“One of the best things about my Russian heritage is a straight-forward, no-BS approach to life. But taken too far it can conjure up a cold Russian winter!” says Anya Shakhmeyster. The Fashion Design alumna (’12) recently launched a menswear collection that modernizes the hard-edged masculine style of the Soviet era.
Anya’s collection, Shakh, is an ode to her grandfather, a product of Soviet masculinity. “He was stylish and charming. He wore the perfect hat and coat for each season from fedoras and panamas to wool overcoats and trenches,” she says.
“He had a powerful presence, but was a closed book. My collection reflects on what the vulnerable side to him might look like.”
At FIT Anya won the 2012 Critic’s Choice Award for Sportswear, as part of the graduating Future of Fashion show. Her study abroad year in Milan at Politecnico intensified her interest in menswear. “My professor, Helen Field, encouraged me to create men’s collections while everyone else was working on womenswear,” she recalls.
“Anya has always had a uniquely clear conceptual focus, says Professor Sharon Rothman who mentored Anya in her Thesis Portfolio class. “I loved her exciting journal presentations, full of emotionally charged images and sketches.”
What Russia represented in the 50s, through 70s, explains Anya, was competitiveness. “Think Yuri Gagarin and the space race, and the emphasis on the military and sports.
Clothes had to have purpose, especially uniforms worn by athletes and government officials. “Fashion represented the tough, urban male,” says Anya.
“Clothes had to be comfortable to work in, easy to wear, and functional. No frills, no extras.” Yet not without detail: “Athletes wore lightweight wool shirts with bright color combinations, raglan seam lines, and thin lines accenting muscle and strength,” says Anya
“I see the modern man through the lens of a healthy masculinity. Where confidence and assertiveness is alive but met with openness,” she says.
“It’s important to create seam lines to give more attention to the curve of the back. A man’s back is a symbol of strength and purpose and should be celebrated,” says Anya.
“When I design a collared button-up, I’m thinking about how to discretely place a mesh pocket hidden inside the left chest for AirPods. How can I make sure it stays elegant and doesn’t go tech? Something too colorful or busy isn’t for the guy who wants something more traditional, more streamlined.”
Anya’s Ironia shirt is named after a classic 1976 Russian film “The Irony of Fate,” set on a New Year’s Eve in Moscow and St. Petersburg. “The checks on the taxi cabs swirling in the moonlight are juxtaposed with palm leaves of Southern California, where I live. The tonal print is subtle. Its understated technique goes in and out of view in the light.”
The Tolik turtleneck, below, has quarter-inch pipings and subtle artwork at the hem.
“Focusing on details is my way of representing the multidimensionality of men. The seams accentuate the shoulders and back, the playful palm leaves evoke a SoCal breeze,” says Anya.
“Menswear is magic for me,” says Anya. “So much is hidden. What’s happening inside the jacket? What color is the piping that’s hidden away? What is that pocket for? With womenswear things tend to be more obvious, and on the surface. With menswear, beautiful details might be there, but hidden. I take pride in enhancing them.”
The style and ease of California surf culture has been an influence on Anya as well. “Yet the effortless vibe can sometimes be too casual for what I’ve wanted to create.”
That was until she discovered the surf culture of the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia (who knew there was surfing on the Bering Sea?) Kamchatka shares a northern section of the Pacific Ocean with Alaska.
“I thought wow, two unlikely things can come together like the urban grit of Russia and the peacefulness of surf culture!” she says.
After launching in late September, Anya was a guest on Brandon Alexander’s New Age Gents Instagram series “Let’s Talk.” They discussed the evolution of masculinity. Her pre-launch party (pre-COVID19) brought together friends and supporters for the panel discussion “The Power of Masculinity.”
All of the garments in her collection are made in Los Angeles with fabrics sourced from Japan. “Her quality approach to comfort and simplicity is inventive and mature,” says Prof. Rothman.
All images used with permission.