From Russia with rubles

Times Fashion Critic

She STRUTS into the Ivy with leg to spare and a long ponytail swinging behind her. She's working a super short, silver polka-dot dress, which she designed herself, and some seriously gooey lip gloss. She's got a makeup artist in tow, along with two publicists and a bodyguard who's not afraid to stand down Robertson Boulevard's crazy roller dancer.

Is it Paris? Miley? Ivanka?

No, it's Kira Plastinina, a 15-year-old Russian fashion designer, and if everything goes as planned, she's going to be the next "it" girl.

"When I was really little, people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up," she says, ordering a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. "First, I said a princess, then I said a fashion designer. I'm not grown up, but I am a fashion designer!"

Unlike the sorority of "it" girls before her who seemed to pop into the spotlight fully formed, Plastinina is a phenom in progress. She's just in from Russia, where in the last year she opened 40 stores bankrolled by her millionaire daddy. Seven months ago, she had a fashion show with Paris Hilton in the front row. She's generating buzz on Moscow red carpets. She's already had four Women's Wear Daily stories, and Teen Vogue is calling her a "teen tycoon" and "the talk of the town in her homeland."

Her first U.S. store opened in New York last week. Five more are on the way this month in Los Angeles, including a Robertson Boulevard location opening Friday. In the U.S., the goal is 50 Kira Plastinina stores in the next three years and eventually 250. New York Fashion Week is also in the designer's sights.

Part of the first, post-Communist generation, Plastinina -- who speaks almost perfect English, attends an international school and adores "Gossip Girl" and "The Hills" -- represents a new fashion identity for Russia beyond flashy designer logos. Her clothes, with an average $48 price point, are fast fashion moving from East to West, targeting teens who live their lives online, where image is reality more so even than in Hollywood, and cultural and international borders are nonexistent.

When Plastinina staged her first fashion show in March 2007, it looked like a Soviet-era parody with '80s throwback T-shirts, short-shorts, outsized bows and winged models. In October 2007, she had Hilton in her front row -- for a reported $2-million fee.

By March, she was showing a full collection of sweet teen clothing in a slickly produced runway show that was documented in a MTV Russia special, "A Day in the Life With Kira." It followed the teen from her Moscow workroom, where she hands over her girlish drawings to a design team, to her school library, to the fields outside of town where she's filmed cantering on her pony. The brand reported $20 million in sales its first year.

Not that any of it holds water with the fashion folk. "If there is any demand for her line," says Alyona Isayeva, fashion editor of Russian Harper's Bazaar, "it's mostly in the far-flung provinces."

The Kira machine begins with her father, Sergei Plastinina, one of Russia's largest dairy producers, who has a net worth of more than $600 million. "Sergei really looks at Kira as a prodigy," said Bob Higgins, the industry vet from Wet Seal and Tommy Hilfiger who was hired earlier this year to be senior vice president of retail development and operations of the company.

Before she opened her first store in the U.S., Plastinina had a MySpace page and a website playing American music, alongside clips from fashion shows, videos and photos with Hilton. Harrison & Shriftman, the go-to public relations firm for chick events such as the "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Legally Blonde" premieres, was hired to introduce Kira Plastinina to the U.S. beginning with a pink-themed party in New York in January. An L.A. production company, the Outfit, which has produced music videos for the Pussycat Dolls, was tapped to document the New York trip for the website.

Plastinina is moving to L.A. for the summer, where she'll be hanging out on the beach in "the Colony," as she calls it, and walking red carpets all over town, including her own. She'll make her L.A. debut June 14 at another pink-themed party where singer Chris Brown is slated to perform.

Last week, she was walking Robertson, the boulevard of paparazzi princesses. Plastinina looked at home in front of the storefront with "Kira Plastinina" written in loopy pink script, just across the street from Kitson.

Inside, the space is similar to her stores in Russia, she said, with lots of hot pink, chandeliers and poufs to sit on. She was wearing her own line, as she usually does, including a $34 rhinestone-studded denim miniskirt and a cobalt blue patent leather bag with tortoise handles that packed a lot of style for $48.

And if she was still a little unsure of how to vamp for the camera, she'll learn soon enough, with pal Audrina Patridge of "The Hills" to teach her. Plastinina contacted the reality show star, the only "Hills" principal without her own clothing line, to meet for dinner in L.A. and recruited her as a brand ambassador.

"We wanted to be very strategic," says Higgins, adding that the company has also leased space at the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas. "We're a designer brand but also at a price where anyone can come in and shop. Our core girl is 20 to 21 years old, but that's aspirational, because everyone kind of wants to be 21."

Just weeks shy of her 16th birthday on June 1, Plastinina still carries herself like a girl, not a woman. She would rather talk friendship bracelets ("One of my friends has the same birthday as mine on the same hour!") and pet miniature pigs ("I want one for my birthday") than designer clothes and marketing strategy.

Her drawings resemble high school doodles more than professional fashion sketches. Still, she insists every piece in her collection is based on one of her ideas. Less sportswear and more European-influenced streetwear, the line features lots of colored denim jackets, short sequined jumpers and pants tapered at the ankles so they can be worn long or scrunched up to the knee with heels.

"You know how you are supposed to make a wedding dress for the end of a show? Well, I made a white coat," she says, standing up from the lunch table to demonstrate how the coat fell to the floor. "It was quilted all over, and it had a print that said, 'I believe in love.' " Plastinina is entering a tough U.S. retail environment. In March, Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters reported sluggish sales, but. economists believe lower-priced stores will continue to do well. The company has a distribution center in Compton, so there will be new deliveries every four to six weeks, and it has partnered with Dylan's Candy Bar -- the sweets boutique run by Ralph Lauren's daughter -- on candy corners for every store.

"There is a market opportunity," says DeeDee Gordon, co-president and co-founder of the teen trend forecasting firm Look-Look Inc. "Especially in this economy. Young people do trade up and trade down. We've seen it with the popularity of Steve & Barry's and H&M.;"

"This generation has an entrepreneurial mind-set. If they see someone in their own age group and believe what they see, they will support it."

One day, Plastinina hopes to attend fashion school in London or New York, but this summer, she'll be working in L.A.

Well within reach of the paparazzi lens.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow contributed to this report.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, May 13, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction Kira Plastinina: An article in Sunday's Image section about 15-year-old Russian fashion designer Kira Plastinina referred to her father as Sergei Plastinina. His surname is Plastinin. For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 18, 2008 Home Edition Image Part P Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction Kira Plastinina: An article in the May 11 Image section about 15-year-old Russian fashion designer Kira Plastinina incorrectly referred to her father as Sergei Plastinina. His surname is Plastinin.
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