Expert Insights: Olga Vilshenko

Founder & Creative Director, Vilshenko

Originally from the Ural Region of Russia, Olga grew up surrounded by quality craftsmanship, always inspired by her mother’s talent. Olga pursued her love of fashion at the Institute of Fashion and Art in Russia, supplementing her studies at Istituto Marangoni in London.
Olga presented her first collection for Vilshenko for spring/summer 2011, where she merged clean silhouettes with folkloric Russian touches like embroidered details, sumptuous fabrics, and eclectic prints. Her collections are stocked in Net a Porter, Matches, Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges, Harrods, Saks, Joyce and TSUM and many other leading retailers.
She now works between London and Moscow, where she opened the first Vilshenko boutique in autumn 2014.

Your relationship with fashion started when you were a kid, watching your mum creating unique pieces for your family. Do you want to share an anecdote?
I fell in love with fashion when I was a kid. My mom used to make clothes for the entire family and her friends. I picked up my love for fashion from her, watching her preparing the fabrics, cutting and sewing. Being raised in Soviet Russia with a lack of variety in stores, there were hardly any women who weren’t either making clothes or having clothes made for them. All my mum’s friends came always to us asking my mum to make something new. My Dad always complained saying that this house wasn’t a house anymore. It had become an atelier.
My sister and I were fascinated by the process and soon we started to volunteer to help. When I got older I could make everything by myself. I wasn’t taught by my mom, it just came to me organically.

And then you decided fashion should have become your job. Do you remember that moment when you made the decision to study fashion?
I was so completely intrigued by making clothes that when I had to choose my future profession I thought it would be great to do what I loved. Unfortunately, there was no institution for designers at the time in my town and after I graduated from my school I had to enter the financial university as an accountant like my mom. After I graduated from this university, I had the opportunity to study fashion at the Chelyabinsk Humanities Institute, this only increased my determination to be a designer and what brought me then on to study at the London branch of Institute Marangoni. I had decided to try and show people my vision of fashion.

As Istituto Marangoni alumna, how much this experience influenced your next steps and how much it helped you reaching your goals?
After all the years of my education in Russia I was so happy to go to London, which is of course one of the most inspiring cities in the world for studying fashion. Being at Istituto Marangoni and being in London finally let me understand the process of how to be a fashion designer.
I had so many questions about the process, I was hungry to know about trends: how to use them, how to decide what is important, how to keep creating something new. I was already very technically proficient but I needed to understand the bigger picture of being a designer and developing a new collection every season that would be relevant in the fashion world.

What advice would you give to fashion students today?
The fashion business in London is really competitive. Don’t get knocked back by rejection, there will be plenty of it in your work and in your ideas.
Learn how to manage the business side, work hard and take every opportunity, start learning the job with an internship, stand out from the crowd, work late if you are asked. Each company looks for reliable people.
Be interesting and fresh in your approach. This is how investors and clients will notice you.
Stay coherent with what you are, with your style, you can’t please everyone, you will get positive as well as negative reactions and feedback.
Another important thing is finding the right people as your collaborators, professionals who think the same way and have the same vision and taste level.

What are the 3 key pillars of your education at Istituto Marangoni?
· Learning about all the different kind of fabrics and materials.
· Range planning. How to put a collection together, all the different elements of design, sketching, fabrics, colours, embroidery, knit, joining everything together in a cohesive balanced plan.
· I was taught how to develop an idea, find a theme and enhance it.

What or who helped you to become who you are?
My parents, my teachers, later my team and of course my family and my husband helped me to become who I am now. When I launched my brand my husband was incredibly supportive and now he continues supporting me. I am lucky to have my husband as the biggest fan of all my smaller and bigger victories!

Where do you take inspiration during your everyday job?
I’m inspired by pretty much everything related to Russian culture. It might be architecture, paintings, music, books – my tastes are very versatile. People are my main source of inspiration. There are lots of inspiring women from the past and the present too. I love strong and talented women: actresses, models, ballerinas or just women on the street with a strong style identity.

What’s your favourite part of your job?
I do love research. Art, architecture, photographs, images, vintage garments, history, literature and music, anything that could inspire my work. Sometimes seeing a beautiful print can create the idea for the whole collection. You never know what might lead you to new ideas.

You presented your first collection in 2011. After 6 years, how did fashion system change according to you?
Today the relentless pace to create collections back to back is so difficult. I will be working on two or three collections at the same time, and the pre-collections are so important nowadays but they take as much time as mains. I present my collection 4 times per year and each season has to be new, buyers are always looking for the next thing, this can be a great pressure. I am now launching a beach range so more three seasons into the mix.

And about your collections, how did they develop through the years?
The evolution of my collection is very natural. I usually begin discussing with my team about the previous seasons,  analyzing what worked and what didn’t. It’s also important for me to add new types of fabric and embroideries each season but always preserving the brand’s DNA.

In 2014 you opened your first boutique in Moscow. Which goal did you want to reach at that time and how did this project grow?
I always wanted to have my own boutique since I was a child. I wanted to create my own space. Having the collection in one place in a whole story for my clients to bring it all together. From this boutique I am able to make bespoke clothing for my top clients in Russia. I really enjoy to work this way directly with the real women and to get a feel of customers’ needs.

Does your Russian background influence you in your collections?
My Russian background influences a lot each collection. I use Russian motifs a lot – but I always try to blend them with modern shapes. I work hard to show in each season an undiscovered story or angle on Russia, or to highlight a beautiful time in Russian history. Russian culture is all about traditions, craftsmanship and beautiful elements. Folklore inspires me so much because there’s a mystery, a slight understated feeling. I can’t imagine Vilshenko without Russian inspiration. Our heritage is so rich and, most important, our culture needs to be remembered.

Who you design for? Who’s your main client?
Vilshenko is about elegance and feminine style. My client is feminine but strong. My ladies work of course, often in the creative industries, but I’m always flattered and feel very lucky when I see inspirational personalities and people in the limelight wearing my pieces. We work with many women. All of them want to look beautiful without sacrificing their comfort and style. “She wears clothes but the clothes do not wear her”. This is my motto.

Any plan for the future?
I would like to see Vilshenko expanding even more – both in terms of geography and production. It fascinates me how online retail opens the borders. I’m also finalizing the launch of my new Beach Collection. My other plans for the brand include creating accessories and shoes lines.

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