Sunday, 19 July 2009


Four years may be a long time in politics, but in the world of fashion – it’s even longer.

From 2005 to 2009, the world has turned on a dime, and the fashion world has had little choice but to change and adapt to circumstance. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the career of model Sasha Pivovarova.

Born in 1985, Sasha’s career in modelling began in 2005 when a photographer friend introduced her to IMG. Just a few months later, Pivovarova was making her debut at the Prada show in Milan.

Sasha, born and bred in Russia, built on her grand beginnings and steadily began the ascent to the top of the fashion world. Opening and closing shows for designers as varied as Preen, Balenciaga and Chloe, Pivovarova also worked with top photographers Steven Meisel and Patrick Demarchelier, shooting Vogue covers for France, Italy, Britain and Japan.

Her start in the modelling industry, with Prada, yielded results when the design house signed her up for an exclusive three-year contract. She also scored another first when she walked for Prada at six consecutive shows. Sasha modelled their ready-to-wear fashion along with eyewear and perfume. The relationship between model and brand set, Sasha was the face of Prada.

Sasha’s incredible success was not an isolated incident, but belonged to a wave of East-European and Russian models who invaded the fashion industry. Spear-headed by Daria Werbowy, the girls from the far side of Europe were (and continue to be) in huge demand.

Pivovarova, along with Natasha Poly and Natalia Vodianova, formed a charm offensive on the fashion industry. Their brand of beauty – aristocratic features paired with a definitive editorial edge – left the fashion world helpless to resist. Mastering both sides of the coin – having a strong, editorial look equally matched with conventional, knockout beauty – provided designers with the best of both worlds. These girls married a sense of the exotic with the familiar, and that Baltic beauty was what kept getting Sasha booked over and over again: it worked within designers’ comfort zones and produced a portfolio worthy of envy.

This glamour age in modelling coincided with our own ‘boom ‘era. It may have been short-lived, but high-end brands were doing well, and luxury brands were doing even better. No-one thought the worse of a celebrity for laying down serious cash for a must-have handbag. No-one had heard of the term ‘credit crunch’, simply because it hadn’t been invented yet. There was no need: everyone was doing just fine.

Fashion’s love affair with Russia was not just directed at the models it was producing. As the good times continued the number of affluent Russians ready to spend sky-rocketed. This meant a golden time for luxury and designer goods. Billionaires were buying designer goods in huge quantities, making Russia a key market for high-end fashion. For the first time, Russians were buying the fashion as well as starring in its runway shows and campaigns.

The celebration of decadence and luxury continued as Sasha scored a contract with Armani – another brand that translated particularly well in Moscow. Sasha’s career could not have been riding much higher: she was the model of choice for editorial shoots as well as raking in big bucks for big-name campaigns and endorsements. It was, in essence, the career models dream about when starting out in the industry.

But in 2008, the economic bubble burst. The property market collapsed, consumers lost confidence and the luxuries market seemed more than a little shaky.

An ordinary model might have quaked at the prospect of losing contracts. But Pivovarova was made of sterner stuff. With that quintessentially Russian toughness, Sasha held her nerve – and more crucially – kept her cool. She kept an open-mind too and found that the work did not disappear: it merely changed focus.

The high-end brands concentrated less on ready-to-wear (because, let’s face it, the first thing that goes in any budget-trim is the £3,000 coat), and re-shifted their priorities to the fashion consumables: accessories, cosmetics and perfume.

Where Sasha had advertised Prada dresses, she now advertised its perfume, which went on to do rather well. Her selling savvy transferred effortlessly to the smaller items, because she understood that selling a product (regardless of its price) relies on a model’s ability to sell a dream. A pair of sunglasses isn’t just two lenses and a frame: they are a gateway into another world.

Sasha’s easy-to-read beauty played well to the cosmetics and fragrance market. Her flawless skin and perfectly-set features ensured that if someone couldn’t afford an Armani evening gown, they would definitely be tempted to purchase a lipstick. After all, no-one stops buying lipstick, no matter how bad things seem to get. This seismic shift in marketing luxury is what has saved many designer names from going under in the worst recession since the 1930’s. They go with what people can realistically afford, and sell them the aspiration of luxury in a way that doesn’t pander or patronise. Those who have used this strategy have made millions.

Sasha has profited from this about-turn in her career by going with new opportunities and making the most of them. She has since the downturn worked for mid-range brands such as Gap and Zara, and now has an exclusive contract with skincare brand, Biotherm. By using models of Pivovarova’s standard, these firms are showing that they understand how to sell a product to a cash-strapped public and still stay in business. They use the best faces available, because with them, they bring the memory of better and more affluent times. More than ever before, models are not selling a tube of lipstick or a bottle of perfume: they are selling the idea of hope.

Sasha’s career has gone on from strength to strength, not just because of her extraordinary beauty, but because she kept an open mind and adapted herself to new opportunities. Many models would consider going from Gucci to Gap a bit of a step-down, but Pivovarova has been smart about lending her modelling kudos to these brands and both model and company have succeeded where others have notably failed.
Almost five years into a phenomenal career, Sasha is looking to the future. Having maintained an interest in art, she is developing her talent and has already exhibited in New York and Paris, with some of her work even featuring in French Vogue.

Whether she chooses to continue with fashion, or concentrate on art, what is for certain is that she has conquered the fashion world completely. She has been the face of luxury and the selling point of populist brands and accomplished both with impeccable style. Whatever the future holds next for Sasha, like the best military general, she knows that whatever has been done, there is always more to accomplish: it is a smart philosophy to live by, both now and for the times to come.


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