What’s in a name? The root of Alexandre Plokhov’s last name could mean “bad/hard” in his native Russian. At the turn of the century, the new millennium urged for a new code of conduct. In the times of recurring economic crisis and global catastrophes, the seeds of hope had to be protected by a new brotherhood of warriors. The back-to-basics need was growing among those dispirited by the surrounding doom and gloom. The world needed an austere hero geared up efficiently. That’s when Plokhov appeared on the scene.
In the early aughts the word on every fashion-forward man’s lips became CLOAK. Shrouded in almost stereotypical Russian trademark secrecy, the brand rapidly acquired a devout following. Plokhov hit zeitgeist bull’-eye. A seamless blend of gothic aesthetics and minimalist ethos, the style instantly turned fashion heads. Many cited the coveted CFDA Perry Ellis Award for menswear in 2005 as the industry’s grand welcome gesture signaling faith in the brand’s longevity. However in 2007 Cloak folded amidst partnership disputes. The brand garments still ignite bidding wars when they become available on auction sites.
What is your concept of the modern person? Who is the Plokhov Man?
Modernity in itself does not interest me that much. I would like to make clothes that are hard to place – without apparent affinity to a particular time or place.
What impact does your Russian heritage have on your design philosophy and process?
I approach design as a craft, something one should constantly work on and obsessively hone… This relates directly to my Russian heritage. It is always a struggle with only a rare glimpse of discovery…
What does the term «Russian style» mean to you and what is your opinion about contemporary Russian fashion market and creative output?
In my mind the term “Russian style” associates with reckless romanticism tinged with melancholia and restlessness… I am somewhat ignorant of contemporary Russian fashion market. Vika Gazinskaya looks interesting, though…
How do you start a collection? What element is key?
Each collection starts differently. But usually, it starts with fabric. Design narrative, specific silhouette and construction details follow later.
What does the term “luxury” mean to you as a designer?
The ultimate luxury to me is when something is made just for you…
Plokhov spent the next three years at Versace overseeing its menswear line, the first Russian couturier to headline a global fashion powerhouse. While Russians typically are not shy when it comes to touting their international achievements, this fashion benchmark slipped under the hype radar. While many would cling to such an appointment as a chance of a lifetime, Plokhov saw it as a chance to advance his education. Unprecedented access to best fabric makers and finest production capacities gave him a platform to experiment and perfect his craft. However, working for any established brand comes with severe stylistic limitations. Versace was a cut away from the designer’s personal vision. They parted amicably and the stage was set for the reemergence of Plokhov, the designer in his own right.
He worked on his English by taking a dictionary to the Cormac McCarthy oeuvre. Perhaps therein he found an equivalent to the violent epic worldview of Russian masters that form his cultural DNA: Dostoyevsky, Tarkovsky and the lot. Now in New York City, the allegorical cardio central of the world, the designer finally found a fitting homebase for his fierce creative spirit. The timing could not be better as menswear is poised for a renaissance with select few daredevils leading the way by ingeniously redefining classic tailoring: asymmetrical construction, off fit and flowing hemlines, deconstructionist accents. He is obsessed with the handmade meticulousness of cuts, stitches, pleats. Perhaps it comes from his parents: a furniture maker and a graphic designer. He often draws inspiration from the functional necessities of workforce gear: industrial workers, day laborers, soldiers. The dayglow of glamour pales in comparison with the nighttime pride in an honest day’s work. Plokhov clothing is dark, tough, solitary. Executed in luxury fabrics like exclusive woolblends, lamb fur, kangaroo leather and such, it transforms the common into the elite.
Outside the studio, where can one run into you? How do you spend limited free time?
New York City Subway. Reading and going to shows are probably my two favorite leisure activities. Just recently I saw Matthew Dear at Bowery Ballroom. His music is truly inspiring.
In an era of cross-brand collaborations who would you be interested in collaborating with?
I think it would be fun to do something non-clothing- related. Maybe something in publishing with TASCHEN or working with a record label like SACRED BONES…
What do you fear? How do you cope with fear?
As a designer I fear predictability and repetitiveness. As a person I fear losing people close to me. The coping part I have not figured out yet.
The food and beverage staples of the Plokhov diet are…?
Boqueria Tapas and Quintarelli Amarone!
Favorite bad habit?
Little known about his early life and no one seems to wonder. In a business increasingly tied to the personality of a designer, his clothes are a reminder that an artist’s work should speak for itself. The public is so fervently focused on his designs and Plokhov likes to keep it that way. He generally seems to steer clear of contemporary fashion sales convention. He opted out of runway presentation for his (re)debut. Instead intimate gallery presentations were arranged for invitation-only buyers and press in Paris and New York complete with video installations and modern art vibe. Immediately NYC’s menswear flagship outlets Barneys and Atelier picked up the line along with iconic Joyce of Hong Kong and a number of other highly selective boutiques.
He always found revelation in music. He is a fan of indie labels and admits to checking various blogs for new releases daily. His fall-winter 2012-13 is a tribute to his long fascination with metal. After Cloak and post-Versace, Plokhov knew the value of grand entrances and exits. The premier runway show for his eponymous label proved that stage presence cannot be manufactured. Stardom is an inherent quality. The collection was inspired by the larger-than-thou dramatics of goth rockers Glenn Danzig and Andrew Eldritch. Plunging necklines, floor length kilts, soft silhouettes executed in dark leather and heavy wool: this androgynous hero is well equipped to weather the lingering sunless winter.
Firmly within signature monochrome minimalism, Plokhov continues to showcase his superb craftsmanship in asymmetrical cuts, juxtaposition of draped and cropped elements in both tops and trousers, and precision fit jackets. Generously loose knits complete the wardrobe. Watching the looks line up unfold, a classic Sisters of Mercy track came to mind: “And the devil in black dress watches over / My guardian angel walks away / Life is short and love is always over in the morning / Black wind come carry me far away!” The all-boot footwear is made to march ever onwards from catwalk to eternity.
Yet the designer avoids the glam trap and these garments do not have the vibe or appearance of mere costume. In the face of oblivion one shouldn’t take any (uni)form too seriously. Perhaps, a degree of jest makes the fall-winter 2012-13 collection whole-look wearable, black eye liner ‘n all. Knee-length hemline for pullovers and vests is a salute to gender ambiguity of music. Exquisite necklaces and bangles serve as trophies of freedom from the rigid confines of hyper-masculinity. No one can ever be truly held in captivity. The spirit is made to soar even through the darkest clouds. “Bad” has never been better. Arena-ready, Alexandre Plokhov charges ahead.
What is the ratio of business savvy and mystery/alchemy in your success?
I do not consider myself particularly successful and I definitely lack any business acumen whatsoever.
What was the best advice you got while launching your career?
If I listened to the advice people gave me, I would have never started anything.
What is the most important question on your mind at this stage of your career and life?
Is this it?