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Telegraph WeekEnd .1990

JUST OVER two years ago Katia Filippova was a freelance illus­trator who, in her spare time, knocked up the sort of dresses that her friends admired at parties. Having trained as a I graphic artist, she dabbled in book design, drawing figures j from history, fairy-tales and re­ligious stories. ‘But I always found fashion more interesting,’ she says. ‘I started to make dresses for fun, for myself and for my friends. Once I had managed to sell a few of my garments, 1 decided to try and make it a career.’

Her decision has been more than vindicated. This week her clothes went on display in Liberty, as part of the ‘Russian bazaar’ the store has staged for Christ­mas. Amanda Carr, fashion merchandising manager at Liberty, describes the young Russian’s designs as ‘outrageous’. Her team of buyers had spotted Katia’s clothes in Soviet magazines, but were unable to track her down until earlier this year when Svetlana Kunitsina, presenter of a fashion programme on Soviet television, brought Katia to England. ‘I was intrigued by her decorative use of medals, jewels and badges,’ Amanda Carr says. ‘And I was also fascinated by the quality of the fabric. I had no idea that such luxurious fabrics were available in Moscow.’ ‘Available’ is perhaps an overstatement. Like most of her compatriots Katia worries continually about shortages. She scours flea markets and second-hand shops, and is heavily reliant on friends who send her unusual fabrics from other parts of the Soviet Union.

But her style enables her to make a virtue of these limitations. ‘I like to make things look antique, as if they could have been worn by Slavic queens and prin­cesses,’ she says, producing a piece of lace that she had hand-painted gold.

Much of her inspiration is drawn from the costumes and uniforms of pre-revolutionary Russia, from the richly decorated wardrobes of Russian Orthodox Church priests and the traditional dress of ordinary

people. Katia’s grandfather was an admiral in World War II and photographs of him in his dress uniform, glittering with golden aiguillettes and medals, have been a frequent starting point. ‘I am attracted to the flamboyant and the avant-garde,’ she says.

These dramatic creations are produced in con­ditions which might deter the most determined fledg­ling designer in the West. Katia lives with her parents in a small flat on the 11th floor of a dreary apartment block in Moscow. Her cramped bedroom also serves as a work-room, store-room, showroom and shop.

Her divan bed doubles as a work-bench, obscured each day by piles of fabric so delicate that most of Katia’s clothes need to be stitched by hand, although she has a manual sewing machine. Her dressing-table is covered with sequins, pearls, brooches, jewels, badges, feathers and lace. There is one tiny table on which to blend the metal and plastic dyes with which she prints her fabrics, and to mix the paints with which she decorates her extravagant jewelled hats, head-dresses and collars.

From this one room Katia has built a reputation as one of the leading contemporary designers in Mos­cow. Her clients include actors, musicians and rock stars, who pay her Ј500 for a simple garment and up to Ј4,000 for an elaborate outfit.

Her first break came two years ago when her designs were included in a small Moscow fashion show. Then, earlier this year, her dresses were featured in the first Miss USSR competition, which was televised in both the Soviet Union and the West. Svetlana Kunitsina was one of the pundits on the pro­gramme: it was she who decided that Katia should take her designs to the West.

While she and Katia are in London for Liberty’s exhibition, Svetlana hopes to stage a second show of Katia’s clothes, perhaps in an art college. ‘Other Russian designers tend to copy all things Western,’ she says. But Katia is utterly individual. She uses Russian themes and makes clothes for young, crazy people. That’s why I think she might succeed in London. Paris is a little too serious for her.’   


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