As companies flee Russia, a New York model returns to Moscow

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When Western firms fled Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Kira Dikhtyar, a 33-year-old mannequin from New York Metropolis, traveled in the other way.

Forsaking a decade-long modeling profession in the USA, the twin American-Russian citizen returned to her hometown of Moscow this spring to launch a brand new clothes line in sanctions-hit Russia whereas declaring her assist for the president. Russian Vladimir Putin.

The corporate’s idea, which it says remains to be in growth, is affordable replicas of Western-brand clothes to fill the cabinets of Zara, H&M and different retailers that closed their Russian shops after the February 24 invasion.

“We modified the design slightly bit in order that firms do not sue us,” Dikhtyar mentioned in a phone interview from his house in Moscow.

The mission provides a glimpse into the uneven reorientation of the Russian economic system underneath Western sanctions. Among the finest-known examples is the recreation of McDonald’s with out the Golden Arches and Huge Macs, however providing what its new backer, a Siberian oil tycoon who purchased all 840 shops, says will likely be largely indistinguishable fare underneath a brand new title. : “Tasty and that is it.”

With few choices in Ukraine, the US and its allies put together for an extended battle

On Friday, at an financial discussion board in St. Petersburg, Putin mentioned the difference of the Russian economic system was succeeding. “Russian firms and authorities authorities labored calmly and professionally,” he mentioned. “We’re normalizing the financial state of affairs. We stabilize the monetary markets, the banking system, the buying and selling system.”

For now, the results of the sanctions have additionally been mitigated by rising oil and fuel revenues, permitting the Kremlin to proceed funding the battle effort and stimulating the economic system.

Dikhtyar sees herself on the forefront of this financial reinvention and has no regrets about doing enterprise in wartime Russia. “What’s mistaken with it?” she mentioned. “It is an unbelievable alternative right here in Moscow.”

In the USA, Dikhtyar is greatest recognized for her stint on the fact present “The Face” and a subsequent tabloid feud with former supermodel Naomi Campbell. For the previous decade, she has labored as a vogue mannequin together with her picture featured within the pages of FHM and the international editions of L’Officiel and Playboy.

“Persons are being brainwashed by the media, it is loopy,” he mentioned, blaming the USA for prolonging a battle in Ukraine that has drawn worldwide condemnation from the Kremlin.

“There isn’t any longer peace and that is the fault of the USA of America,” he mentioned. “In the event that they did not assist the navy in Ukraine, they might obtain peace… however since they introduced navy tools to Ukraine, to provide Ukraine some huge cash, it implies that Russia now has to deliver extra troopers and extra tools, which may result in extra deaths and longer conflicts”.

Returning to Moscow, Dikhtyar joined a small cohort of Russians with ties to the West who refused to sentence the invasion regardless of the reputational danger. Valery Gergiev, the chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic and an in depth ally of Putin, was switched on of his place in Germany. Actor Vladimir Mashkov, recognized within the West for his roles in “Mission: Unimaginable” and “Behind Enemy Traces,” strongly backed the battle solely to be refuted by his daughter on US tv. The pianist Boris Berezovsky was fallen by his agent in March after urging Russian forces to chop energy in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

On the earth of vogue, Burberry, Chanel, H&M and Hermès have closed shops and on-line gross sales in Russia, becoming a member of the practically 1,000 firms which have decreased their operations within the nation, in keeping with a Yale College Venture.

However on his approach to the exits, Dikhtyar sees a chance.

“The market is large,” he mentioned. “Give it some thought: 150 million individuals don’t have anything to put on as a result of all of the manufacturers are retiring.”

In Slovyansk, loyalties battle as Russian forces shut in

Those that have labored with Dikhtyar say his try and do enterprise in Moscow whereas defending the battle in Ukraine is provocative however not shocking.

“She likes to be controversial and create scandals,” mentioned Ivan Bitton, a Los Angeles vogue home proprietor who produced a number of photograph shoots with Dikhtyar between 2015 and 2018.

Bitton pointed to his televised struggle with a black mannequin on “The Face” over Dikhtyar’s alleged declare that darker-skinned fashions wouldn’t achieve success on the present. Dikhtyar mentioned his feedback had been misunderstood.

His feedback on the battle contact sensitivities in a vogue business that’s house to Ukrainians and Russians who work aspect by aspect as fashions, photographers and designers.

Evgeny Milkovich, a Ukrainian photographer working in New York Metropolis, has photographed Dikhtyar on a number of events. His household’s house in Kyiv is a 10-minute drive from the town of Bucha, the place Ukrainians had been massacred in March. Milkovich mentioned he was appalled on the manner the Kremlin’s “propaganda” took the “humanity” out of a number of the Russians within the vogue business.

“Individuals like Kira struggle their very own wars with their controversies,” he mentioned. “We did a number of profitable pictures tasks, however the essence of the individuals I work with can also be vital to me. Sadly, the cooperation can simply finish right here.”

Born in Moscow, Dikhtyar confirmed early promise as a rhythmic gymnast, competing on the Russian junior nationwide staff earlier than being recruited as a mannequin in her teenagers. Tall and slim with blue-green eyes, Dikhtyar was represented by MC2, a modeling company based by Jean-Luc Brunel with the backing of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Dikhtyar mentioned she first met Epstein on the age of 17, however not like many different ladies, she mentioned he by no means touched her. As an alternative, the 2 counterfeit a friendship that prolonged past 2008, when Epstein pleaded responsible in Florida state courtroom to soliciting underage women for prostitution.

“Sure, it is true. I used to be a pal of Jeffrey Epstein. I am not defending something,” he mentioned of the financier who killed himself in 2019 whereas in custody and was dealing with fees of kid abuse and intercourse trafficking.

In Russia, she made headlines final 12 months when she accused a once-powerful Russian oligarch of raping her when she was 15, a revelation broadcast on state tv as a part of a marketing campaign she launched towards sexual violence. However Dikhtyar’s advocacy work on behalf of girls can also be controversial. Her skilled web site and accompanying media articles checklist her as a “UN Ambassador” for her worldwide work on reforming sexual consent legal guidelines.

Nonetheless, a spokeswoman for UN Ladies, the worldwide physique’s gender equality arm, denied working with Dikhtyar and mentioned the United Nations “has not appointed” her as an envoy, a title that requires UN Secretary-Common approval. UN, Antonio Guterres.

Dikhtyar mentioned she can’t be blamed for the way earlier information articles have characterised her work on behalf of girls.

The prospects for Dikhtyar’s new retail actions are unclear.

The Russian economic system is anticipated to contract 8.5 p.c in 2022 as worldwide sanctions take their toll, in keeping with the Worldwide Financial Fund. However analysts say there’s a potential marketplace for reasonably priced Western-style clothes.

“Regardless of how poor the Russian inhabitants has turn out to be, they nonetheless wish to purchase garments and there are nonetheless individuals who have the cash,” mentioned Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist on the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Olga Rebrova, a Russian stylist and proprietor of vogue model Stanchy, warned {that a} new Russian clothes line couldn’t match the low manufacturing prices of established fast-fashion manufacturers manufacturing in Vietnam, Bangladesh or China. However she mentioned the mass exodus of Western retailers has made it “slightly simpler” for Russian firms to succeed.

“When your opponents are large conglomerates, it is fairly tough to compete as a result of you do not have these advertising budgets,” Rebrova mentioned in an interview from Moscow. She mentioned that her personal firm has benefited “as a result of now I haven’t got large opponents.”

Describing his marketing strategy, Dikhtyar mentioned the designers would take a gown from his wardrobe, barely modify the design and mass-produce it. “Mainly they take it, they copy it, they offer it to the manufacturing unit and within the morning you will have hundreds,” he mentioned.

Jeff Sonnenfeld, a professor on the Yale Faculty of Administration, mentioned that if Dikhtyar’s enterprise had been to infringe on the mental property of different vogue manufacturers, it might have a long-term damaging influence on the Russian economic system.

“If they’ll defy the bottom international requirements of respect for mental property, then Russia will turn out to be much more of an island,” Sonnenfeld mentioned.

After collaborating in an interview of greater than two hours, Dikhtyar later requested that an article about her not be revealed as a result of she mentioned she was not approved to talk on behalf of the clothes line.

Whereas urgent to cease the publication, he mentioned that he is aware of individuals from the Russian mafia. “The Russian mob nonetheless exists,” she mentioned. “We might want to do a background verify on you and your loved ones for this kind of merchandise.”

Moments later, she insisted it was a joke. “Are you afraid of the Russian mob?” she requested.

Mary Ilyushina and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Paul Sonne in Washington contributed to this report.

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