In Italy the designers Dolce&Gabbana are for gross women

In Italy nobody drives in the slow lane, colloquially called the lane of shame. So it’s somewhat of a mystery why the Italian fashion industry, one of the primary engines of the Italian economy, continues to putter along year after year doing 50 while China, Eastern Europe, India and — aesthetically if not economically — even France go whizzing past.

In terms of volume of production, Italy remains a force, one illustration of this being the sheer scope of the seasonal fashion weeks here. No fewer than 228 runway shows are noted in Milan’s official seven-day calendar; a free fashion handout thicker than a “Bleak House” paperback lists 61 solidly packed pages of showrooms that are open to buyers and the press.

Yet to be honest, there are no more than a handful of shows that anyone cares about or that the ever-expanding posse of international press and buyers has come to Milan eager to see.

At this point there is Bottega Veneta. There is Jil Sander. There is Prada. There is Gucci. (Maybe also Marni.) Two of these are designed by Italians (the others are designed by a German and a Belgian, respectively), and at this point Miuccia Prada is as ambivalent about national identity as one can be and still qualify for a passport. Beginning last year, Ms. Prada made even clearer the shakiness of her allegiance to what’s termed the Italian fashion system when she packed up her Miu Miu show and started staging it in Paris.

What happened? Designers like Armani, whose brands are now global behemoths, once also dominated the aesthetic side of the fashion business. Why does Italy seem like it was run off the road?

“Italy has a big, big problem, which is that there is no generational change,” said Ennio Capasa, the designer of Costume National, a respected but largely commercial label that is, in typical eccentric fashion, commemorating its 21st anniversary this year. “Designwise, factorywise, in terms of the bureaucracy, we’re behind.”

It is not just, as many suggest, that Italy, long renowned for its textiles, its handcrafts and its high aesthetic standards, has lost large hunks of its manufacturing market to Eastern Europe, China and India. Plenty of people here will tell you that the China experiment has not necessarily worked out. Cheap foreign copies of Italian luxury goods are fine, but not fine enough, apparently, to satisfy the trained eyes and high expectations of people spoiled by the access they’ve always had to the best artisans around, workers whose skills have been transmitted across centuries.

You don’t hear the word used explicitly, but the quality missing from fashion here now is what Italians refer to as raffinatezza, or refinement. This is not a small detail in a country historically defined almost entirely by its visual culture. What has replaced it in part is the tackiness and vulgarity of which America once claimed the dominant market share. American pop culture at this point is largely vapid and formless. What is Paris Hilton but a cloud of pastel ectoplasm, its molecules barely sticky enough to hold form?

Italian pop culture produces its own manifestations, one being the careers of the designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, whose status as media deities owes less to their design skills than to their genius for tapping into a youth culture just as dumb as its American counterpart but visually definable in terms of hardness, or what’s called here durezza.

Let other designers make clothes that look chic or classy. Dolce & Gabbana seems satisfied to have built a nearly $1 billion privately owned company on the sartorial wisdom of the ragazzi, the street kids, dressing a generation that, as is often reported, reads perhaps a book a year and watches more television daily (240 minutes on average) than almost any other similar population in Europe.

It was the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini who first pronounced doom on Italy’s aesthetic and moral standards based on the decadence he saw emanating from the boob tube. But that was eons before the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi created his mediagarchy, before Domenico and Stefano became television regulars, before the country’s biggest porn star, Rocco Siffredi, became a snack foods huckster featured in commercials for Amica potato chips whose tag line uses a double entrendre that is slang for a part of the female anatomy.

Like most eggheads of the period, Pasolini decried the vulgarization of culture by the ubiquitous new medium. Yet in Pasolini’s day, Italy could still be said to have a vital literary, artistic and cinematic scene to counter the television’s evil rays. Even the applied forms like fashion then embodied an image of Italy as a holdout of refined tradition and Italians as the guardians and arbiters of patrician ways.

That this fantasy has not altogether faded can be seen in the press obsession with Lapo Elkann, reprobate grandson of Gianni Agnelli, the former Fiat chief. Despite repeated drug binges, stints in rehab, his overdose in the apartment of a middle-aged transvestite, Mr. Elkann is invariably seen as a paragon of elegance. Mostly this is because he wears his grandfather’s clothes.

There is a particularly Italian message in the fact that, no matter what kind of antics Mr. Elkann gets up to, his inherited hand-me-downs possess the magical power to restore him to moral rectitude.

It’s this raffinatezza that seems to have gone, either leaving the country or ignored by designers whose idea of fashion is a leopard-print frock for a trollop-slash-starlet or the 99th iteration of whiskered jeans.

“I’m not sure it will ever come back,” Mr. Capasa of Costume National said, referring to the refinement of Italian fashion and the sense of Italy as a generator of style and innovative ideas. “At the top level of power, there are just a few brands left,” and, he added, very little space left for either traditional labels or new blood.

“They have to embrace the future,” Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, said at the Armani show on Monday, referring to the Camera Nazionale, the trade group that regulates the Italian fashion industry. Slow to promote novelty or young designers, the group has been accused of being old-fashioned, resistant, entrenched.

“There are wonderful, talented people here, but it’s always the same names,” Ms. Wintour said. “Where is the support? Where is the sponsorship? You have to embrace the future of fashion and look for the next generation.”

And if that doesn’t happen, it is no stretch to imagine a day when the fast-lane folks who run global fashion will decide to skip the Milan exit in their haste to find the next great place.

Annunci

The Elegance of the Beauty


Ever since Tom Ford took over the designing of Yves Saint Laurent ready-to-wear, he has had to deal with snarky journalists who think he’s not faithful enough to the style he inherited or not talented enough to create an image for Saint Laurent that’s distinct from Gucci, the brand he forged out of bankrupt playboy shoe leather. And probably it seems to Mr. Ford that he can’t get a break.

But it’s his own comfort level with Saint Laurent that one keeps questioning — not his talent. One gets the feeling over and over again that Mr. Ford has the eye but not the heart for Saint Laurent. It’s as if he scans the opulent forest of Saint Laurent references and plucks what he likes without bothering to go deeper and examine the roots. So one season you have ”Carmen” gypsies and the next sexy safari nomads. And sometimes the results are dashingly effective. But what you still have is a kind of drive-through couture: burger, fries and a bow. The surface supersized.

With the fall collection he showed on Monday night at the Musée Rodin, Mr. Ford at least seemed to be revisiting a part of the Saint Laurent world that isn’t widely known or remembered: the clothes he did for Christian Dior in the late 1950’s. In his autumn 1959 collection, Mr. Saint Laurent showed a dress gathered up generously at the hem with a fat bow. And bows appeared throughout Mr. Ford’s show — as shoestring lacing down the fronts of tight black-lace blouses, as floppy trellises on the backs of snug velvet jackets and as thematic tie-ins at the knees of skintight velvet breeches.

It was bold of Mr. Ford to propose so much beribboned glamour for day, though dressiness was a theme of the fall 2002 collections (which ended today). More problematic were the many repetitions in this show and the one he presented for Gucci: the slick straight skirts, the tepid use of color (navy or deep red), the abundant velvet and ribbon-lashed tops. Some journalists thought they spied 18th-century references in Mr. Ford’s frilled Saint Laurent cuffs, others a note of Velásquez.

It hardly matters, though. Scrape away the references, and you get Gucci. Mr. Ford has to dig deeper.

”Elegance today has to do with brains and bones — it’s an attitude,” Karl Lagerfeld said. And he couldn’t have said it better with a right-on Chanel collection on Tuesday. For elegance to mean anything, it has to be connected to the way women think and move on the street, without cumbersome gestures.

That’s what Mr. Lagerfeld accomplished, with seemingly little effort, by pairing flaring leather minis with fitted jackets in murky tweeds that evoked waistcoats. Or, for night, a black silk chemise with a draped back and a wide hip belt of quilted leather.

Mr. Lagerfeld’s show played to a live rock band, as models trooped out in small-shouldered wool suits with sleeves that could be upzipped to get the arms through, yet could still achieve a tight, clean fit. These were shown with long, matching sleeveless coats — a practical nod to lighter layering. The collection brought sparkle into day clothes, but more impressive was its human range. Mr. Lagerfeld even offered what he lightly calls ”in-between clothes,” beaded lingerie for those in-between hours.

For more than a decade, Martin Margiela
‘s role in fashion has been that of a pesky outsider commenting on the inside, while subtly influencing it. To look at the oversize coats that Mr. Ford showed at Gucci and Saint Laurent is to see his ventilating influence. Yet two years ago, when Mr. Margiela first went jumbo, people thought he was riffing on fashion’s obsession with thinness; in fact, he was addressing something more fundamental: proportion.

Now he has dropped volume. On Tuesday night, at the Petit Palais, as models were led by uniformed attendants onto caged platforms and briefly bathed in hot light, Mr. Margiela cleverly lampooned the mania for must-have products that drives magazines like Lucky and reduces fashion to brands and marketing. At one point, he sent out a man in a white lab coat bearing a large plexiglass box containing a white purse. It was held out solemnly to the audience like a prized specimen. And, of course, to be considered a luxury player in fashion, you need a trophy bag.

A more subtle tribute to this reductive kind of thinking was a plain black wool dress tied at the neck and waist with a full-length gray silk panel that resembled a pin-tucked slip. It stood out in relief against the black, like those cutouts of garments you see in magazines under the headline ”20 Cool Looks!” Mr. Margiela also took a nice swipe at the vintage hullabaloo — stitching together two old coats, in cloth or fur, and leaving the two spare sleeves dangling eerily down the front and back of the blended coat.

Among the new designers showing for the first time in Paris was Istvan Francer, a 45-year-old native of Subotica, now in Serbia, near the border with Hungary, a region that figures in his romantic trimmings and full-skirted chic. At times Mr. Francer seemed too overpowered by old-fashioned sentiment, with costume looks like ballooning black jodhpurs. But then he eased up, offering the more playful cocktail-hour treat of slim black trousers worn with a taut black sweater, its sleeves of fine black lace. He finished off the outfit with a black taffeta sash.

Be it a bow or a sash, that seems to be fashion’s must-have garnish for fall.

Ministero della Bellezza A Tribute

Ministry of Beauty presents The Royalty of Beauty
The Beauty is where one does not attend.

Ministero della Bellezza, charity organisation, has pre-established its aim by multiple representations that declare, in all and for all, and the beauty becomes a trace of a spark, lighting up ones soul. Like two fresh roses harvested in Paradise, Ministero della Bellezza is a cause divine. But is it really just for the few of us, or for everyone?! All are in need of Grace and Beauty.
With Ministero della Bellezza, never again will there be artistic representations of obsolete empty minds, tableaux that elevate sublime shock aesthetics of horror or intellectualism of a collapsed thought.
Amidst all the elegance and luxurious excessiveness of Ministero della Bellezza nothing can ever be more beautiful than this breathtaking sparkle that lets you bare your soul.
“One is either a piece of art itself, or wears art”
Ministero della Bellezza shows that Beauty with all its representations is a dazzling glare of the eyes, precocious invitation, a natural high, a rendez- vous with life just discovered and strippe

PRESENTATIONS

In its very short life span Ministero della Bellezza has organized two National events:
“Le vesti magiche di Roberto Capucci” (“Magic robes of Roberto Capucci”),
the only world wide known stylist whose creations are considered to be not only to be sculptures but also a presentation of the Italian culture abroad;
“Il non cessar l’oro Federico Buccellati-eleganze e voluttà nei gioielli
da Gabriele d’Annunzio all’oggi” ( The gold never ends. Federico Buccellati, elegance and sensuality in jewelry of Gabrielle d. Annunzio today”)
On the world level Ministero della Bellezza has exclusive right sto shows “Le labbra e il vino” (Lips and Wine),
“Le sacré sauvage” di Gerard di Rancinan
“Follement Marylin Monroe”
“Ce soir ou jamais”: photographic exhibition with Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, Helmut Newton, etc
and “Approaching the new century”, Works from Julian Schnabel.
An english edition of a fashion and design magazine, EXCESS, is about to be edited and published.

Carrie Schechter A Tribute

carrie-fogliounico


Carrie Schechter’s free spirited nature has led her on many adventures with her camera in hand. As someone who pushes boundaries in both life and art, she has pushed the concept of photography to a level of hyperrealism. Her work expresses a fusion of seduction and innocence and has been described as beautiful, textural, and haunting. Carrie creates a dynamic environment when she shoots encouraging everyone to check their inhibitions and hang-ups at the door.

Carrie studied at Brooks Institute of Photography where she received a department award for her cutting edge still photography. Previously educated in fine art at the School of Visual Arts, she learned the importance of using light for modeling and developing the complex moods that reside in her work. Her fine arts background explains the painterly and sculptural sense of light that is evident in her photographs.

Carrie’s work has appeared in advertising campaigns and magazine editorials. She has won multiple awards leading her photography to be nationally and internationally recognized and featured in cities such as Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York.

La creatività, libera e stupefacente, di Carrie Schechter l’ha condotta, con la macchina fotografica, a percorrere molte strade: fashion, glamour, beauty, stories. Così ad arrivare a toccare i vertici sia nella vita e sia nell’arte e da spingere la fotografia ai confini dell’iperrealismo. L’arte di Carrie Schechter esprime una fusione di seduzione e innocenza. La sua fotografia è stata definita bella, ipnotica e inquietante. Carrie Schechter crea scenografie di là degli spazi dello sguardo: è cinema, teatro e, forse, qualcosa oltre; è sicuramente il make up dell’anima. C’è nelle sue foto una luce che squarcia i limiti dell’arte e si deposita nella seduzione dell’arte.

Carrie Schechter ha studiato al Brooks Institute of Photography ottenendo menzione speciale.

Il lavoro di Carrie Schechter è apparso in numerose campagne pubblicitarie e in magazine di moda. Ha vinto numerosi premi nazionali e internazionali consacrandola Dea dell’arte della fotografia. Ha esposto a Dubai, Hong Kong, Londra, Parigi, Barcellona, Los Angeles e New York.

http://playswithmatches.wordpress.com/

Fashhion Review A Playful Romp for Chanel

As often as Karl Lagerfeld used to be chided by some of his peers for being a mercenary and not owning a house of his own — at least not one as successful as Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino — it’s interesting how well he understands Chanel.

More than understanding the iconography of Chanel, a house that first opened its doors at 31, rue Cambon in 1921, he knows what the name means in the history of Paris. Unlike many other houses that have disappeared behind corporate facades or disappeared altogether, Chanel still sits like a white-gloved lady on the Rue Cambon. And probably to a great many young tourists who come to take pictures of its famous entrance and the Cassandre-designed logo, the Rue Cambon is Chanel.

Today, after it was reported by Women’s Wear Daily that Alessandra Facchinetti would be replaced at Valentino after just one year (Stefano Sassi, company’s chief executive, has been vague about plans, but indicated that a change was likely and that a lack of confidence in Ms. Facchinetti’s approach was an issue), an executive associated with the Rome-based company said, sadly, “Valentino is like Alitalia to Italy.”

Well, Alitalia has its problems, but certainly Valentino is a name that resonates beyond a chic little suit scattered with seed pearls. Ms. Facchinetti presented a charming, well-received haute couture collection in July. Friday, her ready-to-wear show of casual tunic dresses and soft shorts combinations with gold braid struggled to say something new.

But Ms. Facchinetti’s brief career at Valentino, as much the company’s owners poor handling of it, is proof that you need more than deep pockets to preserve a great name. You also need to recognize what it means in the popular imagination, and then seize it.

Mr. Lagerfeld had the idea to recreate a full-size facade of 31, rue Cambon inside the Grand Palais — and not only the building but also the street, complete with curbs. The models left the maison and hit the street. There was even the suggestion that four models strolling out together in mini knit dresses and fancy net hats might be representing the hooker element. If you’ve lived in Paris, and around fashion, as long as Mr. Lagerfeld has, you wouldn’t judge women that harshly.

He seems to regularly ask himself the question “What is Chanel?” — as if he knows it’s a living thing. This season, tweeds are more graphic; there is the new proportion of a cropped jacket, over a ribbed knit or blouse, and a slim embroidered skirt, shown with two-tone black stockings that modify the actual length of the skirt.

There are plays on transparency and shine. And maybe only Mr. Lagerfeld can show, at one extreme, silvery platforms with pink powder puffs at the heels and, at the other, a gorgeously severe black evening dress with a shadow layer of tulle and a taut, sheer neckline.

“Our house, in the middle of our street,” went the corny, if upbeat soundtrack from the 1980s hit by Madness, and in the models’ hands was one of the most coveted symbols of luxury and pleasure: the Chanel shopping bag, now rendered as a leather sack. The street, one can argue, is Chanel’s real stage.

Stefano Pilati has done a lot to reignite Saint Laurent. His spring collection is a solid continuation of the graphic modernity of last season, with more of an Eastern influence. Wool crepe trousers have a dropped crotch (but are the most flattering of that trendy style). Jackets have a slight kimono look, though Mr. Pilati keeps the volumes from exploding. There are matching bras under sheer, almost iridescent blouses and new, somewhat conceptual versions of the safari jacket — now with a kind of stiff peplum laced to the body of the jacket.

Mr. Pilati offered a lot of appealing clothes — smart, wearable but somehow missing that real Saint Laurent sex appeal and mystery. Maybe he intellectualized the process too much, but you didn’t feel he grasped or took advantage of the big story that Saint Laurent is.

It takes a special woman to wear a Giambattista Valli dress, because in most respects the dress wears her and sometimes it makes her a victim. Mr. Valli has an attentive young clientele, and a press agent’s e-mail message in advance of the show announcing that Natalie Portman would be traveling to Paris to see the collection had the weird archaic import of a 1950s Pathé newsreel.

But then Mr. Valli’s clothes seemed stuck in the glamour of that period. Five decades of women being a good deal more than prized possessions have apparently escaped Mr. Valli’s consciousness, or so it would appear from his crinoline dresses, fussy necklines and tulle outfits with the wooliness of a poodle’s back. Their fingertips extended over their wide skirts, their high heels made more perilous with the addition of a recessed platform, the models seemed instructed to look elegant and unobtainable.

A more accurate word for this tranquilized mood — and the collection in general — would have been Valium.


Galliano Plays His Hand Smartly

IF John Galliano, the designer at Dior, were not so recognizably talented, he might be considered a joke. For every show he changes his look, and his guises are as varied as Cindy Sherman’s. On the day of the recent Costume Institute gala at the Met, he slipped into a booth at the Four Seasons wearing a well cut, if severe, brown pinstripe suit and a snap-brim cap. Four hours later, materially transformed by sequins and golden curls, Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano looked like Davy Crockett in drag. The bloggers went to town.

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Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times
John Galliano’s collection balances easiness and technical finesse.
But there is the fact of his talent, which rises up to greet you like a brick wall. It is unavoidably great. In two decades, he has staged at least half a dozen shows that people still vividly remember.

These include the 1993 Princess Lucretia show in which he used electrical wire to give his skirts swing; a 1994 show in an empty Paris mansion in which all the dresses were made from black satin-backed crepe (it was a fabric he could afford and it could be used on both sides); the 1999 Matrix show, at Versailles, in which he offended Dior’s old clients and established the house’s modernity; and the 2000 hobo show that put fashion on the front page.

He is one of the few designers working today who actually knows how to cut cloth. If your daughter is wearing a bias-cut prom dress this spring, it is largely because years ago Mr. Galliano pushed manufacturers to try the technique on an industrial scale. His clothes have been judged unwearable and, more recently, overly commercial and safe. But as with all far-sighted talent, the judgments are eventually reversed. What once looked unwearable now seems ordinary, and what once seemed banal now looks right.

Last Tuesday Mr. Galliano was in New York to present Dior’s resort collection. Though resort clothes don’t get (or deserve) the news media attention of couture and ready-to-wear, Dior decided to make an event of it, inviting fashionistas as well as movie people, like Spike Lee and the producer Harvey Weinstein, and feeding them baked potatoes with caviar and Champagne at a dinner afterward. Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which owns Dior, flew from Paris with his wife, Hélène, as did the editors of French Vogue and Le Figaro.

To the Hollywood guests, the scene at the show must have had an ancien régime quality despite the modern setting of the LVMH Tower on East 57 Street. “I don’t know how you do it,” a Hollywood guest said with a grin to a journalist. “You’re always looking at the same people at these shows. They never change!”

Well, in a way this is also Mr. Galliano’s problem. How does a maverick at age 46 perform magic when those judging him remember the old tricks, and even occasionally complain he was better then? And how does Mr. Galliano satisfy his own creativity when he has to feed a global business, its annual sales approaching $1 billion, with more than 200 stores and new customers who suddenly and perceptibly don’t care about what a glamorous windbag in New York thinks about his genius cutting?

Like the Artful Dodger, whose sense of freedom he transmits in both his own style and his runway collections, Mr. Galliano has an instinct for survival. A couple of years ago, when he started showing more conventional-looking clothes, along with handbags, many people took this as a sign that, at least in his ready-to-wear shows, he had finally been reined in by Dior executives.

But over lunch recently, Mr. Galliano said: “That was me. I decided to do that. Very odd to see a girl walking down the runway with a bag, I agree. But, at the same time, I knew that a certain girl with a certain shaped bag would get the image out there.” And of course, increasingly the image is the message.

“It’s also a question of time as well,” he said. “Gone are the days of the great Balenciaga and M. Dior, when you had six months to create a line, a silhouette. That’s what I try to do in haute couture. But the timing is very different today.”

Does he feel he has time to be creative? “It’s programmed,” he said. “I mean, you can’t come into the studio one day and say, ‘I’m really feeling this design.’ ” He laughed. “It’s more programmed than that. No, it doesn’t bother me. I need it.”

At almost every turn in his 10 years at Dior, beginning with the Matrix show, which included clothes that had been taken apart and put together backward or upside down, Mr. Galliano has demonstrated a greater ability to change than his audience. I know: in a review of the Matrix show, I wrote, “Even if there was something believably modern here, the sort of world Mr. Galliano was envisioning hardly needs haute couture.”

I took the clients’ side. Wrong move. In haute couture, at least as it’s practiced by Mr. Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld, you trust the designer. The modernity of Mr. Galliano’s torn-apart approach was eventually borne out in the imitations.

In the late 80’s, in a small Italian magazine called Westuff, Mr. Galliano said he considered himself part of the establishment. Given his circumstances at the time — near poverty, no regular source of financing and serious amounts of clubbing — this may have been a case of telling a journalist what he wanted to hear. Yet despite his working-class upbringing and the outlaw poses, Mr. Galliano’s understanding of fashion and business does lie with the establishment.

Reminded of the article, he said: “I was a baby. How bold of me to say I want to be an international designer and have a house in Paris! But there you go. There’s no point fighting it. Embrace it. Work within it, and then do things.”

He acknowledged the front-row complaints that Dior has gone too commercial without addressing them. “Um, can it ever be too commercial?” he said. “I think what we’re doing is right for the time. I don’t want Dior to rest as a niche brand.”

It is a condition of fashion today that the top houses are run by businessmen and not by creators. Even the good businessman, as much as he understands the need for strong talent, still wants the look that sells. On his way into the postshow dinner on Tuesday, Mr. Arnault praised the direction Mr. Galliano has taken, saying it was necessary: “Our customers were saying, ‘We love what John does, but it’s not for me,’ ” he said.

The fact is, Mr. Galliano’s modest resort collection deserves attention, and for the only reason that has ever mattered. It looks right for now. This collection is better than Mr. Galliano’s last two Dior ready-to-wear shows — in its subtle use of cut (especially a flattering asymmetrical matte-gold dress with one soft sleeve), and in its balance of easiness and technical finesse. Right before everyone’s eyes, Mr. Galliano has changed. But can you see it?

Art Russian and Rich: Art’s New Tastemaker

ONE day in December, Dasha Zhukova wandered into the Bakhmetevsky
Bus Garage, a giant red-brick Constructivist-era landmark near the
Olympic Stadium in Moscow. She was immediately entranced by the space,
a vast parallelogram spanning nearly 92,000 square feet and an unusual
array of vertical and circular windows. Designed in 1926 by Konstantin
Melnikov, the garage is much loved by architects.

“I thought
Moscow should have a space like this for contemporary art,” Ms.
Zhukova, 27, said in an interview, sipping a cappuccino in the
top-floor cafe of the Tate Modern here. “There is a huge thirst for
knowledge among the younger generation for contemporary art, but most
of them learn about it by going on the Internet.”

It was a
serendipitous discovery for Ms. Zhukova. Thanks to her, the cavernous
building will reopen next month as the Garage Center for Contemporary
Culture, a nonprofit institution that brings art to Moscow and schools
the public on what it’s about. Its first show will be a retrospective
of the artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov.

Overnight, Ms.
Zhukova’s new center and her connections, including a billionaire,
art-collecting boyfriend, have made her an art-world It Girl. Her
sudden fame attests to the seismic effect that Russian money — and in
some cases Ukrainian or Georgian money — is having.

When Ms.
Zhukova first saw the building, she wasn’t searching for an art space
or anything else in particular. The landmark structure, which is
government-owned, had been leased to the Federation of Jewish
Communities in Russia. Through perseverance she was able to take over
the lease and then hire Jamie Fobert, a London architect, to transform
it.

It was a powerful reflection of her deep pockets. Ms.
Zhukova is the daughter of an oligarch, Aleksandr Zhukov, a deputy
prime minister who lives in Moscow and made his fortune in oil. And
there is help at the ready from her companion, the 41-year-old
financier Roman Abramovich, who has riveted the art world recently by
paying top dollar for Francis Bacon, Giacometti and others. (Forbes this year estimated his net worth at $23.5 billion.)

Little
wonder, then, that in late spring, when word got out that Ms. Zhukova
had decided to throw a June 12 dinner party in the bowels of the former
bus garage, dealers and collectors around the globe began maneuvering
desperately for invitations.

Leaving the space bare except for
a giant chandelier-style light installation by the artist Rafael
Lozano-Hemmer, she invited some 300 people to what she called a “soft
opening.” A caterer was flown in from London, and Amy Winehouse
was hired to sing. Among those milling about were young European
aristocrats like Charlotte Casiraghi, daughter of Princess Caroline of
Monaco; New York collectors including the cosmetics heir Ronald S. Lauder and the hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen; powerful New York dealers like Larry Gagosian; and artists like Jeff Koons.

“It
took chutzpah for Dasha to put on an event and attract so many people,”
said Oliver Barker, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s in London.
“It shows how seriously they’re taking her.”

Mollie
Dent-Brocklehurst, a former director of the Gagosian Gallery in London,
who has been hired to help plan the Garage Center, said that she and
Ms. Zhukova sought out artists as guests so they could “listen to their
response.”

“Ultimately we want this to be a place where artists will want to show their work,” she said.

Ms.
Zhukova herself is not yet a collector, but her newfound love of art
has influenced Mr. Abramovich’s collecting. There are long precedents
for Russians collecting Western art. Peter the Great frequented the
salesrooms of Amsterdam, scooping up 17th-century Dutch and Flemish
paintings; Catherine the Great’s tastes were voracious and included
Titian, Poussin and French silver. Around the turn of the 20th century,
Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov collected some of the greatest
Impressionist paintings directly from the artists’ studios and, later,
assembled troves of Matisses and Picassos.

“It’s history repeating itself,” Mr. Barker said.

A few weeks before her visit to the Tate, Ms. Zhukova spent a few days in Switzerland at Art Basel, the annual contemporary art fair, with Mr. Abramovich. Their arrival caused an even bigger stir than appearances by Brad Pitt or Sofia Coppola.

While
there is a tabloid quality to the public’s interest — Mr. Abramovich
divorced his wife, Irina, after forging his relationship with Ms.
Zhukova — there is also considerable fascination with his penchant for
paying record prices for whatever strikes his fancy. In recent auctions
in London and New York, for example, he is said to have bought a Degas
pastel for $26.5 million, a 1976 triptych by Francis Bacon for $86.3
million and a painting by Lucian Freud for $33.6 million.

However
discreetly, he and other rich Russians who made their fortunes when
Soviet industries like oil, steel and gas were privatized are now
living large, with private planes, yachts and multiple houses. And like
many of these newly rich, Mr. Abramovich and Ms. Zhukova now make their
homes here in London.

The advantages here for wealthy Russians
are considerable. It is close enough to Moscow (a three-hour trip by
private plane), it has excellent schools, and it allows them to live
fairly anonymously in grand houses. There are tax advantages, too:
people who live and work in Britain but are foreign-born typically pay
no taxes on income generated outside the country.

Fiercely
private for the most part, these Russians generally do not support
British cultural institutions and seldom attend gallery openings or
auction house parties.

Ms. Zhukova is different. She has agreed to co-host the Serpentine
Gallery’s big fund-raiser next month, and she is keenly interested in
meeting artists. Last month she visited Damien Hirst’s
studios in Gloucestershire, where he gave her a preview of the work he
will be selling at Sotheby’s in London in September. “There were
definitely pieces I liked,” she said cautiously. “But not everything.”

The Russian embrace of Western contemporary art has long been
coming. With the birth of private Russian fortunes some 20 years ago,
“Russians started buying Russian art in their own country, even though
non-Russians still remained the biggest consumer of Russian art,” said
Joachim Pissarro, a great-grandson of Camille Pissarro and an adjunct
curator at the Museum of Modern Art. (He was among those who flocked to
the dinner at the Garage, which he called “amazing.”)

And until
recently, market experts say, they were primarily interested in the
decorative arts. In 2004, for instance, the Russian billionaire Victor
Vekselberg spent about $100 million for the entire Forbes family
Fabergé collection, a purchase that included 9 imperial Easter eggs and
some 180 other pieces. Then about five years ago, some of those Russian
collectors widened their sights to mostly Russian-born artists, like
Chagall. “They skipped over everything else,” Mr. Pissarro said.

Since
then, he said, the tide has turned. They “started to collect
Impressionist, Modern and contemporary art at a speed that is
absolutely astonishing,” he said. “Now they’re going outside of Russia,
buying artists like Jeff Koons. The pendulum has swung 180 degrees,
with Russians becoming one of the most powerful forces in the market.”

The
tastes of rich collectors from the former Soviet republics tend to be
unpredictable. The goal seems to be to snap up whatever is perceived at
the moment to be the best, from a much-admired Picasso painting to a work by the hot Scottish-born artist Peter Doig.

“The whim factory is something quite amazing,” Mr. Pissarro said. “They can change directions at the speed of lightning.”

Two years ago the art world was gripped by the drama surrounding Picasso’s “Dora Maar
With Cat,” a 1941 portrait that sold at Sotheby’s in New York for a
staggering $95.2 million. The man seemed inexperienced and sat in the
rear of the salesroom, unusual for a well-connected bidder.

When
the hammer went down, he ducked out of the room, but not before news
photographers captured his face. Within minutes that image was
ricocheting through cyberspace as dealers and collectors tried to
identify him. It finally emerged that he was bidding for a Georgian
oligarch, not a Russian one: Boris Ivanishvili, a mining magnate.

In
the same New York auction season, rubles appeared for the first time on
the currency boards at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. A year later Sotheby’s
opened its first office in Moscow; Christie’s is about to do the same
as a way of catering to big collectors and cultivating new ones.

Ms.
Zhukova herself acknowledges being a relative art neophyte. “I didn’t
study art history and don’t remember names of artists,” she said, her
perfect English tinged faintly by a Russian accent. “But if I like an
image, I remember it.”

Petite and striking, with long brown
hair and big eyes, she cultivates a purposely understated appearance;
blue jeans, T-shirts and ballet slippers are her uniform. Yet she is
poised and self-assured as she describes trying to navigate the often
treacherous waters of the art world.

Born in Moscow in 1981,
Ms. Zhukova is an only child. Her parents divorced when she was young,
and when her mother, a molecular biologist, took a job at the
University of California, Los Angeles, in the early 1990s, they moved
there. Ms. Zhukova spoke not a word of English.

But she quickly
adjusted, she said, attending schools in Los Angeles and then the
University of California, Santa Barbara, where she took premed courses
and studied homeopathic medicine.

A year ago few people in the
art world had heard of her. She has a bit of recognition in fashion
circles because she and a friend, Christina Tang, introduced a clothing
line last year called Kova & T, simple basics like blue jeans,
leggings and T-shirts that are now sold at stores including Saks,
Intermix and Fred Segal.

Today, she shuttles from Moscow to
London to Los Angeles and points beyond, and she appears to shun
publicity and purposely remains low key.

On that summer
afternoon at the Tate, Ms. Zhukova had just returned from New York,
where she made a pilgrimage to Dia:Beacon on the Hudson, a museum known
for devoting rooms to artists like Andy Warhol
and Robert Ryman.

“I loved the spirit and the philosophy there,” she said. “I’m trying to see as much as I can.”

In Basel she similarly made a point of visiting the bucolic Beyeler Foundation building, designed by Renzo Piano.
While she found both institutions interesting, she said, she isn’t
modeling the Garage after any specific museum. “I’m taking different
aspects of different institutions that are inspiring influences,” she
said.

In addition to galleries, the Garage Center will have
educational spaces, a theater, a bookstore and a cafe. Ms. Zhukova
declined to estimate how much it would cost to renovate and operate the
art center, saying it was too early to say. Besides aid from Mr.
Abramovich, financing is also coming from other private sources and
corporate sponsorship. “We’ve also been approached by some luxury
brands,” she said.

Admission will be free, which Ms. Zhukova
said is important. Eventually, she said, she plans to hire a director,
probably a Russian who will be in touch with the interests of local
visitors.

After the Kabakov exhibition that opens next month,
the Garage Center plans to exhibit works from the collection of
Christie’s owner, the luxury goods magnate François Pinault,
whose foundation is based in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. And Ms.
Dent-Brocklehurst said she was considering commissioning artists to
create site-specific works for the space, analogous to installations in
the vast Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern.

Asked if the Garage would have its own collection, Ms. Zhukova said that would be many years down the road, if ever.


“For now I’m trying to learn as much as I can to make up for my lack of
art history,” she said. “The more I read, the more I realize what I
don’t know.”