“I’ve always had a love of bringing beautiful things to people. I didn’t start out with a projected profit for each year or decade so my biggest challenge, however, has been to try to combine business with artistry; it’s hard to have two heads on one pair of shoulders.” Nadja Solovieva, founder of Vassilisa scarves.
LC: We know there’s a story (lots of stories, perhaps) behind the name of your brand. Can you tell us a bit about it?
NS: Vassilisa is a popular woman’s name in Russia. (I was born in Russia but have one Swiss grandmother and a German surname on another side, so I’m a bit of a mixture with strong Russian heritage.) It’s also a very famous fairy tale character’s name – as famous as Cinderella. There are variations of the fairy tale, showing her to be Vassilisa the smart, beautiful, brave etc, and it also means ‘Queen’ in ancient Greek.
LC: Are you tied (bad pun, sorry…) to just making scarves or do you see yourself branching out?
NS: Well my website is limited to scarves but actually the brand originally sold a lot of dresses around the world, as well as tops. I do collaborations with shoe makers too. Essentially my brand is about prints.
LC: What’s your career background?
NS: I was a catwalk model in Russia with a famous agency called Red Stars, but my mother signed me up for the faculty of comparative religion studies. So I was reading the Bible, Old and New Testament, and studied Ancient Greek, and then when I was totally bored of all that I went to St Martin’s to study Fashion Design with Marketing and I was much happier. It was here that I began to look at my roots. To a Western person I suppose what I make might seem exotic, but to a Russian it would probably appear more intuitive.
LC: Has it all gone as planned? Is this how you imagined you’d be working?
NS: Yes and no. I never aimed to be a trendy brand, or to follow anything. I was very touched by the history of Russia, Russian art and mythology. I also had a friend who was a luxury specialist and we brainstormed and came up with the name and later I registered it and started working with showrooms around the world and making editions. Buyers then started buying and it all went from there. My scarves became the bestselling line of scarves in the Isetan department store in Japan. I have in the past supplied Harvey Nichols in London and Hong Kong, Le Bon Marche in France and a department store in Korea. At one point, I was selling in approximately 30 boutiques in Italy.
LC: What are your thoughts on the industry in general?
NS: Fashion has been going through a lot of transitions, particularly in the last three years. Original wholesale no longer works for us in the way it used to and department stores increasingly want concessions. My biggest challenge, however, has been to try to combine business with artistry. I’ve always had a love of bringing beautiful things to people – I didn’t start out with a projected profit for each year or decade.
LC: Anybody famous walking around wearing your scarves?
NS: I think so! There’s Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett as well as top performers. Carmen Busquets, the amazing entrepreneur who made £300 million out of Net-a-Porter. I’ve sold to the Princess of Bavaria and some French aristocracy. For a while every second customer I had was a titled beauty queen!
LC: Lawfully Chic is very interested in sustainability and ethical fashion. Can you tell us about your brand in this regard?
NS: Of course. I’m a member of the Centre of Sustainable Fashion and I was a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum, so I’ve received training in this area. I believe strongly that if you bring something into this polluted world at least it has to be high number of usages per piece, otherwise it’s just something you wear twice and it’s not fashionable anymore. I’ve learnt lots along the way too – for example I used to think that wearing woollen cotton was good enough but I’ve since learnt that wool, including merino wool, is one of the top polluting yarns and that non-organic cotton really creates deserts (in Pakistan) due to the amount of chemicals required. Hence my scarves are made of cashmere and modal – a highly ecological yarn that’s man-made and comes from the cellulose of the beech tree. In terms of waste, I’m super conscientious and hate throwing anything away. My first scarf was the scrap from a dress and I run a virtually paperless office.