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

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As Western companies fled Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Kira Dichtyar, a 33-year-old model in New York, was traveling in the opposite direction.

Leaving behind a decade-long modeling career in the United States, the US-Russian double returned to her hometown of Moscow this spring to launch a new clothing line in sanctions-stricken Russia, while declaring support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. .

The company’s concept, which she says is still under development, is cheap replicas of Western clothing to fill the shelves of Zara, H&M and other retailers that closed their Russian locations after February. 24 invasion.

“We have changed the design a bit so that we are not judged by the companies,” Dichtyar said in a telephone interview from his home in Moscow.

The project looks at the ragged reorientation of the Russian economy under Western sanctions. One of the most famous examples is McDonald’s recreation without the Golden Arches and Big Mac, but otherwise offers what its new supporter – a Siberian oil tycoon who bought all 840 stores – says will be largely indistinguishable under the new name – “Delicious and that’s it.”

With scarce opportunities in Ukraine, the United States and its allies are preparing for a long war

On Friday at an economic forum in St. Petersburg Putin said that the adaptation of the Russian economy was successful. “Russian companies and government agencies have worked with restraint and professionalism,” he said. “We are normalizing the economic situation. We have stabilized the financial markets, the banking system, the trading system.

The effects of the sanctions have so far also been blunted by rising oil and gas revenues, allowing the Kremlin to continue funding military efforts and boosting the economy.

Dichtyar sees herself at the forefront of this economic rediscovery and does not regret starting a business in wartime Russia. “What’s wrong?” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity here in Moscow.”

In the United States, Dichtyar is best known for her role in the reality TV show “The Face” and the ensuing tabloid feud with former supermodel Naomi Campbell. For the past decade, she has worked as a fashion model, appearing on FHM and L’Officiel and Playboy.

“People are so brainwashed by the media – it’s crazy,” she said, blaming the United States for prolonging the war in Ukraine, which brought international condemnation to the Kremlin.

“There is no peace anymore and the United States is to blame,” she said. “If they did not support the military in Ukraine, they would have made peace … but because they brought military equipment to Ukraine to give a lot of money to Ukraine, it means that Russia now has to bring more troops and more equipment that can lead to more deaths and longer conflict.

Returning to Moscow, Dikhtyar joins a small group of Russians with ties to the West who refuse to condemn the invasion despite reputational risks. Valery Gergiev, the chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic and a close ally of Putin, was fired from his position in Germany. Actor Vladimir Mashkov – known in the West for his roles in “Mission Impossible” and “In the Back Line of the Enemy” – strongly approved of the war, just to have his daughter refute him on American television. The pianist Boris Berezovsky was fell by his agent in March after calling on Russian forces to cut off electricity in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

In the fashion world, Burberry, Chanel, H&M and Herm├Ęs have all closed stores and online sales in Russia, joining nearly 1,000 companies that have limited their operations in the country, according to Yale University Project.

But in their race to the exit, Dihtyar sees an opportunity.

“The market is huge,” she said. “Think about it: 150 million people have nothing to wear because all the brands are being withdrawn.”

In Slavyansk conflicting loyalties with the approach of Russian forces

Those who have worked with Dichtyar say her attempt to do business in Moscow while supporting the war in Ukraine is provocative, but not surprising.

“She likes to be controversial and start scandals,” said Ivan Beaton, owner of a fashion house in Los Angeles, who did several photo shoots with Dichtyar between 2015 and 2018.

Beaton pointed to her televised battle with a black model in “The Face” over Dichtyar’s statement that models with darker skin would not succeed in the show. Dichtyar said her remarks were misunderstood.

Her comments on the war affect sensitivity in the fashion industry, which is home to Ukrainians and Russians working side by side as models, photographers and designers.

Evgeny Milkovich, Ukrainian photographer working in New York filmed by Dichtyar repeatedly. His family home in Kyiv is a 10-minute drive from the city of Bucha, where Ukrainians were killed in March. Milkovic said he was concerned about how the Kremlin’s “propaganda” had taken away “humanity” from some of the Russians in the fashion industry.

“People like Kira are waging their own wars with their contradictions,” he said. “We have made several successful photo projects, but for me the essence of the people I work with is also important. So, unfortunately, the collaboration can easily end here.

Born in Moscow, Dikhtyar showed an early promise as a rhythmic gymnast, competing in the Russian national youth team before being hired as a model in her early teens. Tall and thin with blue-green eyes, Dikhtyar was represented by MC2, a modeling agency founded by Jean-Luc Brunel with the support of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Dichtar said she first met Epstein at the age of 17, but unlike dozens of other women, she said he had never touched her. Instead, both forged a friendship that extended beyond 2008 when Epstein pleaded guilty in a Florida court to luring underage girls into prostitution.

“Yes, that’s true. I was friends with Jeffrey Epstein. I’m not defending anything,” she said of the financier, who committed suicide in 2019 while in custody on charges of harassment and sexual trafficking of girls.

In Russia, she won headlines last year when she accused a once-powerful Russian oligarch of raping her when she was 15, a revelation aired on state television as part of her campaign against sexual violence. But Dichtyar’s advocacy on behalf of women is also a source of controversy. Her professional website and accompanying media articles list her as a “UN ambassador” for her international work on reforming sexual consent laws.

A spokeswoman for UN Women, the body of the World Gender Equality Organization, has denied working with Dichtiar, saying the UN “did not appoint her” as ambassador, a title that requires the approval of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Dichtyar said she could not be blamed for how previous news articles had characterized her work for women.

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

Russia’s economy is expected to shrink by 8.5% in 2022 as international sanctions are reflected, according to the International Monetary Fund. But analysts say there is a potential market for moderate-priced clothing with a Western sheen.

“No matter how poor the Russian population has become, they still want to buy clothes and there are still people who have money,” said Ekaterina Shulman, a Russian political scientist at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Olga Rebrova, a Russian stylist and owner of the Stanchy fashion brand, warned that a new Russian clothing line would not be able to match the low production costs of established fast fashion brands in Vietnam, Bangladesh or China. But she said the mass exodus of Western retailers had made the success of Russian business “a little easier.”

“When your competitors are large conglomerates, it is quite difficult to compete because you do not have such marketing budgets,” Rebrova said in an interview with Moscow. She said her own company benefited “because I don’t have big competitors now”.

Describing his business plan, Dichtyar said the designers would take a dress from her wardrobe, slightly change the design and mass-produce it. “They basically take it, copy it, give it to the factory, and in the morning you have thousands,” she said.

Jeff Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management, said that if Dikhtyar’s business infringed the intellectual property of other fashion brands, it could have a negative long-term impact on the Russian economy.

“If they oppose the lowest global standards for respecting intellectual property, then Russia will become even more of an island,” Sonnenfeld said.

After participating in an interview lasting more than two hours, Dichtyar later asked not to publish an article about her because she said she was not authorized to speak on behalf of the clothing line.

As she insisted on stopping the publication, she said she knew people from the Russian mafia. “The Russian mafia still exists,” she said. “We’re going to have to do some checking on you and your family for this kind of article.”

A moment later, she insisted it was a joke. “Are you afraid of the Russian mafia?” She asked.

Mary Ilyushina and Natalia Abakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Paul Sone in Washington contributed to this report.

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