After five seasons on the haute couture runway, Ulyana Sergeenko presented her new collection in a salon at Le Bristol hotel today. The optics of the situation weren’t so hot: Untrained Russian ingenue makes a big, expensive splash complete with an endorsement from model Natalia Vodianova, only to be forced to downsize a couple of years later. That said, the one-on-one appointment is probably how Sergeenko, whose design experience is in inverse proportion to her ambition, should’ve gotten her brand off the ground in the first place. If there’s a bright spot in Russia’s ruble crisis for her, it’s that she’s found a setup that suits not just her fledgling business but also her aesthetic.
Sergeenko likes to reference specific eras of Russian history. She’s an ambassador not just for her country but also for its traditions, employing upward of 100 people whose handwork is often native to the region. This season, she explained, she chose Russian neighbors Georgia and Armenia as points of departure. True to form, the embellishments were exquisite, and at times mind-numbingly minute. Crisscross stripes on a pale blue dress weren’t printed but embroidered with narrow bands of tulle hand-stitched in place, ironed, and accented at the intersections with tiny crystals. In some cases the fabric of a garment itself was embroidered all over. Why make tiny white stitches by the thousand when selecting a piece of white silk might do? Why not?
The attention to detail was impressive, but more than that, Sergeenko has eased some of the beginner’s excesses out of her system. The best pieces—a strapless waffle silk dress with an emerald green velvet lining at the scalloped hem, an unstructured midnight blue frock with a draped cutout at the midriff and a pair of high slits—didn’t verge into costume territory but retained a strong sense of place.