May 21, 2012 11:50AM

Oyster #99: Vika Gazinskaya

"My friends were dating boys and I was playing with Barbie."

Vika Gazinskaya has carved a niche for herself since launching her self-titled label five years ago in Moscow. With their hand-drawn prints, futuristic flair and neat, ladylike shapes, her designs are like nothing we've seen before.

Walking into the Ritz in Paris is always a humbling experience. As I battle the urge to roll around on the Persian rugs, hang from the chandeliers and high five the bellboy, it hits me that I will probably never be a guest here — I can barely justify buying a drink at the Hemingway Bar (Hemingway probably couldn't have, either). It's definitely a place that distinguishes between the haves and the have-nots — and, to make matters worse, on my most recent visit to the hotel I get into the (very small) elevator with Grace Coddington. I know she's not Anna Wintour and this isn't the Condé Nast building, but as the doors slowly close I feel as though my every move is a faux pas. Eyes on shoes. 

Fittingly, the glamorous young designer Vika Gazinskaya has set up here in a suite during Fashion Week. Vika is part of the Russian girlcrush mafia, a group of friends who are stalked by Tommy Ton, Candice Lake and half of Tumblr. Upon my arrival (and as if on cue), Miroslava Duma emerges from a room wearing an indigo sailor cap, tweed Chanel coat-dress (the double Cs adorning it like a badge of honour) and quilted Chanel backpack. She looks like a back-in-theday Paula Abdul — in a good way. 

Vika and Miro are like Russian style royalty, although for Vika things aren't exactly as they seem. She is well-groomed, wearing a sweet blouse and printed pants, and very pretty (her eyebrows are perfect), yet although she looks like one of the aforementioned 'haves', she hasn't always been surrounded by the luxurious trappings of high fashion. 

"Growing up in the Soviet Union there was no fashion," she explains as we settle on the couch, her expression thoughtful. "There were no fashion boutiques and no fashion magazines — I did not see any before Cosmopolitan [first published there in 1994] and then Vogue only came in 1996."

"When I was six, though, I saw a Barbie doll for the first time. I was born into a very poor family, but my neighbour was really, really rich and she had this Barbie. It was a real cultural shock when I saw it, because in the Soviet Union we just had big dolls like this [she pulls a face and makes a large round shape with her hands] and when I saw Barbie — and I'm not saying that I think Barbie is the best doll — I dreamt about it for many years. You couldn't buy one in the Soviet Union."

In 1991, when Vika was eleven, the Soviet Union fell apart, and among all the other monumental changes she finally got her first Barbie. "I was playing with Barbies until I was 14. My friends were dating boys, and I was playing with Barbie and making this world for Barbie beautiful."

Obviously the young Vika was destined to design, but the process has not been easy for her. In Russia international designers are worshipped — initially it was the likes of Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana ("too many bright, tight things"), and now it is Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent. The local industry, however, gets little support. "[As a designer] I think I am so much more than Russian. Russia is a great market [in which] to sell clothes … but our government makes money on oil, on metal. They don't care. They don't even know what fashion is. I always compare doing fashion in Russia to growing orchids in the north, in the ice."

The analogy is a neat one, particularly if you're familiar with Vika's designs. Against all odds her collections are fresh and light, and there is always a playful element in each piece, be it graphics or unusual volume and structure. Does her work signal a coming change for Russia? "I'm not sure. I understand what you're talking about, but I think the last great period in Moscow — when something great was happening — was the tens and twenties. Although I hope it will come."

Photography: Stevie Dance

Alice Cavanagh

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