NEW YORK, United States — “Working on a fashion story is like coming up with a music piece,” Russian stylist and professional pianist Anya Ziourova tells BoF. “You’re having a conversation with an audience.”
An icon of an emerging market, Ziourova is certainly driving conversation with a rapt audience. Between her high cheekbones, razored bob and eye-catching style, the fashion director of both Tatler Russia and Allure Russia is well-recognized as one of the so-called “Russian Fashion Pack,” a group of women so visible, and increasingly influential, that The New York Times declared last year: “The Czarinas Are Back.”
Working on a fashion story is like coming up with a music piece.
With a client list that sweeps from Vogue China and Vanity Fair Spain to Kmart — a high-low sensibility that's reflected in her Balenciaga-meets-Gap personal style — Ziourova has captured the industry’s attention. But she wasn’t always on the inside track.
Growing up in Saint Petersburg, fashion wasn’t exactly accessible, Ziourova recalls. “There was not a lot of media out there — only two channels on TV and the radio. There was no such thing as a fashion magazine in Russia.” She subsisted on a few copies of Italian Vogue and American Vogue, supplied by a photographer friend. “They were all ripped and old, but we would flip through the pages together and I would see the genius of Steven Meisel and want to be part of that world.”
Ziourova’s mother, too, helped develop her taste for fashion. “We couldn’t travel abroad a lot at that time, and there wasn’t that much going on in the stores — it was really hard to buy something current. But here and there, she would get some rare examples of an Alaïa piece, or Ungaro, and I would get introduced to these brands.”
Because current fashion was so difficult to obtain, Ziourova had to be creative, using those aforementioned copies of Italian Vogue and American Vogue. “I would pick dresses out from the shopping pages, buy fabric, show the magazine to a seamstress and ask her to make the dress for me.” Even then, she found that her style had an impact. “Maybe a few months later, I would see a friend of a friend of a friend of mine walking down the street wearing a similar dress.”
At 18, Ziourova came to New York to study abroad and ended up with a career directive. “I started modeling for a little bit and I saw what the editors were doing, and I realized, this is exactly what I want to do. I was just fascinated by the backstage [angle] and how the stylists dressed you and how much fun it was.”
Ready to try her own hand at styling, “I just asked one of the editors, ‘How do I start?’” Ziourova says. “She was like, ‘You need to become an intern.’ And that’s what I did.” She began in American Vogue’s accessory department, “sending out shoes and taking care of gloves.” Such was her dedication that, one time, she remembers, “I got myself busy organizing the shoes and then realized that they’d [accidentally] locked me inside the closet. It was 9 pm and they’d all gone home. I had to call security downstairs to come and get me.”
After assisting at British Vogue, Vogue Japan and for prominent British stylist Joe McKenna, Ziourova worked with Vogue China right from its launch in 2005. “At Chinese Vogue they have a 6-to-8 page, front-of-the-book fashion story. Normally, it’s given to young aspiring photographers and stylists, so I started doing that. It was a really great training ground.”
It also cemented her attraction to international magazines. “With international, I can come up with lots of different ideas, because the markets are being built and they’re not so structured. I’m helping to build something new and exciting.”
Ziourova continues to do freelance styling for the likes of Vogue Ukraine, Vogue Portugal, and Vanity Fair Spain, but, these days, she is mostly focused on her roles as fashion director of Tatler Russia, which she helped launch in 2009, and Allure Russia, which debuted last September.
She constantly works across timezones with global teams. “If I’m here in New York,” she says, “I wake up around 5am. I speak with my teams in Moscow and London to discuss pages or images. In London, I have the fashion team with my assistants, and my editorial director is also there. And in Moscow, it’s the editor-in-chief and the beauty department and art department.”
Needless to say, Ziourova travels a lot. “Every two weeks I’m on the plane, or sometimes every week. We shoot everywhere, so it may be on location, or it may be travel to Moscow and London to work with my teams.”
But what exactly does Ziourova do as fashion director of not one, but two major fashion magazines?
“I take care of the covers, I commission the covers, I style the inside fashion stories, I come up with concepts,” says Ziourova, for whom the whole process starts with the shows. “Every season, I come up with a huge file of trends that I noticed or loved. For the next six months, we work with that. Once I figure out the trends, then I start thinking of covers and themes for the inside stories. After I think of a theme, I go and do research — I have a big library of references that I refer to. Then, I think about who is the best photographer to execute my ideas, approach the photographer, we choose a date, and shoot. Then, I look at layouts, send my retouch comments — I do a lot of backstage work, as well. And then we see it in the magazine.”
But as Ziourova points out, “the role of the stylist is growing every year. Stylists have become style icons." The first street style image she recalls seeing of herself was taken by Scott Schuman. “I remember somebody sent me a picture that he took of me wearing a Gap parka, standing outside of the Balmain show.” These days, it’s not uncommon to see a single one of her show season looks captured from all angles by the likes of Tommy Ton, Garance Doré, Phil Oh and Vanessa Jackman.
“I see my job as inspiring in all the ways that I can,” Ziourova says. That means through print, personal style, and even social media. “I’m obsessed with Instagram. It really influences me. I [post] this necklace and that necklace, and this shoe, and hopefully what my followers see gets them inspired.”
So what advice does she have for aspiring stylists? “Something good always comes with hard work. Fashion is not as easy as it looks on the outside, but if you love your work, it doesn’t seem hard.”
To illustrate, Ziourova recalls a Cirque du Soleil shoot she did for Vogue Russia with model Crystal Renn. “At one point, I asked [Renn], ‘Can you do a split? And she said, ‘Sure.’ And then instead of doing it on the floor, she got the [Cirque du Soleil] guys to lift her up in the air. They split her legs like six feet up in the air, and she just did it. When she came down, she was like, ‘How did I ever do it?’ But this just shows the dedication and hard work of people in fashion.”