Russians Embrace Calvin Klein, Timberland And the Rest

Dressed in a Burberry shirt and Calvin Klein jeans, Ivan Mikheenko stood in a souvenir shop in central St. Petersburg listening to music on his Apple iTouch as he waited to assist customers. His Burberry shirt matched his black vest. “CK” poked out from beneath the plaid of the shirt, and the apple insignia on his iTouch was peeking out of the front pocket of his jeans. He looked like a walking billboard for designer brands.

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Photo by Rachel Yeh

“The people go crazy for big American brands here,” said Mikheenko, 19. He estimated that about 60 percent of the people in the city wear luxury clothing. “We have little high quality things here.”

Fashion in Russia is considered to be 10 to 15 years behind the latest styles in the West. During Soviet times, the import of western clothes was forbidden, although plenty of fashionable jeans and sneakers were smuggled in behind the Iron Curtain. Jeans were particularly popular.

About five years after the Soviet Union collapsed, designer brands began making their official appearance in Russia. In 1998, Vogue introduced a Russian edition. It signaled that Russian society has undergone a change in the politics of style. Thirteen years later, designer brands are widely popular.

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Photo by Rachel Yeh

High-quality American brands such as Timberland and Calvin Klein are particularly popular. But quality is not the only thing that attracts Russians to these brands, said Galina Chernousova of St. Petersburg. It’s the names. The names “Calvin Klein” and “Timberland” are symbols of wealth. That’s true whether the product is genuine or counterfeit.

“But it’s too expensive in St. Petersburg and Moscow,” said Mikheenko. It is not unusual for Russians to travel to other countries to get the same high-quality clothes for a cheaper price. In 2009, luxury brands saw a decrease in demand of about 15 to 20 percent. The drop in demand came from Russian clients preferring to shop in Europe.

There are plenty of luxury Russian brands, like Tvoyo. But Russians said their own luxury brands are too high-priced, especially given their poor quality.

Some famous Western clothing designers have come from Russia; Sultanna Frantsuzova and Slava Zaitsev are two examples. But Russians still prefer Western designers over their own. “This is popular for people that have money,” said Chernousova, 22.

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Photo by Rachel Yeh

Banking reporter Ana Keampets said the style among Russians is “an awful situation with no taste or style.” People wear conflicting name brand clothing at the same time, which is the opposite of fashion. They are like Mikheenko, strutting the names of luxury brands to show status.

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Photo by Rachel Yeh