe.
Russian models, says Russian journalist Igor Malakhov, have become popular of late because their looks are different from their European counterparts.
Mr Malakhov writes for the Russian editions of Elle and Marie Claire. He was in Singapore for the Singapore Fashion Festival, which ended on Friday.
He says: 'Russia is so big. You can see girls with different Slavic, Oriental, southern and northern features, sometimes all on the same face.'
Their height and body proportions, he adds, also make them stand out.
Ms Olga Iserlis, programme director for the festival, believes that fashion designers, jaded with the androgynous silhouette, are now more interested in Russian models' voluptuous silhouettes.
'Most of these models would have had training in high fashion, and classic catwalking. And it shows in their comportment, which makes them extremely classy, and elegant,' adds Ms Iserlis, who was born in St Petersburg, but is now an American citizen.
Indeed, looking at the seven Russian models specially flown in for Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin's haute couture catwalk show last Wednesday, one can easily see their appeal.
Dressed in 68 outfits handmade from super-expensive threads and Russian dolled up, the statuesque women made a deep impression on those who saw them.
Mr RS Danny, the show producer for the Valentin Yudashkin event, says the Russians have another quality: good work ethic.
'They are very disciplined and they always arrive on time. Don't speak English, but don't give you problems at all,' he says.
'They were ideal for the show because they know how to walk or glide at the haute couture shows, not stomp around like in ready-to-wear shows. They even taught the other models how to walk.'
One reason for their rise, fashion critics argue, is that there is a new wave of hungry Russians now bingeing on fashion.
Fashion was never on the communist agenda until the early 1990s, when international magazines like Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and L'Officiel brought out Russian editions.
'When the borders were opened, Russian women realised that they could make a living modelling. Many just went abroad, determined to pursue it. Some were successful, others were not,' says Mr Malakhov.
Whatever it is, it seems that Russian models have caught up with Western developments faster than Stalin ever did with his Five Year Plans, and are now invading European fashion capitals.
Wonder what Marx would say to that?
ANNE VYALITSYNA: Discovered at 15 last year at an MTV contest - Fashionably Loud Europe - in her homeland. Vyalitsyna is the face of Chanel's new Chance fragrance. She has also fronted campaigns for Anna Molinari, Chloe and Sportsmax, and catwalked for Versus, Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana.
YANA VERBA : Ukrainian-born but Canadian-raised, Verba's portfolio includes appearances in British Vogue, Nylon, Russian Vogue, Dutch and Harper's Bazaar. The Ford model also did shows for Jill Stuart, Diesel, Richard Tyler and Betsey Johnson last year.
NATALIA VODIANOVA: Star of both Prada and Yves Saint Laurent's shows in Paris last month. The face of new ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, L'Oreal and Gucci. Just 20, she is married to Briton Justin Portman and has a one-year-old son Lucas.
EUGENIA VOLODINA: Hailing from the Republic of Tatarstan, Volodina has shot with famed lensman Steven Meisel, and can be seen in Italian Vogue, Arena Homme Plus and Harper's Bazaar. She was also in the Gucci and Christian Dior J'Adore 2002 campaigns. Volodina is from Grace Models in Russia, the agency responsible for Natalia Vodianova.
NADEJDA SAVCOVA: From the obscure former Soviet republic of Moldavia, this smouldering brunette made appearances in Italian Vogue (as the subject of Michel Comte's gaze) and L'Uomo Vogue last year.