In any profession, having a strong ardor is a significant attribute that each individual needs to have to be successful and create meaningful work. When speaking of the Russian journalist Aliona Doletskaya, who was editor-in-chief of Vogue Russia from 1998 to 2010, and Interview Magazine from 2011 to 2016, it is impossible not to characterize her as an individual who has a great enthusiasm for her work. Doletskaya was the first editor-in-chief of Vogue Russia, and she played a pivotal role in introducing Russian society to the world of fashion as we know it today.
Prior to the panel, ABLA USC sat down with Aliona Doletskaya for an interview, where she was asked about her career in publishing, her thoughts on the fashion industry, and her views on the future.
What attracted you to the fashion world?
I think what happened was that from a very young age, I loved looking at how people got dressed and cared for themselves. My dad had an exquisite taste inherently because the taste is something that is very difficult to learn. When he traveled from the Soviet Union to countries such as England and the United States, he always brought a few issues of Vogue magazine. I was definitely very privileged to have two issues of Vogue in my cupboard, which, as you can imagine, I read and learned by heart. I was fascinated by this very alien type of journalism, alien because it was alien to Russia and the Soviet Union in those days, and I loved it. And then, as you know, I was trained as a philologist and comparative linguist, and I went on with my linguistic career at Moscow State University. While making my linguistic career at university, I would go to my classes by metro, the most beautiful metro on the planet, as they say. It was a long way, about a thirty/forty-minute drive, and thank god it was a direct route. So I would sit down or stand, depending on the traffic, and observe people. It was my absolute guilty pleasure or hobby as I looked at people and thought about how I would change their outfits. I was doing it all the time, and I think, fondly enough, it kind of put a foundation of my interest, interest in human beings, the way they dressed, and what message they want to convey by dressing this way. That was my biggest interest.
How did you start your career as editor-in-chief of Vogue Russia?
After some time, I was invited for an interview with the future publisher of Vogue Russia. He was advised by a very dear friend of mine, an American journalist from WWD, who said that if you are looking for somebody, don’t go to all those people who are around because Elle, L’Officiel, and Harpers Bazaar were in Russia already. I met with my future publisher for several interviews, and he liked my ideas. Then, I was sent to London to meet Jonathan Newhouse, the president of Conde Nast International. My role was decided then and there, which was fast and furious. I always remind my younger colleagues that this future publisher of mine said it would be good to write a brief about how you see the development of Russian Vogue. By then, the situation was easier; I got other Vogues and started to look for them. Eventually, I wrote a big brief explaining why Russian Vogue could not be like American, Italian, or French Vogue because of obvious cultural differences. The publishers appreciated my ideas, and I think that was what helped them to make the decision right away.
What was the state of fashion and culture in Russia in the late 90s, knowing that Russia was still recovering from the fall of the Soviet Union?
The main issue is that the 90s brought what was known as Perestroika, which laid the foundations for freedom of speech. Consequently, we started to have, for example, some kind of very exciting television programs with modern perspectives on cultural issues. By 1998, when Vogue came in, most glossy magazines were already there. In a certain way, they maneuvered the soil for a big opulent flower to blossom. They prepared the grounds. Obviously, the taste level was not excellent, but a particular part of society had already become wealthier and wealthier and wanted to spend money on themselves. Russian economy started to boom, big fashion brands chose to open their flagship stores, and more and more wealthy people began to start spending money on fashion.
What was the mission of Vogue Russia?
When we started Vogue, I used to say that it’s not just a magazine, but it is the aesthetics of being. It was important for me and for the whole Russian Vogue team to present the best fashion journalism, best fashion photography, to present a specific balance of fashion, cultural and lifestyle stories that would be appreciated by more and more people. In the 2000s, the economy improved, a lot of money started circling around, massive advertising entered the magazine, and at some point, the average issue of Vogue Russia contained 400-600 pages.
How did the public perceive Vogue when it was first published?
I can tell you a funny story. In 1998, when we did marketing research before launching the magazine, the biggest shock was when the Russian public was shown the word Vogue on the screen, and the moderator asked them, ‘what do you associate the word ‘Vogue’ with?’ Most people knew English, and 99.9 percent said, ‘I know! It’s a cigarette company.’ I almost fainted. For me, raising brand awareness and explaining the significance of this magazine was like launching a spaceship. (smiling)
I remember reading an article that said you were next in line to take over Anna Wintour’s job. How accurate was that?
Fake news! I remember giving a very interesting interview to the New York Times, and the journalist asked me if I ever wanted to become an editor of American Vogue. I said “no”, primarily because I was super excited about my work in Russia. For me, Russian Vogue was daring, exciting, and experimental. Another reason why I wouldn’t work abroad is that I knew my country and its society better than American fashion consumers. Then the journalist, in his comment in the interview, said that he was sure that if Anna Wintour were ever to leave her throne, Aliona would be the first to take it. I never even meant it or said it.
Who is your favorite designer, and why?
When I am asked who my favorite designer is, what my favorite film is, or even what my favorite flower is, it’s incredibly difficult for me to answer it. There are designers whom I love wearing, and there are those whose creative work I admire. But as a fashion editor, I always adored, and still adore, everything that Alexander McQueen did, and he definitely changed the flow and the landscape of the fashion world. John Galliano, both at his Dior days and now Martin Margiela, is fantastic. If you ask me about influential designers, by all means, it is Yves Saint Laurent, Gabrielle Chanel, Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Thierry Mugler, and Hubert Givenchy.
Who had the potential to change the course of fashion in this decade?
Daniel Roseberry, who left Thom Brown and became the creative director of Schiaparelli, is undoubtedly one of the interesting designers of this decade. What he did for Schiaparelli is phenomenal. From his collections, you will see how he worked with the brand's legacy, which is an uneasy task. I think he is a very talented guy. The other designer I want to mention is Peter Muller, who works for Alaiia. I think he is one of the designers we must keep an eye on for sure because he has a very challenging goal ahead of him.
Does your viewpint on both luxury and aesthetics change with the changes of recent times?
I think that the changes are pretty major, and big top luxury fashion houses are reconsidering their strategies. One of the visible signals of that change is that you must stand and wait until a shop assistant is available to help you, and you can stand and wait for a very long time to be served. Maybe they are trying to say that “we are so elite and busy creating luxury that we are not interested in crowds.” Also after the pandemic, people started to reconsider the price and the preciousness of life, not only because they were wearing oversized trainers for almost a whole year and sometimes putting on a nice shirt to be presentable on Zoom, but also because we have a new understanding that what we need is health, sanity, proper living, and the existence of the planet. I think our minds have moved slightly in that direction, and the aesthetic part is starting to be examined more thoroughly, particularly by the younger generation. I think it’s a mutual process because fashion houses, in response, are slightly rearranging themselves. At the same time, the consumers are giving another signal by buying clothes such as hoodies that do not need to be purchased at places such as Bottega Venetta or Balenciaga. We are entering a new era when creativity should be top luxurious because people a far more concentrated on who they are, why they are here, and what’s the quality and preciousness of their existence, and not just wearing clothes with labels.
What brings you the biggest joy in your life?
The joy comes to me through my friends because we share a lot, discuss both painful and important issues about our lives, and, of course, we laugh nonstop. We watch movies, we read books, we go to the theatre, and we share the experience, and I think that sharing is the biggest joy of mine. Needless to say, the joy in my house, the white snow, dogs running around, and kind of creating the life that makes me and my closest ones and my loved ones happy -- that’s my biggest joy.
Written by Giorgi Inaishvili