Located in southwestern Siberia, Omsk is one of Russia’s largest urban centres, and the second-largest east of the Ural Mountains. The city has been shaped by its industrial history: refining oil and manufacturing military hardware. To the outside world, Omsk doesn’t look like a welcoming creative environment, but in recent years it has produced a new wave of fashion talent. Omsk may not be on the global fashion map: but in today’s connected world, it proves that creativity and individuality often come into existence far away from big art schools and global fashion weeks.
Creative director and stylist Denis Merkushev has been documenting the small yet blossoming fashion scene in Omsk for a while: in 2018, he made a short documentary about the Omsk School of Design and the special creative position it holds for the city’s new generation. It’s a source of playfulness and colour, identity search; a place to search for your identity and an escape from the mundane. Fashion storytelling has always been Merkushev’s passion. “I’ve always been interested in how clothes transform in different contexts, as a visual language,” he says. For this specially commissioned project for Russia Z, Merkushev collaborated with five emerging designers from Omsk and turned the city into a playground for their vision.
“Omsk is a certain feeling. Yes, the city is grey. Yes, the city is poor. Yes, everything is depressing. But it has some kind of energy, almost mystical, which is hard to grasp,” Merkushev explains. “Omsk influenced this shoot both emotionally, and as a location.” These are five stories about Omsk — but they’re also bigger than the city itself. They touch on all the exciting things born through collaboration: regardless of the circumstances.
Originally from the Russian city of Samara, Anya Emelianova followed her intuition when she applied to the Omsk School of Design without knowing much about the city. “My main canvas is knitwear, because it offers limitless scope for fun and creativity. I love the small irregularities and deformities, the crumpled texture,” she says. Her collection, Diver, is an attempt to redefine the contemporary ideal of beauty and praise all things strange and imperfect. “The main character of Diver is a young man who has an internal conflict with the outside world: everything he perceives as beautiful is considered ugly, everything meaningful for him is deemed trivial. This is a story of social adaptation and about an artist searching for themselves in a world full of prejudice,” the designer sats. The location for the shoot was local student housing – with its austere makeshift interiors, it’s a perfect reflection for self-isolation in the internal creative world common among Omsk artists.
Korobeynikov describes his Spring-Summer 2020 collection as “naked couture” – a continuation of his long-term work with see-through fabrics. The main material is a fine, rhinestone-encrusted net, comfortable and transparent. Working with this precarious fabric, Denis Merkushev has focused on how both skin and sparkle would work with different lighting. He eventually created an image of dark otherworldly glamour as an homage to the 1970s horror classic Suspiria, with its haunting references to witchcraft and all-female secret societies.
Originally from Yakutia, Anna Mikhailova began her journey into fashion in 2015 after enrolling at the Omsk School of Design. “I like making whatever comes to mind and trying new things. In my first year, I produced a small collection of clothes, then experimented with shoots and styling. In my fourth year, I got into the world of digital art. Now I try to combine everything: to me, interdisciplinary work always looks fresh”, she says. For Russia Z, Mikhailova fused her designs with personal family archives. The fluid shapes and smooth textures of her digitally-created garments exist both in the past and present, in her memories and in her current creative practice – there are truly no limits to creativity in either time of space. When it comes to her life in Omsk, what the designer appreciates most of all is the community. “Creative environments make creative people and vice versa,” she says. “Everyone understands there aren’t many commercial projects here, but you still need creativity to socialise, enjoy, and challenge yourself”.
Designer Anastasia Ogneva is one of the Omsk School of Design’s most acclaimed graduates. Her work taps into national costume through the soft textures of jersey and chunky knitwear. In Abuse, her garments are enhanced with influences from both fetish culture and the kitsch Russian interiors overloaded with clashing colours and patterns. “For this project, I wanted to use metaphors to recreate a the feeling of a stifling home setting, as well as a commentary on complex family relations and the desire to escape them. This part of the project is very personal for me, and reflects issues I was facing at the time. I wanted to create a very simple, everyday image, and the garments are actually modelled by my brother,” explains Denis Merkushev.
“I am very interested in tailoring. I also try to connect sources of inspiration like film or art with local stories, including interiors, people, art, traditions, and crafts,” says Stas Churakov. He grew up in Kirov, in western Russia, and has been interested in art since he was a teenager. After finishing school, he trained as a pattern cutter and tailor, and has been creating small collections ever since. The idea behind this project is based on the visual juxtaposition of lush fabrics and influences from classical culture – Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novels and Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings – and the gritty surroundings of a snow-covered amusement park. “The idea of this shoot is the Renaissance, Omsk-style. The goal was to make the collection lighter and more street-friendly by combining pieces with second hand clothes. In Omsk, buying second hand clothes is a whole culture, not so much because of conscious consumption but because most of the population has a very low income,” the designer explains. The central character in his shoot is a young drifter finding the opportunity for self-expression and playfulness in a precarious and remote location — a sense that resonates with the Omsk fashion scene.
Korobeynikov (designer) / Denis Merkushev (creative director & stylist) / Bogdan Raletich (photographer) / Berens Filmmaking (DOP & edit) / Bruno Di (MUA) / Aleksander Zatsarinin (hair) / IRON B (sound) / Daria (cast) / Pakhomova Elena (cast) / Unrealanira (cast)
Stanislav Chukarov (designer) / Denis Merkushev (creative director & stylist) / Opalubok (photography) / Berens Filmmaking (DOP) / Alexey Shakhov (edit) / Electric Cafe (sound) / Eldar Ryazanov (cast)