Roma Uvarov is 23 years old, seven of which he has devoted to fashion. Born in the small city in the south of Russia, he first moved to Moscow to showcase his collection at Fashion Week and take part in a popular TV show about vogue. Internationally acknowledged as an up-and-coming Gen Z designer, Roma Uvarov admits he neither enjoys rubbing elbows in professional circles, nor likes talking too much. However, he has generously shared his life experience with us. More on the contradictory personality of Roma Uvarov (who is a renegade, a romantic, and a hard worker at once), read in the interview below.
PH: You call yourself a visual, and it is reflected in your biography. While attending the PR faculty, you felt disappointed in the learning process and took up some creative pastimes such as Photoshop classes and reading self-help books. Why fashion? After all, it requires some hard skills like sewing and stitching…
R.U: Even before entering the university, I thought of running my own business. You know, I realized the irrelevance of public education rather early — it just makes you lose your interest in the subject chosen. However, I felt the need to study marketing so that I could promote and present my business in the future. There are many examples like that today, when a really good artist or a graphic designer just can’t tell the audience what his works are about.
In my case, I was impressed by fashion from early on, watching TV shows as a kid and trying to make conceptual collages later. Yet I wouldn’t think of becoming a fashion designer at the time! But at a certain point I started thinking about my plans for life, asked myself what I wanted to achieve… and then Olya Sadovaya came along. Olya is quite a prominent fashion designer in Krasnodar, the city I was staying during my studies. So, yes, we met at some local party and she offered me a job at her studio.
PH: That’s how you received your first job offer in fashion. When did you have a feeling you were ready for more?
R.U: In Olya’a studio I was responsible for social media marketing and brand promotion. My boss was satisfied with my work, so quite soon my duties were expanded. I became Olya’s right hand, together we elaborated new collections, making them cool, unusual without spending much money. Otherwise it wouldn’t work as we needed to stay within the modest budget of the studio (I even worked for free for 2,5 years there). Then Olya would marry, have a child and, obviously, step back a bit… At some point I realized I got to move on, so I started thinking of setting up my own label.
PH: So you left?
R.U: When I first tried making clothes myself, I felt something had changed. Back then I was young and active and open to experience. I experimented a lot while still working for Olya and finally I decided to launch my brand of sweatshirts. I think it was 2016. Since then I’ve been signing my clothes, which brought the competitive spirit in my relations with the head of the studio.
The last straw was the arrival of a potential (and long-awaited) investor, who was ready to support us financially on the condition that he could influence the brand’s politics and vision. Of course, I wasn’t ok with that. One day I left the studio. Working as an independent designer now I always strive for autonomy. I don’t look back at the others, I try to create something brand new. Yes, I’m an introvert, yet I love finding myself in the flow of life.
PH: What collection do you consider your first one?
R.U: That’s hard. I see a collection as a pool of looks and garments, something big… While working for Olya Sadovaya, it still wasn’t like that. When I got separated, yes, that’s another story. My first collection consisted of T-shirts, just a merch. I would get bored soon, so I switched to creating fully-fledged ready-to-wear looks.
PH: In 2018 you debuted at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia. You’ve been a regular participant of the fashion event ever since. However, we didn’t see any collections by Roma Uvarov Design in the recent seasons of MBFW (April and October, 2020), which ran mostly online. Why?
R.U: Oh yes, I perfectly remember how it was. A few months before the MBFW we (hereinafter, Roma Uvarov Design team) wrote a letter to the organizers of the event complaining that young regional brands, unlike the Moscow-based ones, don’t receive any financial support. So they agreed to help us!
Concerning the latest seasons, Roma Uvarov Design should have participated in the program in April, however, the life shows were cancelled and we didn’t want to engage in digital format. Personally I don’t feel anything special while staring at the screen… Together with my assistant I headed to my homeland Adygeya to wait out the period of quarantine… and then the MBFW organizers reached me. It was three days before the event and they eventually wanted me to take part! So we created a series of mood boards with some bright colleges that looked somewhat bizarre, just in the spirit of the brand.
Of course, I hoped for a life MBFW taking place in autumn, I wished I could show two collections by Roma Uvarov Design at once. Unfortunately, it has even got worse in terms of the pandemic, so we decided to make a separate life fashion show inviting guests, constructing some art objects, all in all, making up an entire concept.
PH: By the way, in the recent season of MBFW there were a few participants of the Krasnodar-based ‘Fashion a la Russe’ project, namely, Olga Kazakova, Nadezhda Belousova, Valeria Klimovskikh. Do you know any of them? You might have crossed paths while hanging around in the designers’ community in Krasnodar.
R.U: To be perfectly honest, none of the names sound familiar to me. While working in Krasnodar, I desperately sought an opportunity of working independently, thus, I was for separation from the professional community. On the whole, I’m not good at getting on with those people who I differ on certain points with. It brings negativity to my life, which I constantly try to avoid. Actually, you don’t have time to chat, when you are all about work.
By the way, it was the ‘Fashion a la Russe’ project that helped me to get to my first MBFW. Although I could take part in the event for free, I badly needed money for the trip and accommodation and staging the show… We turned to ‘Fashion a la Russe’, and they provided us with some financial support, so we could showcase our collection in Moscow and in St. Petersburg the next day.
PH: You also took part in ‘Podium’ (editor’s note: the Russian counterpart for ‘Project Runway’ reality TV show). What do you think of that experience? Do you see it rather as a way to promote yourself or an opportunity to level up, advance your design skills? Is it real at all to learn something on TV shows that are primarily meant to entertain the audience?
R.U: You can always learn something in any situation. The thing is to realize what and how you can learn in specific circumstances. Frankly speaking, I don’t enjoy being solely identified with ‘Podium’, because the collections I launch under Roma Uvarov Design are superior to anything I did on the project. What I do now is more sincere and laborious, however, I love reminiscing about those times on the project.
Taking part in ‘Podium’ turned out to be a tremendously new experience for me. For 2 months I and the other participants stayed in a hotel where we did nothing but worked and interacted with each other (on camera, of course). We neither could use our mobile devices, nor chat with strangers on the streets. The pressure was strong, which made us do our best.
As for the TV show itself, it would be an exaggeration to claim that ‘Podium’ focused on vogue. First of all, it was a reality show about designers, an old-fashioned one, I might say. Just imagine a group of fashion designers competing for the title of the best tailor or cutter. That hardly matches reality, does it? Obviously, I wanted to promote myself participating in ‘Podium’. It was 2018, I already graduated from the university and was planning to settle down in Moscow. The project just quickened the move and made a great ad campaign to my T-shirts collection (which I, actually, foresaw).
PH: Today many young creatives face the issue of self-positioning. In the modern world it seems ok to promote oneself on every corner. However, sometimes that can prevent the person from striving for quality of the product. How do you figure out this problem?
R.U: I just realize the brand’s DNA. It absolutely coincides with my DNA as a designer. Roma Uvarov Design is all about the taste, it’s really subjective. Thus, the promotion of myself and my brand are twin interdependent processes. I am personally engaged in PR support and other tasks. I don’t find it right to devote all the time to creativity — one also needs to market and establish the working process. All in all, my job is very important and reasonable, I would hardly call it creative. But one thing for sure, I purely enjoy it.
By the way, I’m a big fan of restrictions. To my mind, a free person is the one who establishes some frameworks and lives with them. Otherwise, I just mess around clutching at everything (If only I could do all those things perfectly). I also don’t enjoy having free time, it discourages me.
PH: Back to your collections. One could call you an upcycle-designer: you take some long-forgotten things and use them as decorative elements in the outfits. Is it just a creative approach or you follow here an eco-friendly mission?
R.U: It’s a kind of inner impulse. I want to recycle the old material to give it a second life. About 80% of my first collection was manufactured under the upcycling principle. I have always been into upcycling, but in the beginning of the pandemic I felt the relevance of that issue anew.
The question that I faced at the time was what to do with the winter collection that I couldn’t fully present. So we together with the NOB agency (editor’s note: Roma Uvarov Design is presented by the Moscow-based fashion bureau and showroom NOB agency) decided to collect all the unused materials to integrate them into the new out-of-season collection. There were so many things that we feared not to be able to cover them all. However, we managed to do that. Nothing had been thrown away, the upcycling policy was also applied to the production of accessories.
PH: Minimalism is all the rage. People try to get rid of the extra items and obsessions. Collections by Roma Uvarov Design don’t really fit into this philosophy, right?
R.U: To begin with, Roma Uvarov Design is not about following fashion trends. Surely, we elaborate our collections in compliance with some principles that we share such as calm, rationality, body consciousness. However, I don’t think that minimalism is so trendy. Folks have always liked standing out of the crowd. Thus, in the nearest future it might be appropriate to talk about austerity blended with a grain of personal approach.
How do you define ‘success’?
R.U: Well, it’s tricky. On the one hand, success is about stability with everyone doing one’s own thing, enjoying it and charging for it, of course. On the other hand, I, personally, feel successful when facing some unexpected projects, stepping out of my comfort zone. The latter is even a better fit for me. Unfortunately, the industry of fashion in Russia doesn’t develop that quickly. Sometimes I feel like my job doesn’t fulfill me, everything goes so regular. Yet under stress I feel a lot happier. Say, success is an emotion. Every team should have it, because it unites and enriches all of us.
PH: And final question, how has the pandemic affected your creative process in terms of goal setting?
R.U: I find the COVID-19 pandemic a very interesting time with no bindings existing. No doubt, there are still some unwritten canons for designers: e.g. one should launch new campaigns. But at the same time one is free to work at their own pace and on their terms. It feels like life has been put on pause.
I had the same thing. In early spring 2020 I went home to the sunny Adygeya. In fact, I didn’t have to work, so I spent my time reflecting. As a result, I started accepting myself. Before that I used to be afraid of calling myself a romantic (that I obviously was). I thought it went against the grain of my public image. I used a pretentious look as a protection means against the world around me. Today I have every confidence that clothes should play up a personality, and not vice versa. I have also reviewed the history of my family. It’s the new genuine Roma Uvarov standing before you now with fresh green blood running through his veins.
All photographs provided and owned by Roma Uvarov Design