This article originally appeared on Motherboard in the US.
In any country, Fashion Week is a time to look around in awe at the ingenuity of the sartorially-minded when it comes to the acquisition and display of status objects. From It bags to must-have shoes to something as ephemeral as a scent (remember Le Labo Santal 33 circa 2015?), Fashion Week is the place to catch an accessory just before it reaches its peak, when it’s cool enough to adorn industry elites but not yet de rigueur enough to saturate the mass market. At Russian Fashion Week in Moscow, that accessory? Children.
Much of Moscow Fashion Week takes place in the Manege exhibition hall, which is decidedly Russian from the outside (hulking, oblong, Neoclassical for no good reason), but inside lives an international crowd that wouldn’t look out of place vaping and complaining alongside the runways of Paris or Milan. Among them this week, though, was stationed a small squadron of impeccably dressed mini-troops, clutching their parents’ hands in the crowds and sitting front row at Red September and Ksenia Gerts; these were the fashion-forward children of Moscow’s upwardly mobile creative class, and in many cases, they out-dressed the grown-ups.
“She’s more interested in fashion than I am,” a woman named Marina told me on Saturday after the Mad Daisy show, indicating her pink-rainboot-shod, pigtailed six-year-old, who introduced herself as Sofia but who demurred when asked an (admittedly softball) question about what her favorite outfit from the show had been. A chatty eight-year-old nearby had no such qualms: “My name is Tiya, and I want to be a designer when I grow up,” she told me. Would her clothes look like the ones in the show? “No, no! A designer of houses.”
Many of the children I spoke to at various shows over the last week belonged to parents working in fashion; “We come as a set,” one young stylist told me, adjusting her daughter’s elephant backpack as her husband wrested their toddler son into a stroller nearby. Not all, however, were the children of the privileged; Darya, a young office manager and the daughter of a preschool teacher who dreamed of breaking into fashion as a stylist or a designer, had brought her little sister Sofya along to see the shows, turning the often-remote Russian fashion landscape into a family affair.
While children at fashion shows aren’t an unheard-of phenomenon, 18-and-under attendees at New York Fashion Week tend to be named North, Saint, or Chicago; except, of course, when the models are legally children themselves, an all-too-common industry convention that the CFDA is working to crack down on, but one that persists for the moment (my audio file from Saturday’s shows in Moscow includes the following note to self, as I followed a curious sight through the crowd: “That is a straight-up child in heels.”)
Not all children were welcomed at Moscow Fashion Week: one stroller-toting mother told me in tones of consternation of her experience being booted from a show on the grounds that her new baby, Maria, “might start crying.” However, once Russian children are able to toddle around on their own they’re generally accepted at Fashion Week, with none of the copious security guards at the event so much as raising an eyebrow at the pitter-patter of little Uggs on the marbled exhibition-hall floors.
Part of the explanation for this widespread child-friendliness in Russian fashion, an industry not always known for its warmth, might be sociological; Russia’s birth rate hit a 10-year low last year, spurring increased public fears about a so-called “demographic crisis” and possibly helping to plant the seeds of a society in which—as in China—children are valued more highly and brought more frequently into public life. Another explanation has to do with Russia’s emerging status as a capitalist superpower and with the role that wealth plays in a major city like Moscow, pervading seemingly every aspect of public life, from where you live (in the center if you’re rich, on the outskirts if you’re not) to how you get around (Gett, or Russian Uber, if you’re rich; public transportation if you’re not). “The parents like to show off how well their kids are dressed,” one Russian fashion insider told me conspiratorially on Saturday.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Russia, an economy that made its foray into capitalism less than thirty years ago and already boasts an extreme income disparity (one rivaled closely by the U.S.), would turn children into perfectly attired extensions of their parents’ wealth, but there’s still something fascinating about seeing little kids wear their familial duties so seemingly effortlessly on their tiny, Prada-clad backs; after all, the Instagram ‘Rich Russian Kids’, which depicts Russian mini-millionaires clowning around in front of luxury cars and playing with Lego on private jets (in monogrammed pajamas, natch) has well over a million followers.
Russia’s hardly alone in using its children to flex by proxy, as the U.S.’s recent college admissions scandal (and, really, the entire college entry system) proves; rich Americans are just as prone as rich Russians to pad their children’s landings, but in Russia — a country that, in historical terms, is still re-learning to subsume wealth into its national DNA — that padding comes with an extra-insulated layer of bling. Some of the children present at Moscow Fashion Week did display a precocious level of interest in the clothes — Sofya, Darya’s little sister, rhapsodized about a white dress she’d seen at Mad Daisy until Darya eventually cut her off — but the vast majority of them appeared to be parental appendages, dangling from their mother’s wrists as Hermes bags dangled from the other.