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As an industry newcomer, Plastinin couldn't beat the expertise of the big European and American chain storesincluding Zara, H&M and Topshopon margins or sourcing (like the competition, Kira Plastinina produces much of its goods in Asia). But he could one-up the so-called fast-fashion companies on proximity to the target customer. The Kira Plastinina brand boasts the authentic point of view of Kira, a real teenage girl who knows exactly what customers like and need. "I knew I wanted to be a designer when I grew up, but I couldn't imagine I could do it when I was little," says Kira. "It was his idea that it could be true now." Their timing was terrific. Kira sneaked in before many of the international chains were well established in Russia, and Plastinin, whose fortune is estimated at $600 million, moved quickly. By December 2007, there were 30 stores, and the company broke even. On the basis of the success at home, Plastinin hired retail experts in the U.S., and Kira's first overseas store opened in New York City in May. Japan may be next, and by 2010, the company aims to operate 500 stores internationally.
Internet blogs, magazines and television all allow Kira to tell her story and, in turn, make herself accessible to teenagers. "They want to know how I manage to balance my work and my school and how I'm doing in school," Kira says. Her name recognition soared after she spent a season wardrobing contestants for the hit TV reality show Star Factory.
The Anglo-American School in Moscow, where Kira studies, provides relief from all the attention, and she says she never talks about work at school. "Everyone in my school considers me a normal teenager," she says as she heads off to play flag football in P.E.
But at the mall, one flash pops, and the young shopperstheir finely tuned celebrity antennae stimulatedstraighten, snap their cell phones into video mode and circle Kira. She signs autographs, mentions to one shopper that she turned some of her 6-year-old brother's drawings into fabric prints, and then hops from side to side to fulfill requests for cell-phone pics with the girls. She is very natural, confident and smiling, but soft-spoken. The girls are close enough to Kira to see the hint of acne on her nose and scrutinize her light eye makeup and foundation. She could be one of them. She's not, of course. A few feet away, her bodyguard, Alex, looks tough, and her driver is waiting at the mall entrance in a black Mercedes with its black window screens drawn. And she's got VIP tickets to see the last performance of the musical Mamma Mia! with her mother in a couple of hours.
There's a whole lingo for the very wealthy in Russia, but friends and editors say it's incorrect to count Kira among the zolotoya molodezh, as Russia's rich, spoiled "golden youth" are calledeven if her father did pay Paris Hilton a reported $2 million to attend Kira's runway show. Those young people were sacrificed by successful parents who wanted to show off their wealth through their children, says Elena Usanova, host of a popular style program on Russian MTV. Call Kira post-zolotoya molodezh, part of a wave that includes other ambitious talents, like Gosha Semenov, Misha Khaikin and their three colleagues at Facultet, a new venture that publishes serious works by young first-time authors. They are the correction after the excessesa generation of young people who are well-mannered, focused and pushed by their parents. "They're used to using their brains," Usanova says.
Most days, Kira does her homework in the car on the way to work after school and then takes the elevator to the 11th floor of a nondescript office building in town. Today there's a "style council," a review of the designs. A model, who turns out to be an employee from accounting, steps onto a raised platform in the first of several rooms used by the design team. She turns, and everyone waits for Kira to critique the look. "Cool" or "very cool" signals a keeper; occasionally, she rejects an outfit as "too adult." And there are discussions about alternative colors or correcting a dress that's too see-through. "Once I arrived at 11 p.m., and Kira was at the computer managing a group of older women," Usanova remembers. "All the babies in Moscow were in bed, and she was working away."
Her young fans want to believe. "Are you really the real Kira," wrote Raveena on MySpace last May. "If you are, you are like a role model for me because I have always loved designing, and you made it at such a young age. :) That is GREAT." Sarah Raper Larenaudie / Moscow
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