In this special interview, the rising star and Russian designer Anastasia Grigoryeva, Master of Arts Contemporary Fashion Design graduate, reveals how she became a busy fashion designer and her fabulous secrets of creation. A fantastic and beautiful lesson of will, diligence, (very) hard work and joyful creativity. An interview to be read like a novel!
Michel Temman: You made your name within the fashion scene – your clothes appeared recently in the French Vogue – but when did you actually decide to join the fashion world?
Anastasia Grigoryeva: Right before my school leaving party, I realized that my future as a sociologist was a promising one, but… I told my parents that I wanted to study design. I had two equally shallow reasons: a lot of cute boys were going to a famous architect school, and I also wanted to draw a head! At that time, I didn’t know how to draw, although I had spent eight years learning sculpture. My Mum said: “Are you crazy? You’ll have to practice drawing eight hours a day!” But my parents always believed in me and they supported this desire of mine as well. After my drawing lessons, my tutor told me that I had potential and that my sculpture lessons had helped me to develop a sense of shape and a sense of colour. My mum agreed to let me apply to an art school on one condition: I would take the entrance exams over and over again, every day, until I got in. That’s how I got admitted to the last open spot at the fashion design department of my university (the MPEI, Moscow Power Engineering Institute). But still, back then, I wasn’t really sold on the idea of designing clothes.
M.T.: Then, what happened? What was the click?
Anastasia Grigoryeva: At my beloved university, I arranged a meeting with the dean in order to discuss a possibility of switching to interior or industrial design. Alla Vladimirovna (the dean) said: “If for you fashion design is just threads, you are wasting your time here…” That made me realize that fashion design should be a really interesting and serious profession. And so began my six years of drawing, painting, history of art and other interesting subjects. We made paper models, worked in darkrooms using film process techniques to create silhouettes… For my third year of university, I went to the London College of Fashion. It was in the city of red double-deckers that I developed my own style. I finally had absolute freedom to experiment with different looks. In a country where the Queen peacefully coexists with punks, I knew nobody would bat an eye no matter how eccentric my outfits were. At the end of the year, I returned to Moscow. In Moscow, I did my graduation project, a street style collection for young people which I playfully named “Fashion NONsense”. It included items made of paper cloth, a coat for two, prints saying “Fashion Fast Food”, and masks made by my cousin Stas Kanevsky – an incredibly talented artist. The masks were as essential accessories for my collection as handbags are for the queen of England – even though nobody knows what could possibly be inside!
M.T.: It seems that you already then had an inner sense for staging and scenography…
Anastasia Grigoryeva: For the photo shoot, I wanted to choose some quirky settings and I got lucky! I got the permission to do the shoot in the Museum of Cosmonautics, the year of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight. My models posing by lunar rovers made their effect in my portfolio. The staff at the Museum had never seen anything like it before. Our graduation fashion show was held at the Slava Zaitsev Moscow Fashion House. The whole Zaitsev family was at the show, and liked it. All in all there were eight collections, all of them unique. My classmates and I were always an inspiration for each other, everyone trying to surprise and encourage the others. I wish all of you to find such good friends, colleagues and muses in your lives.
M.T.: How did you really engage in fashion design? What were your very first steps?
Anastasia Grigoryeva: As a university student, I took up some unusual projects. For instance, I made a hoop skirt out of golden bars for The Satire Theatre, designed a concert dress for the Gnesin Academy choir, and drew a logo for the “Gorodskoy Dandy” (a city dandy) menswear brand. After graduation, I worked as a stylist and designer at the children’s clothes company Stillini. I was fortunate and organized fashion shows, put together outfits, did model castings, conducted photo shoots, was responsible for hair and make-up, developed basic look-book ideas, wrote articles, composed magazines…
The company where I worked took part in the Fashion Week in Milan, in the Pitti Bimbo exhibition in Florence, in the Kremlin shows in Moscow, and many others. I also got very lucky to have a chance to work on a project with Eugene Kevler, a talented Russian choreographer. I knew my dancing skills were nothing out of the ordinary but I desperately wanted to somehow contribute to Eugene’s work. So I decided to make his crew costumes for the Battlezone dance championship. The budget was quite modest, but I found a way: I bought the cheapest H&M sneakers I could find, spray-painted the soles bright lemon yellow, and trimmed each shoe with faux fur in the same colour. The same brightly coloured fur I sewed onto the backs of the waistcoats, and in one case, I even added a snapback hat on top of the fur. I decorated the front of each waistcoat with sew-on patches. Some of the bigger patches I had to make from scratch: I painted the designs on pieces of fabric and soaked them in glue to stiffen them up. I chose the roof of the Krasny Oktyabr factory as the location for the photo shoot. My imagination ran wild… I used Coke cans to create bizarre hairdos, I stuck thorns to the models’ eyebrows with glue and made their hair look like horns! To create these horny hairdos, I needed special bun sponges that I had to make myself, by stuffing sections of tights with cotton wool. I invited Anna Gorvits, a talented photographer, to shoot the collection.
M.T.: How were your studies at IFA Paris valuable?
Anastasia Grigoryeva: For me, my best tutor at IFA Paris was Aleksandra Olenska. She taught us each week to search for a new inspiration. Even in the fantastic city of Paris, sometimes, the routine catches you. But you should protect yourself, go and visit museums, theatres, just walk and of course each day spend five minutes on style.com or vogue.com. We did a lot of cool projects with her! One of them, for example: Aleksandra gave us group work, asking us to take existing brands and magazines, and organize shooting merging both identities. My group chose the brand Lacoste and the magazine ID. We analysed both of them, searching existing clothes and modifying them, then found a place for shooting. We enjoyed it so much that we didn’t only shoot but film as well. When we presented our work, we realized that other groups did also a fantastic job, so different from ours! For instance, one group projected drawings on a model and the digital images looked like a painting! I learnt a lot from my classmates, Karen Topacio and Davinia Vitrac were my favourites. They always did fantastic and motivating brainstorms. At IFA Paris, we also had a great lecture about the famous fashion photographers, and learnt about why and when a precise image was created. It helped to develop inner thinking, to demonstrate how to build a story behind it. I started to watch movies about photographers and to be more open minded. Classes of journalism made me start writing fashion articles and understanding that I could do it well. When the tutor showed us a movie about Diana Vreeland (American Fashion Editor 1903-1989), it was a new step for me! And not only because Diana Vreeland loved Russia, but because she also showed how to work in this business, because fashion isn’t an easy job, and how you could organize it to make it charming!
MT.: After graduating from IFA Paris, what happened next?
Anastasia Grigoryeva: I earned my Master of Art Contemporary Fashion Design’s degree at IFA Paris in January 2015 and presented my collection at the Maison des Métallos. The collection was based on deconstruction. I bought clothes for one euro or less and made completely new items out of them. In compliance with the slogan, “Too much is never enough”, I was more than generous with the number of details. While working on this collection, I realized that knitting wasn’t monopolized by grannies, so I added some extremely chunky knitting to the mix. The 20 mm needles I used looked like you could kill vampires with them. Being incredibly far from a knitting professional, I kept confusing the inside of my handiwork with the outside. At IFA Paris, I learnt a lot about how to market and promote a brand – we visited then a lot of interesting exhibitions and learnt a lot about fabrics.
Then I started looking for a job. I got a call from a friend who had an interview with the company Faith Connection. Their collection reminded her of my own so much (based on deconstruction, a lot of items hand-painted, there even was a skirt made of shirts) that she mentioned me as a potential candidate. I got the job and when I started working there I mainly did technical drawings. Now, they’ve hired someone else to do that job and I’ve been given carte blanche to work on my projects. I do fashion illustration (drawing by hand rather than on the computer), and I am part of the team working on the SS17 collection. The first couple of months, I kept pinching myself because I just couldn’t believe I actually had my dream job. In June, the collection was published on Style.com and my work became known to a wider audience. Moreover, several things that I designed were chosen for the Italian and French Vogue photo shoots, GQ, Dazed & Confused, W Magazine.
M.T.: Which advice would you give today to the students in fashion design?
Anastasia Grigoryeva: Get to work! Don’t be afraid of anything new! I hope all of you will love your job and what you do in life! If you like doing something, just keep believing in yourself, and you’ll see how it all comes together! I also want to add that in summers, I work as a fashion design tutor at a children’s camp in Bulgaria. The camp, whose motto is “Have fun, Be productive!” is a place where children can work on their own projects in the areas of films, IT, journalism, architecture, illustration, costume design… The two weeks fly by in one endlessly happy second. I get incredibly inspired by what the children achieve and create and I am often surprised by their unlimited imagination. After spending time at this camp, I’m always ready to start new projects and raise the bar for myself higher and higher!
To learn more about the program of Anastasia at IFA Paris: Master of Arts Contemporary Fashion Design