Lena Maksimova's style epitomises casual confidence, with each piece representing the designer's eclectic approach to unite contemporary design with her Russian heritage. In Maksimova's creations, minimalism meets Russian avant garde via intricate details, soft tones, A-line cuts and oversized shapes.
Not restricted to a singular theme, the St Petersburg-based designer immerses herself in the process of creating a collection, and how the fabrics, silhouettes and accessories come together individually to create the whole. It's unsurprising that the fashion-forward ensembles of her SS18 collection - think petrol-coloured and patterned jumpsuits, boxy jackets and maxi dresses with romantic drapery - are attracting international attention.
Maksimova was born in Yakutia, northeastern Russia, where "fashion is something incomprehensible and unattainable". If at all, it compares to handicraft - and to nothing you see on international runways. She recalls receiving an encyclopaedia of fashion; a turning point that nurtured her desire to pursue a creative path. Keen to turn dreams into reality, she left home to study at Novosibirsk State Academy of Architecture and Art, majoring in costume design, and founded her namesake label.
While preparing for Harbin Fashion Week, Maksimova told us about her unique approach to combining local traditions and high fashion, and where she sees the contemporary Russian fashion scene going.
Where can we buy your designs?
Tell us about your first experience with creating clothes.
At home in Yakutia, we had a big steel chest in the storage room where my mother kept old things. At the end of each year, she gave me something to remodel and I would change the cut and add applications. That chest has always been my source of inspiration.
Describe your label in a few words.
The slogan of my brand is "harmonious clothes that will serve you as an ideal framing but won't outshine your nature, your personality and individuality".
Who's your ideal customer?
Mature women who are tired of stereotypes that distort reality. They don't buy things for momentary pleasure but want to look behind the façade to investigate the true delight in fashion.
Where have you shown your creations so far?
In 2013, I won the young designer award at Novosibirsk Fashion Week and was a finalist at another contest for aspiring designers called Russian Silhouette. Since then, I have participated in St Petersburg and Aurora fashion weeks, as well as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Moscow. This year, I am also showing at Harbin Fashion Week in China.
What has been your proudest moment?
I am most proud of my freedom and ability to create; to do what I want to do and be surrounded by local people. This is what motivates me to improve, enhance the quality of my designs and, ultimately, to enjoy life.
What does your SS18 collection include?
The main element of this collection are long, traditional yakutian dresses called "haladay", which we wear recreationally.
What does the yakutian dress look like?
It's quite unique and a fusion of many cultural traditions. Adapted to the polar climate, it's easy to recognise thanks to a distinctive fit and cut. Usually, outerwear in Yakutia is made of natural skin and fur, while holiday dresses have a more complex template. The front part is extended to the bottom, sleeves have the form of a flashlight and the dress is decorated with stripes of animal skin, fur or beads on the hem. Artisans also add metal jewellery and pendants.
Besides your local culture, what else inspires you?
Predominantly nature. Music is always a source of inspiration too, which can be anything from classic to hard rock. At the moment, I'm very fond of electronic music.
What do the shapes, silhouettes, colours and details represent?
I had a period of studying traditional Russian suits and northern dresses. As soon as I had accumulated my knowledge, I used my personal outlook to create the pieces. Additionally, I recreate elements and silhouettes similar to national images.
Would you consider Russia a fashion-forward country?
We've always had problems with fashion and our understanding of it. My country has its own historical way of dealing with clothing. Yet, even though there's no industrial base, distribution or government support, these restrictions have in a way nurtured a generation of new designers and interesting brands.
What needs to happen next?
The next step in this evolution should involve the creation of shops where technologies satisfy client needs and help to analyse requirements. That would increase the popularity of haute couture - handmade fashion that tells a story.
Moscow or St Petersburg?
Moscow fashion events have been somewhat strange over the past few years; it seems that many people come to show themselves rather than pay attention to the shows. Much of it has little to do with fashion; it's all about money. In St Petersburg, on the other hand, there has been no fashion at all over the last couple of years, but a lot of new interesting brands are appearing on the scene, which brings diversity to the fashion scene.
What other local labels should we know about?
My favourite Russian designers are Jenya Kim, Asyia Bareeva and Julia Kondranina.