Moscow by the Pacific

Times Staff Writer

Kira PLASTININA isn't the only Russian heiress playing the international fashion game.

Meet Dasha Zhukova, the "Kova" behind the sexy Kova & T line and one of the new generation of privileged young Russians known as the "spoilt bratskies." Zhukova is a regular on the global social circuit, partying with Joy Bryant and China Chow at Chateau Marmont, shopping with Camilla Al Fayed in London.

She's opening a fashionably contemporary art space in Moscow this July, with Amy Winehouse performing at the opening bash. She's 26, beautiful and wealthy (her dad is oil magnate Alexander Zhukov), and she's on her way to becoming an actual trendsetter.

"Russian women have always been into their appearance," Zhukova says. "But now you see stilettos on the subway. There's that cliche -- Russian-style, head-to-toe logos -- but there are also girls that dress much cooler, especially in the younger generation."

Unlike Plastinina's girlie pink and ruffles, Zhukova's line is understated, simple and harder edged. The press has gone so far as to call it a "Dasha" look -- dark colors, T-shirts tucked into bandage skirts and dresses that show a lot of leg. Throngs of young Russians are imitating it.

You might say Kova & T began as an anti-flash brand. In late 2004, Zhukova and her best friend, Christina Tang, longed for a clean, simple jean in a season of over-embellished, logo-heavy denim. When they couldn't find it, they decided to make their own. Neither had a design background (Tang, then 22, was studying sociology; Zhukova was pre-med).

"Getting our first jeans done took so long," Tang says. "It's such a mathematical process. We had to learn about shrinkage and fabric characteristics. It was challenging."

In 2006, they launched the line with skinny and boot-cut jeans and high-waist shorts. "We always had the idea to make a skinny jean," says Zhukova. "But since the process took us a year and half, by the time we did it, it was nothing special."

They added a cotton dress, shorts and a "perfect" white T-shirt to round out the collection. The mix of inspiration from their travels and chic circle of friends (they name their clothing after their pals) proved to be a successful formula. Kova & T is sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols in London and TsUM in Moscow, where the Dasha skinny jean is a sellout.

Kova & T's Oxy legging was the line's second hit. The shimmery second skin looks like the bottom of Catwoman's unitard and is being worn by stylish Russian girls; Kate Moss, Mischa Barton and the Olsen twins have popped them on with high-top sneakers, vintage T-shirts and fedoras. The leggings are oil-slick dark, unforgiving and edgier than others put out by American Apparel; Kova & T's look more like fashion than costume.

"We still get calls about it," Tang says. "Stores keep reordering and people ask me about it all the time on Facebook."

The partners continue to design from different parts of the world: Zhukova lives in London and Moscow, Tang in Los Angeles. They speak or text message several times a day. "I'm more influenced by what goes on in the States," Tang says. "Dasha gets great ideas for pieces from what she sees in Europe and Russia."

"We have different styles but appreciate each other," Zhukova says. "We're a melting pot."

Unlike Plastinina, the pair say that a slew of retail stores is not in Kova & T's immediate future. And though the two Russians share that "bratski" status, Zhukova's knowledge of the hot-pink-loving teen is limited.

"Does she really have 40 stores in Russia?" Zhukova asks. "Huh. I've never seen one."

A Paris-and-Nicoleski comment if there ever were one.


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