Russian Stars

The following is a general introduction to the subject - for a more detailed look and lots of model pictures and reports from modeling events, check out the New Generation of Russian/Ex-USSR Fashion Models site
       For a number of reasons,  most Eastern  European models - and  especially Russian ones - have had a  tough time in the west, particularly  in the English-speaking countries.  It  was - and still is -  extremely  rare  to  see  a  Russian/ex-USSR  model  on  the  cover of a U.K. magazine - things  have been better lately  in  the  States,  but not by much.
      Many of the  fashion followers in the English-speaking countries can't believe that the ex-USSR can produce modern fashion models - and that attitude  is  shared  by  many  in  the  fashion  business,  too.  The  result  is  that  few  models from this region are internationally known,  and  the  media  exposure  they get,  in  much of the "established" fashion press, is relatively small.
      Things   for   the  Russians  were  a   lot   better  in  Paris  during  the second half of the nineties - anything the Anglo-Saxons don't favor, the French are almost certain to love. Many Russians have had successful careers in Paris.  Milan has also been an important starting step for many of these girls, especially the younger ones.
      The   Russian  "revolution"   in   fashion modeling  started   in  the  early nineties  and  continues   in   full   strength.  The world's  major internationally oriented  model agencies  in the saw   Russia  as  one   of   the   big    new  emerging  markets  and   did   a  lot  of  marketing  there  in  the  early 90's - that  helped bring the new Russian talent  into the  forefront.  The  "Model Look"  contest  and the "Red Stars" agency have produced much of the early talent - most of the ex-USSR  models who work internationally have some connection with this contest, but other agencies have come on strong in recent years.
     A nineties "Model Look" short history - in 1993, Tatiana Zavialova was a finalist in Miami USA,  while  in  1994  it  was  Natalia  (Natasha)  Semanova  who  won  in   Ibiza   Spain -   a  first  for a  Russian fashion  model, the other two girls were Tatiana Nikiforova and Paulina Tasheva.  Natalia   is strongly supported  by her  agency - she is the best known Russian fashion model today,  certainly  in  Paris and Milan,   but  still   not  very  widely  known in the US or UK.  She  represents  the  fragile,   elegant   side  of Russian  beauty.  The  1994  Russian win was followed by a bigger overall success  in 1995 in Seoul, Korea with three Russian girls out of a total of four ending  up  in  the  top  15  finalist group.  Irina Bondarenko  stunned everybody and should  have  taken   first   place,  but according to the Russians, fashion  politics(?)  won instead  and  a  Swiss girl was voted first, with Irina second.  The other  two Russian finalist girls, Elena  Lyandres  and  Daria  Ptitsina were also impressive, and so was  the fourth one, Maria Bitaeva. 
            The "Model Look" international finals moved to  Nice, France, and in  1996 the combination  of  gorgeous  Diana Kovalchuk (who is Ukrainian - in case some people object that we confuse Russians and Ukrainians) at the  age  of  14,  along  with  Russian Olga Otrokhova   was awesome - the third girl was Tatiana Suvorova.  Diana, in my opinion,  is  among the most exciting model discoveries in  the  past  few years - she  is still only 18  years old (born in Feb 1982) but has  huge potential, and this should become evident when fashion trends change towards the "classic beauty" side.
           In the 1997 final  things  cooled  down  a  bit - the two Russian girls, Elena  Buneeva   and  Elizabeta  Shmakova, were very good but the comparison to Diana and Olga was tough - plus the  Russians  can't  win  every  year!  The two Russian contestants did not make it to the  top 15,  but  the girl who represented Belarus, Alina Shilak did. The Ukrainian girl was Lubov Zakharova, but she wasn't  in the top 30 group.
              In  the 1998 final,   in   addition   to   the  "official" Russian  girls,  Maria Nevskaya and Ksenia Agafonova, there were  contestants  from Ukraine - Lessya Oprichko - and another two Russians, from  Kazakhstan - Irina Alexeeva  and  also  Tatarstan - Tatiana Kovilina.  Masha Nefskaya already has a number of magazine covers and editorials and Ksenia Agafonova got the French Gillette campaign - in  less than a year after their appearance in the finals.
             The 1999 international "Model Look" final  took place on Sept 11th 1999 - there were two Russian (Karina Olkhovskaya, Vilina Fokina) and two Ukrainian girls (Katya Karatsentseva, Vika Sementsova) participating - Vika Sementsova, only 14 years old, won 1st place. In our opinion, and for a number of reasons, Ukraine will probably produce the most impressive models in the near future - already some major agencies  got the message and are setting up offices in Kiev.
      All references so far concerned  "Model Look" contestants and the "Red Stars" agency  - however these are  not  the  only well  known faces from Russia/CIS  -  nor is "Red Stars" the sole provider of high-quality fashion models in Russia. Recently many other Russian agencies - Modus Vivendis, ABC, President, Gilar, Slava Zaitsev, Prestige, Idole, etc. are holding their own contests, often in cooperation with major international agencies - the contest system still produces the best models despite some recent attitudes to the contrary in the west - mostly by people who find it more convenient to use "discovered in the street/airport/party"  models who last for 1-2 seasons and cost a lot less money to "develop".
       Other Russian/CIS models who are successful - Irina Pantaeva is quite popular in the US these days after her role in the new "Mortal Combat" movie, a book  and  several stories in  US media -  she  was already  well  known  for  bearing  all  in  the  Pirelli  1997 calendar.
Larissa Bondarenko (not to be confused with Irina Bondarenko) was in  a GUESS campaign, Svetlana Griaznova has appeared in a number of US magazines and in the "Cache" ads - she is from Estonia.  Olga Pantyushenkova was one of the early successes with Cacharel's perfume " Eden". Christina Semenovskaya  has  received a lot of publicity in  Paris - she  is  the  gorgeous  face  of  Dior's  "Dune" perfume and a current model for Dior cosmetics. Newer names include Ukrainians Olga Kurylenko (US Glamour and French Elle covers), Tanya Rudenko (French Madame Figaro cover) and Russians Julia Vizgalina ( from Estonia, active also in the UK with agency Premier), Inna Zobova - who had a very big year in 1999 and continues very strongly in early 2000, Elena Soldatova who is very active in the Haute Couture shows and has done ads for Gerbe Paris, Anna Azarova, Zanna Daskova, Lana Ivaniounkina,  Luidmila Bakhmat from Belarus, and many more.
      More visible last year were a number of girls who appeared often in various Vogue editorials and covers - Colette Pechekonova has a current Calvin Klein and several other campaigns, and the same is true for Audrey Tchekova, Marleen Berkova, and twin sisters Lida and Alessandra Yegorova, who are probably the most succesful names currently.
      Very recently, some names that have made an impression -  Anastasia Kozhissova, Maria Nevskaya (Look 98 finalist) who is in Armani ads and Kristina Tsirekidze in the Miu Miu campaign. Tatiana Zavialova is currently  in a  series of TV ads in Italy and continues to get major campaigns, Natalia Semanova is still  very visible in the runway and should become more widely known outside Milan/Paris next fall, Irina Bondarenko is modeling for Dior - all this is very impressive, considering that some "specialists" have discounted the success potential of ex-USSR  models, and despite the current climate, with the "Brazilian invasion" on one hand and the "Cool/Edgy" trend still holding strong on the other. With the Ukraine still to be exploited and more agencies in Moscow and the provinces working closely with the major international model powerhouses, a lot more is yet to come. As they say, quality never goes out of style.
      For more details on the new Russian Model scene check out the  the " New Generation of Russian/CIS Fashion Models" site