New East Digital Archive

Second cycle: meet the New East expats chasing their creative dreams in the US

Nadia Bedzhanova photographs women pursuing their American dreams in the realms of fashion, art, design, tech and media

9 March 2018
Image and text Nadia Bedzhanova

Nadia Bedzhanova’s films often features drifters, or young people from different corners of the world searching for connections. For Bedzhanova, who was born and raised in Moscow but has lived since 2010 in New York, living between two cultures has been an endless source of inspiration. Relocating abroad also crystallised her interest in her roots: the lens-based artist has returned to Moscow for her work, to shoot similar creative influencers among quintessentially Russian backdrops such as stairwells and metro stations. “You experience mixed feelings towards borders and your homeland after you emigrate, from nostalgia to complete separation. It’s forever-lasting relationships, that make you grow,” she says.

Bedzhanova wanted to dedicate her next story to the creative young women around her in New York and LA: expats from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan who are pursuing their own American dreams in the realms of fashion, art, design, tech and media. “Everyone has their own path, and all our heroines have individual reasons for moving and creating. If in Moscow we are all from the same circle, here everything is spread-out: different neighborhoods, different cities, different perspectives.” She chose laundrettes as the location not only because they are a timeless American staple. They are also in-between-spaces, and the “in-between” is a feeling that characterises these digital natives. Here, they talk about emigrating to the USA to forge new careers.

Lera Pivovarova
Almaty>New York

Lera Pivovarova’s eponymous brand started with one simple garment, the overall, inspired by her Kazakh grandfather. Driven by simple and loose workwear staples, that take you effortlessly from day to night, and from Manhattan to Brooklyn, where she lives and works.

I moved to the US to study an MA in Interaction Design and stayed to work fulltime as the app and digital market economy exploded. After years in the field, I felt like I needed to get away from the digital and make something tangible. This was when I started studying fashion and with time developed my own brand of overalls. I’m currently juggling User Experience and Interaction design with running a fashion label from Brooklyn. Believe it or not, it’s possible to do both, at least for the foreseeble future.

Moving was easy for me. I grew up in Kazakhstan hence I’m nomadic by nature and found the process really natural. I usually drink coffee at a little coffee shop called Variety and if I have a slow afternoon I spend it at Five Leaves sipping tea and thinking about my next creative projects. When I’m homesick, there’s an authentic Kazakh/Uzbek restaurant called Nargis around Park Slope, Brooklyn. You have to try shashlik if you are there or manti, another authentic dish from the region.

It’s beautiful to be bilingual and to be born somewhere most people haven’t heard of. It’s what make you unique. It’s priceless for creative development: it guarantees you will always be able to look at the world from a different perspective.

Sofi Chernyak
Moscow>New York

Sofi Chernyak honed her make-up career in Moscow, learning from influential make-up artist Natasha Morilova. Since moving to New York, she’s worked for i-D Magazine, New York Times Style, Vogue Russia, Vogue Ukraine, Comme Des Garcons, Versace, and Milk Make Up. Her resume now includes working alongside Mikael Jansson, Diane Kendal, Isamaya Ffrench, Sam McKnight for American Vogue, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Mac Cosmetics.

I spent many years preparing to become an economist, studying at one of the best math schools in Russia, but moved to New York to work in fashion. I was 17 and that moment seemed perfect for change. At 18 I did not expect my career to take off so fast, but the city proved that here you can truly touch the stars.

I’m ashamed to admit that I know more secret places in New York than Moscow. I love New York. Some illusions about it fade over time. However, the excitement always comes back. I love the energy and the beat of the city. The drummers in the subway encapsulate New York for me: it is the heartbeat of the city that never stops.

Every day in the fashion industry is different from the next. I like variety and to challenge myself, so it suits my personality. I try to fit in one or two creative projects a month whether that’s fashion editorials, commercial commissions or assisting others. Preparation for any project always starts from the mood board. I go through hundreds of pictures trying to find the ones that are right for a story. You know that feeling when you’re so inspired that it takes your breath away? That’s the best. After the main idea is outlined, I work on my sketches of different looks. Still, I leave enough space for creativity on set because I’ve found the first try is always the best one.

I feel that I moved here too early to feel nostalgic. I am at the beginning of creating myself; I do not have much time to look back. I feel like my habits get replaced with new ones, I am changing a lot.

Yana Sosnovskaya
Moscow>Los Angeles

In her films Yana Sosnovskaya takes us from Moscow’s rooftops to Russia’s vast forests, which hide secrets beneath the surface. Now she’s inspired by California where she moved a few years back. If you’re on a hunt either for borscht ingredients in LA or somewhere to go out on a Saturday night, she’s the girl to ask.

I felt as though I’d landed from outer space during my first year here but then I started to look at it as an opportunity to completely reinvent yourself from scratch. I was lucky to have the right people by my side to help me through the transition. Still, if I was to share one bit of advice, I’d say it usually takes two years to adapt, so bear with it. If you’re homesick before then, it doesn’t count as a true reason to go back.

Moving to LA has definitely affected my aesthetic vision and inspired me in new ways. There are so many diverse communities here that even a simple walk for coffee gives tons of new ideas. I live in West Hollywood between the conservative Russian community and the “Historic Boys Town”. When I need to recharge, I usually go to some secret spots in Northern California.

What I miss most about home are the people. And the raw energy that Muscovites of my generation created 10 years ago. At that time the most valuable things were ideas and a desire for change. It takes some effort to find these in LA — we took it for granted in Moscow.

When you look back at the memoirs of Russian emigres Sergey Rachmaninoff, Josef Brodsky, or Sergey Dovlatov, you realise the immigration process is never complete. It’s truly a lifelong, love-hate relationship.

Polina Snyder moved to New York for love. She co-designs minimal jewellery for Sam H Snyder Design, founded by her husband in 2012 that takes inspiration from Bauhaus and industrial aesthetic. On her days off she can be caught exploring the city with her daughter Mischa.

When I moved to New York I didn’t have a work permit, so I got into the jewellery business with my now husband. It gave me chance to work a little bit on everything: sketching, designing, marketing, meeting with buyers and art-directing the brand. I think it would be different if I had stayed in Russia: I’d probably have an office auditing job or no job at all.

I live in Yorkville. When we first moved to neighbourhood, we thought it was too quiet here but now we actually love the Upper East Side and Yorkville. It’s nice to be close to “nature”: the waterfront and Central Park. Now I have a family and a little New Yorker to raise, we’re spending our days around the city.

I’ve started enjoying the city much more compared to five years ago when I first emigrated. I’m still far from understanding American culture. The first year of being in New York I felt homesick almost every day. I don’t feel like it can ever be the same as it is in Moscow where you know people and people know you, and you have known every corner since you were little. Social circles in Moscow are so small, everyone goes to the same schools, same theatres, exhibitions, restaurants or even your parents worked in the same lab, publishing house, university or on the same play together. It’s incredible for such a big city.

I miss my family and friends. New York is a great city: everyone is always coming to visit. Still, it’s different to having the option to just hop on the metro and be at your parents’ house or go to dacha for a weekend with your childhood friends.

A lot of Russians I know here go to Brighton Beach for Russian cuisine when they’re homesick, but it’s definitely not my thing. I get most nostalgic singing Vysotky and Tsoi in the evenings in my kitchen.

Katya Zvereva
Moscow>New York

After studying architecture Katya Zvereva moved to New York to study art and discovered traditional woodblock print technique. Her large-scale prints feature writhing bodies in the throes of passion, touching on sexual politics and folk themes.

I was born in Leningrad in 1990. In 2013 I graduated from the V. Surikov Moscow State Academy Art Institute, and then decided to try my hand at painting. Since Russia is low-key I decided to come here to study at the New York Academy of Art. Transition was tough but enjoyable at same time because I could barely speak English and wasn’t too sure what exactly was going on.

My day usually starts with coffee and reading for an hour or so, searching for new inspiration and accumulating images. Then I head to the studio where I spend most of my time. Otherwise, my day is sometimes interspersed with studio visits and discussions about art. Then dinner with friends and chilling.

The things I miss about Moscow are cheap studios and big spaces. When I’m homesick I usually go to the Russian baths on Wall Street.

Moving has helped me to understand who I am and what exactly I want, especially in my career. Unlike in Moscow, in New York city being an artist is considered a legitimate profession. My plan is to have an exhibition at MoMA in ten years; and magic, to keep creating magic.

Olya Petrova Jackson
Moscow>New York

Olya Petrova Jackson moved to New York in 2011 to study at the prestigious Fashion Design programme at Parsons. With Ab[Screenwear], which debuted its first collection at New York Fashion Week in 2017, Petrova Jackson marries traditional luxury materials such as cashmere and leather with wearable tech, in the form of RGB-light-responsive holographic panels used in touchscreens.

For the first three years, I was buried in study, so if there was any adjustment period, it happened somewhat organically. In a way, I don’t think you can really feel like an “immigrant” in New York. Everyone else is an immigrant as well.

I wear what I make — Ab[Screenwear]. My day-to-day wardbrobe consists of probably 10-12 items from the collection that I wear interchangeably: they are the perfect building blocks, easy-to-wear for New York. If I said that’s all I wear, that would be too much.

My favourite haunts in New York are: Saraghina, for pizza, I live right around the corner from it in Bedford-Stuyvesant; Dimes, a restaurant a few blocks away from my studio in Chinatown. 49 Monroe which specialises in Mediterranean cuisine is probably the best kept secret below East Broadway. Taverna Kyklades in Astoria is another Mediterranean heaven. If its art you’re after, then Dia Beacon is well worth a visit, as well as the various galleries and art spaces in Manhattan. When I’m homesick I visit the Russian baths on Fulton Street.

I mainly miss my family and friends. I also miss how pristine everything is in Moscow is, city-wise. New York is not like that. It can be a mess.

Jeanne Prisyazhnaya
Moscow>New York

Jeanne Prisyazhnaya jokes that she’s the real life Bruce Wayne. She spends five days of the week working as a film publicist. On weekends she interviews A-list film stars for TV and magazines. As a writer and editor, she’s worked such publications as The Hollywood Reporter, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, Interview, Men’s Health and more.

After my first trip to New York, the city stole my heart. I had a great career in Moscow, friends and family, travelled a lot in Europe and Asia, but couldn’t get New York out of my system. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

I remember going to a laundrette in Chinatown as a 23-year-old and calling an actor friend who stars in The Americans and pulling him off the set because I didn’t know where to get quarters, or what detergent to use to do my laundry. But my transition is not done yet — ask me again in a decade. Rumour has it, it takes 17 years to become a New Yorker.

Relocating opened me up to re-inventing myself and expanding my work hours and my career horizons. From the age of 18 to 23, I worked full time in magazines — Elle, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar — while studying for my BA and graduate degree (working more than eight hours a day is a norm for me). However, I felt like I had reached the ceiling career-wise at 23. I have a great passion for film, but wanted to do more than be a critic and journalist. I wasn’t necessarily interested in being an actress, producer or director — so what else was there in the movie business for me?

My first year in the US I had the chance visit Marvel Studios film set where I met the unit publicist, a role which doesn’t exist in Russia. Becoming a unit publicist became my goal and passion – it is a career path I want to continue to pursue. It’s extremely hard – there are only 500 unit publicists around the world and competition is fierce. My first experience as a unit publicist was for a film called Saturday Church, directed by Damon Cardasis, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017.

My day starts early, between 5am and 6am. I have a day job, a journalism job and more. By 9am I try to take care of everything that is journalism related – write interviews, talk with my TV producers, publicists, editors, write a story if I can, and consult with my publicity clients. From 9am to 5pm I work with my NY clients and then from 5pm and 9pm I pick up work with LA based publicity clients. Afterwards, I usually run to film festivals or press screenings and if I don’t have anything in my agenda – take a nap. I wake back up around 11 pm and work on my journalism for a couple of hours more. On the weekend, if I’m not out of town on a press junket I try to use my ClassPass and go to Aqua Cycling, bike in Central Park, hit the theatres, and if lucky go sailing.

I love the Upper West Side and rarely want to leave it. I’m surrounded by at least five movie theatres and every fall I rush between them for New York Film Festival premieres. My neighborhood is ridiculously cinematic. For example, You’ve Got Mail was filmed here, among other movies. Café Lalo where Tom Hanks and Mag Ryan’scharacters first meet is just around the corner. I love to go to Boat Basin on 79th Street and look at the boats in winter time.

I think right now being an immigrant in the US is very hard for obvious reasons. Being Russian, there were always some negative stereotypes, but now with the news there are additional more severe stereotypes we are fighting. Also, I wish talented professional immigrants received more support from government – we aren’t coming to this country to take somebody’s job, but to make a positive contribution to culture and society.

Throughout this week we’ll be sharing features celebrating female creativity across the New East. You can follow the #WomensWeek project here.

Image and interviews: Nadia Bedzhanova