At the Paris Fashion Show 2013. Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

At the Paris Fashion Show 2013. Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

Essays Russian fashionistas and international politics

Miroslava Duma, who presents herself as a Russian digital entrepreneur and investor in international fashion, has described Russia during the communist era as a fashion-free zone. Dresses were supposed to be simple back then. Later, Russian women rather became identified by their big hair, leopard tights and showing off bling and brands. However, this image was to be changed.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2020:2-3, pp 131-135
Published on on October 8, 2020

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The international image of a country has consequences for the expectations of what it can offer. A wonderful natural setting, culinary tradition, hard-minded politicians or extraordinary sporting achievements will leave an imprint in people’s minds. It is a battle for status among nations in a similar way the Olympic Games are a battle among athletes (as well as nations). In the domain of fashion, countries known worldwide for their stylish design have long traditions of handicraft, and a reputation for taste and extravagance. Cities such as Paris and Milan use their heritage to cultivate haute couture, giving France and Italy an aura of chic elegance. London contributes with a creative rebel attitude and New York with a relaxed sophistication, making the UK and the US representatives of an avantgarde and laid-back style. However, it is seldom that you talk or hear about fashion from Moscow. Miroslava Duma, who presents herself as a Russian digital entrepreneur and investor in international fashion, has described Russia during the communist era as a fashion-free zone. Dresses were supposed to be simple back then. Later, Russian women rather became identified by their big hair, leopard tights and showing off bling and brands. However, this image was to be changed.

The new Russian fashionistas

In the early 2010s the viral world of fashion and street-style photographers found their new darlings among some fashionable women with their origin in Moscow: a group called the “Russian Fashion pack”. These women were not only exciting because of their extraordinary style but their personal stories also fascinated and reflected a Russia in transformation. It was presented as a shift on the fashion throne when in 2012 the fashion site appointed a Russian fashion designer as number 1 in a list of this year’s “Look of the Year”. For a long time, French or American fashion designers and fashion magazine editors had topped the list, or sometimes a British actress. However, in 2012 the Russian fashion designer, Ulyana Sergeenko, was selected as the most inspiring fashionista. Her female designs and appearance made her a new kind of fashion icon. Close behind her on the prestigious list of trend-setting influencers were more Russian names: Elena Perminova and Miroslava Duma (or Mira Duma as she is called). That year the Russian fashionistas made a serious entry on the international fashion stage, viewed as inspirational in their various outfits. The street-style photographers loved them, and their images spread all over the viral world. Mira Duma  comments on the street style success of Russian girls in Fashion Inspo:

“We were the ’new thing’. You know how fashion is – there’s always going to be a new look, a new idea, a new story. For a moment, street-style blogs were the new thing; now they have to look for another new thing. So today it’s the Russians.”

The individual and playful styles made the Russian women an inspiration for what was considered chic and cool. Their extensive wardrobes and their creative ensembles made them social media celebrities. However, after a while, they realized that they were not only seen as role-models and inspirational for fashion: they were also regarded as ambassadors of a new Russia. Their popularity put Russia on the map as a country offering fashionable inspiration and they were encouraging creativity as well as entrepreneurship by having the coolest and most stylish people at fashion shows. Outside the spring/summer show of Valentino 2013, during the Paris Fashion Week, a photograph of six Russian women was taken and spread all over the world by street-style photographers, even further establishing the attraction of this new group of fashionistas. In the West, they were perceived and sometimes described as “exotic” and exciting for the fashion industry.  In the East they rather demonstrated that Russian was a country that also stood out in the international fashion arena.

The Russian model and fashionista Elena Perminova has stated that it was never her intention to change anybody’s view about Russian forms of expression, but that she realized that she was one of the women who was contributing to this. She adds:

“Russian style has changed a lot, and thank God. In the past it was so much about labels. Everyone wanted to show that they were rich. I never liked that.”

Mira Duma – a success story

Among the Russian designers, models and editors, Mira Duma plays a special role. She started out as a stylist and fashion journalist in the Russian versions of magazines such as Vogue, Tatler, Forbes Women and Glamour. Mira Duma saw the future on the Internet, and in a digital magazine in which the readers could easily be updated about the latest in fashion. However, she also wanted to include space for reports from the cultural arena and what was happening in the movies, theater and architecture. This gave birth to Büro 24/7 in 2011, a digital lifestyle magazine Mira Duma started together with her childhood friend Fira Chilieva. The site was to become very popular and after a number of years it was one of the trendiest sites in Eastern Europe. In 2016 the magazine had 4.9 million visitors a month — in Russia alone. However, there was also global interest in the site. Over the years, Büro 24/7 has been published in 11 different versions and distributed over four continents. It was nothing less than a megahit.

During the 2010s the Western fashion industry became more interested in establishing itself on the Russian market. Russian consumers were showing an interest in cultivating a personal image of wealth and status. Additionally, a group of Russians had become very wealthy during the age of Perestroika, making them the perfect market for luxury brands. In order to enter this market and reach these consumers, it was crucial for the Western fashion industry to have the right Russian mediators: and the Russian fashionistas seemed to be the perfect bridge to the Russian market. Mira Duma was seen as the most powerful person in the world of fashion in Russia. Consequently, she was hired as a model for prestigious brands such as Louis Vuitton and Oscar de la Renta and Büro 24/7 became a popular site for advertising, including Hermés and Louis Vuitton among other Wester brands. When Büro 24/7 expanded its editions into more languages and geographical areas, brands such as Burberry, Chanel and Ralph Lauren sponsored the venture.

Fashionistas from all over the world showed an interest in Mira Duma’s personal outfits and she became one of the street-style photographers’ favorites. Her name, face and style became familiar to the international fashion elite, and her own Instagram account had over 1.6 million followers. But even so, Mira Duma did not view herself as the party princess and fashion celebrity as some described her. Rather, she believed that business was her most important contribution. In her view of the world, her ‘squad’ was not to be found among the cool social media celebrities or fashion influencers. Rather, she surrounds herself with CEOs from the updated fashion and tech firms and by the coolest of tech nerds. She takes an interest in the fashion industry as a business, something the future would show. Her network has gradually expanded and she is now regarded as one of the most influential persons in the industry. The Financial Times described her as “the force of the fashion industry” and the fashion magazine Vogue stated that she was “the most connected digital entrepreneur in fashion”.

Sustainability and entrepreneurship

But Mira Duma had greater visions. When she was growing up in Siberia, she was well aware of the environmental damage caused by the oil industry. Realizing that fashion is also an industry with considerable environmental consequences, she wanted to contribute to a more sustainable business. Thus, she used her connections to create a network of digital entrepreneurs and corporations that experiment with creating material for a more environmentally-friendly fashion industry. Her eye for business and her heart for sustainability made her a popular keynote speaker in conferences all over the world.

After investing in a number of sustainable oriented firms, Mira Duma collaborated in the foundation of The Tot in 2016. The Tot is a platform that offers advice on health and sustainability for mothers, and also includes an online shop. In 2017 she took a further step by establishing Future Tech Lab (FTL), an investor taking an interest in developing new technologies and innovations focusing on sustainability. To develop the company, Mira Duma created a network of specialists and scientists with expertise in innovative materials, competence in biotechnology, wearable technology (such as material reacting to body temperature) and connected them with fashion designers. The network includes experts from universities such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard and even researchers from the Russian space program, Roscosmos. The focus of FTL is to develop and use technological improvements in materials to create a more sustainable fashion industry and to launch these new materials and ideas to the future generation of fashion designers. For instance, there are initiatives to grow leather from stem cells, make diamonds out of solar energy and create a material similar to silk from orange peel. FTL is a new sort of establishment that supports the trend for a healthier planet and lifestyle. It has several offices in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and China. However, Mira Duma is also proud of her Russian roots. Thus, she wanted to support talent in the country to stay and expose their ideas to the world from there. The founders of WhatsApp and the face-swapping app MSQRD originate in countries of the former Soviet, Ukraine and Belarus. Both apps were bought by the media giant Facebook and WhatsApp and MSQRD now have their headquarters in Mountain View, California and in London. However, Mira Duma wanted to support the opportunity for the pioneers of innovatioons within Russia to stay in the country and receive the appreciation they deserved in their homeland, thereby not needing to move to Silicon Valley. By supporting start-ups, technical platforms and programmers in Russia, they could be given opportunities at home. One idea to encourage this was when she connected Büro 24/7 with Skolkovo, a government-initiated platform to become the Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley. The aim is to support young tech and innovation specialists to ensure that investments and achievements from these digital initiatives stay and grow in Russia.

Büro 24/7 kept developing and in 2017 it acquired a majority stake in the fashion magazine System, a worldwide known publication based in Great Britain. The acquisition is presented as a win-win situation in which System would benefit from the tech-team of Büro 24/7 which, in turn, would take advantage of the competence in story-telling and access to the fashion industry. The plans for making a worldwide lifestyle magazine meant that the head office of Büro 24/7 would move to London.

Scandals and media storms

The Russian fashionistas are all integrated in well-established circles within their home country. Mira Duma’s father was a senator and her husband Aleksey Mikheev is an entrepreneur who also holds a position at the Russian Ministry of Economy. Ulyana Sergeenko is married to Danil Khachaturov who, according to Forbes magazine, is one of the world’s wealthiest men. Elena Perminova’s partner Alexander Lebedev is a former KGB agent who made a fortune on the Russian Exchange during the 1990s (a time when the Exchange exploded in wealth). Among other assets, he has a 49% stake in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. In 2006 his career took an unexpected turn and he joined the Duma. Thus, the Russian fashionistas are all connected in an influential context. Their relationship to the power center in Moscow is, however, not without complications. Lebedev, for instance, has a strained relationship with the Kremlin due to publications in Novaya Gazeta and some of his political statements.

As previously explained, even though Mira Duma and the other female fashionistas are seen as ambassadors for their country, their extravagant lifestyle is not completely in line with President Putin’s wishes. Putin has stated that the consumption of luxury products must be restricted, as resources are needed to further develop the country. He also has concerns about the nativity in the country and has emphasized that women need to raise children.

I would argue that values regarding what is seen as politically correct in Western Europe have influenced the opinions and public comments made by these fashionable Russian women. They wanted to fit into an international setting and therefore also came to adopt some values that are represented in the West, something that Mira Duma has also has reflected upon. Moving the head office of Büro 24/7 to London would be in line with this Western orientation. However, adapting to Western culture and also representing Russia is a complex challenge. And one day, a cultural clash emerged. An Instagram post was unintentionally used in a way that some people found offensive.

The careers of Mira Duma and Ulyana Sergeenko suffered a serious setback in January 2018. In a note sent from Sergeenko to Duma she referred to a rap text by Kanye West and Jay-Z stating ‘To my n*ggas in Paris’. She sent the note together with a beautiful bouquet of champagne-colored roses. Duma found the greeting charming and posted a photo of the flowers and the note on Instagram. The post generated a storm on social media, accusing Duma and Sergeenko of being racists. The use of the pejorative term about Afro Americans was upsetting to many people and seen as outrageous. Both Duma and Sergeenko offered their apologies on social media.

Only six hours after the first drama on Instagram, a second alarming coincidence emerged on social media. A video from a press conference for Büro 24/7 filmed in Russia in 2012 was posted on YouTube. In the video, Mira Duma was asked what she thought about the well-known blogger Bryanboy’s style, and how she felt about the transgender model Andreja Pejic posing for swimwear. In the video Duma said something about how it could be hard for young boys to see “these kind of things” as it might give them “strange ideas”. The six-year old video received considerable attention and Mira Duma was now also being accused of homophobia and being narrow-minded regarding transgender persons. Mira Duma was devastated and claimed that she couldn’t understand her own previous statements, assuring everyone that she found them both upsetting and hurtful. Both those coincidences on social media had a number of consequences for the status of Mira Duma and the designer Ulyana Sergeenko. Their apologies received various kinds of reactions.

On her Instagram Mira Duma expressed her concern:

“As we all know, the world is evolving at an extraordinary pace and, as humans, we are also evolving. The person I was six years ago is not the person I am today.”

She added, “I’d like to formally apologise to any individuals or communities that I have offended. If any positive change is to come from recent events, I sincerely hope that the public discussions surrounding me might shine a light on the broader need to stamp out discrimination from society once and for all,” she continued. “It is true that I come from a culture in which words and attitudes may be different than the Western ideals that I, in fact, have come to understand and accept.”

Mira Duma’s work in opening Russia to European fashion brands and building an international digital media corporation seemed to be destroyed in a matter of days as a consequence of her rather careless comments, and whatever it was that made her express them in the way she did. Mira Duma soon resigned from her positions in Büro 24/7 and The Tot. The only position she retained was in FTL, the firm she had founded on her own.


Russian fashionistas have contributed to an updated image of Russia as a country. They created an updated style of what Russian fashion could be with all the attention they received at fashion events, in international magazines and on social media. They have displayed a Russian view of style and shown the world that Russia is a country in which cool brands are created. They opened up the Russian market to Western fashion brands by being exciting intermediaries. Thus, they were an asset for Russian political power. However, in order to fit into the group of international fashion celebrities, Russian women also partially adopted Western norms and values. They needed to relate to the international discourse on sustainability and values concerning consumption, but they also needed to be non-traditional when it came to the role of women, and sensitive and open-minded when it came to race and gender issues. In their home country, the group of Russian international fashionistas were occasionally criticized for being too influenced by Western values. It could be argued or discussed whether, in the eyes of Russian society, they actually changed and differed too much from the mainstream norms and culture for women in Russia.

It is hard to assess whether the turbulence on social media was initiated by unknown forces. Some people have speculated whether this drama was planted and fueled by certain actors, questioning who such actors could have been. Was it forces in the West who believed that this Mira Duma, a Russian entrepreneur and trendsetter was receiving too much attention? That her business and reputation should be restricted? Or were there Russian actors who believed that the “Russian fashion pack” had adapted too much to Western norms?

Being a celebrity on social media is a double-edged sword. Mira Duma’s mistake in posting what she considered to be a charming greeting on Instagram had consequences she could not have foreseen. This illustrates the sensitivity of expressing yourself in a multicultural and political world. However, the posting of a film recorded in 2012 only hours after Duma’s own mistake can hardly be seen as a coincidence.

Mira Duma was not visible on social media until late 2019, when she announced that she was recovering from a serious illness. She appeared at the World Economic Forum in January 2020, discussing sustainability in the fashion industry.

Note: The article introduces one of the cases that is further elaborated on in the book Fashionabla varumärken och passionerade entreprenörer (Fashionable brands and passionate entreprenuers) (2020), Ekerlids Förlag.


  1. “Miroslava Duma and Her Style” in Fashion Inspo. Available at:
  2. Anne Mcelvoy And Jim Armitage, ”Alexander Lebedev on the secrets of the Russian elite” in the Evening Standard, September 12, 2019. Available at:
  3. Vladimir Putin, “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly”, The Kremlin, Moscow, December 12, 2013. Available at:
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