Model Elena Perminova and media mogul Alexander Lebedev in 2017. Photo Alamy

Model Elena Perminova and media mogul Alexander Lebedev in 2017. Photo Alamy

Commentaries What happened to the Russian Fashion Mafia?

After the years of Covid closure, when the world was making socializing a possibility once more, Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022. This meant controversies about how Russians are seen in all industries, including in fashion. So, what has happened to the Russian Fashion Mafia?

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2022:3-4, pp 59-61
Published on on January 18, 2023

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During the 2010s a new group entered the stage of fashion celebrities. A handful of young Russian women made their appearance on the international fashion scene and became known for their varied style, their charm, and their constellation. They were seen as both exotic and inspiring, using the latest trends as well as Russian traditions for their looks. Appearing in a tiara and a feminine dress, or thigh high boots with a short skirt, made their looks surprising and cool — everything that the viral fashion industry needed. They were also seen as gate openers to the attractive market of luxury fashion in Russia, and were consequently used as models, guest designer and collaborators. All of a sudden, being Russian was related to being trendy and cool. And Russian designers started to show their collections at international Fashion Weeks. Privately, these women were married to or had close connections to Russia’s oligarchs, making the financing of their wardrobes something quite above the ordinary.
Even though there was a larger number of people involved in the cool Russian Fashion Pack, some individuals stood out as being at the heart of the Russian Fashion Mafia. Miroslava Duma (called Mira Duma) was often presented as the leader of the group, being an international digital fashion entrepreneur. Elena Perminova is a model, with a “Cinderella background”. Nowadays she has four children together with the former KGB agent Lebedev (also a publishing mogul and a Representative in the Duma). Ulyana Sergeenko was once a model but developed has her own fashion brand during the last decade. She was appointed “Look of the year” by in 2012, an appointment that became a sort of game-changer for the Russian fashionistas. Suddenly they were “the IT-girls”. Even if a bit more private, the designer Vika Gazinskaya was usually also mentioned as one of the people in the core Russian Mafia.
Though they all came to live in Moscow, most of these women were from other parts of Russia. Mira Duma and Elena Perminova both grew up in Siberia, and Ulyana Sergeenko originates from Kazakhstan. Vika Gazinskaya is the only one in the constellation who grew up in Moscow. This illustrates how these women became part of the changing circumstances in Russia and the movement of people after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mira Duma was earlier called “the force of the fashion industry” by the Financial Times, and “the most connected digital entrepreneur” by Vogue. She was also acknowledged in “The World Economic Forum Young Global Leader” (YGL), Class of 2018. There she was recognized for her professional accomplishments, commitment to society, and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world through leadership. However, due to a faux pas on social media, after she was accused of being both racist and homophobic, she dropped her public appearance and left the central stage of fashion. After the years of Covid closure, when the world was making socializing a possibility once more, Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022. This meant controversies about how Russians are seen in all industries, including in fashion. So, what has happened to the Russian Fashion Mafia? How did they survive the time of Covid and the internationally so noticed conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
The entrepreneurial star of the group, Mira Duma, had already resigned from the spotlight in 2018 when she was accused of overstepping social norms. Coming from the East of Europe means that you do not always understand the “rules” of the West until it is too late. In addition, there were rumors of somebody or a group who wanted her away from the central fashion stage. In the early spring of 2018, she with-draw from all her assignments in the corporation she had contributed to shaping except from the Future Tech Lab, the firm she had created by herself. In late 2019 she appeared again on Instagram, informing followers that she had been cured of a deadly disease. After this, her Instagram account mostly showed photos of her with her children, often going downhill skiing together. Her Instagram also contains images of environmentally friendly clothes from the brand Pangaia.
However, on February 24, photos of a different kind appeared on her Instagram account. As her parents had emigrated from Ukraine to Siberia, the family has close connections to their relatives still in Ukraine. At first Ms. Duma showed some photos of peaceful resistance of the war, including a photo of a man with a sign saying, “I am ashamed of being Russian”. The photos are no longer to be found on the account. The latest post (dated March 20, 2022) is a black image with the text, “day 24”, acknowledging that a dear member of the family passed away the previous night. Not only is the family from Ukraine: In addition, Duma’s father Vasily Duma was a senator in the Russian Federation from 2004 to 2011 as well as head of the Ukrainian diaspora between 2005 and 2012. As for her personal status, official sources claim that Mira Duma is divorced from her husband Alexander Mikheev, as well as stating that she has never been divorced. In addition to Duma’s account on Instagram, there is also a Mira Duma fan group on one account, showing her earlier outfits. She is still remembered and cherished as an outstanding and inspiring fashionista.

The designer Ulyana Sergeenko has continued to develop and show her own fashion brand. You can find shows from her Spring Summer collection 2022 on YouTube. However, these films are from late January 2022, and subsequently there is nothing more recent. The latest post on her Instagram is from January 25, 2022. It has been hard to get in touch with both Mira Duma and Ulyana Sergeenko, according to sources. Rumors says they are worried about how the Kremlin might react if they act in public. Both of them are still located in Russia.
Vika Gazinskaya was always the low-profile Russian of the group, not exposing very much of her private life. She still keeps her life private, but her design is vivid and visible. Her experience includes launching a guest collection in 2014 for & Other Stories, a brand owned by the Swedish retailer H&M. Gazinskaya is, however, mostly known for her own design branded under her name. Also, her latest collection, Fall Winter 2022—2023, is exposed on various sites on the Internet.

The most visual Russian fashionista nowadays is the model, Elena Perminova. Her Instagram is still regularly updated. The posts usually show herself in various outfits, or her visits at exotic and beautiful destinations. She does expose brands such as Bulgari and Prada on her account, so there are probably commercial interests involved in some of her posts. She is also the only one of the group who travels in Europe, for instance visiting Milan in September 2022, and in other parts of the world. There is a black image posted on February 24, 2022, but otherwise no references to Russia’s war against Ukraine. Her children are sometimes shown on the views of Instagram, but her partner/husband Alexander Lebedev very seldom appears in the images.
Alexander Lebedev is a former KGB agent, nowadays a media mogul. As of today, he is on Canada’s sanction list due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, something that has stirred some attention in Britain. Lebedev’s son, Evgeny Lebedev, has been a member of the House of Lords since 2020, and is also owner of the Evening Standard, as well as other papers. Lord Evgeny Lebedev has condemned the invasion of Ukraine, and also encouraged Putin to withdraw his “military operation”. However, he also expresses understanding for the fact that every person with Russian roots is under scrutiny under these circumstances.
Political turbulence in Europe has always stirred economic changes and personal sacrifices. At the present time, however, this poisonous tonic involves nuclear weapons and climate change to a degree that make the consequences more perilous than ever. The flourishing Russian fashion market that seemed so attractive in the 2010s now seems to be dried up and barren. ≈


1 See Karin Winroth, “Russian Fashionistas and International Politics”, Baltic Worlds, vol. 13, no. 2—3 (2020), 131—135.
2 Elizabeth Paton, ”The rise of Miroslava Duma: A Russian’s ascent through the fashion ranks”, Financial Times (October 1, 2014) Available at:
3 Diane von Furstenberg, “A green evening celebrating new technologies to help sustainability in fashion”, Vogue, (October 3, 2017). Available at
5 For details see Karin Winroth, Baltic Worlds,131—135.
9 ”When the Czarina Ruled the Front Row”, New York Times, July 4, 2022. Available at
10 For example
12 Isobel Frodsham, ”Evening Standard owner Lebedev uses front page to urge Putin to halt invasion” The Independent, February 28, 2022. Available at
13 ”Evgeny Lebedev: I am not some agent of Russia” BBC News (March 11, 2022). Available at