In search of a distinctive Russian face, the fashion world has turned to a model company, especially the Lumpen. Less than two years later, the moscow-based company has launched models for big shows like Vetements, Lanvin and Comme desGarcons.
But the growing influence of the Lumpen is in sharp contrast to its name. The term “room” was first used by Karl Marx to describe a low class of people who were useless against the revolutionary struggle, including criminals, vagrants and other exiles. But its founder, Avdotja Alexandrova, accepted the term’s historic meaning.
“I really had something to do with this word, and I was more enthusiastic when I started to discover its origins,” she said in an interview in Moscow.
According to its website, Lumpen’s model database consists of “exclusive Russian faces from all over the world”. But the agency has adopted a seemingly broad definition of Russia.
“We treat ‘Russia’ differently in the Lumpen,” Alexandrova said. “Most people have some connection with Russia in our institution, may be their mother is Russian, or they may was born in Russia, they all have Russian background, but they are not necessarily ethnic russians”.
This diversity approach may allow the Lumpen to avoid criticism of some clients. The agency’s two brands, Vetements and Balenciaga, were recently attacked for their choice of actors (the latter’s fall-winter ’16 shows do not include black models). But alessandro says there will be no race problems in the detection and casting of the Lumpen.
“Color doesn’t matter,” she said. “We have some semi-africans, we have the appearance of the europeans, the race is not the point.”
A different model.
The agency seems to like an unforgettable look. Of the 12 men in the Comme desGarcons2017 fall/winter Homme Plus show, eight were provided by the Lumpen.
Elsewhere, French brands Jil Sander and Lanvin have brought alessandro’s vision to the scouts, while big names such as Kenzo and Nike have been to the agency’s male and female models.
But the Lumpen didn’t start with the modeling agency. Instead, it started as a database to help Alexandrova and her director and photographer friends find unusual faces. As a result, it seems to operate differently from other companies in the industry.
First, the Lumpen charged only 20% of its model fees, while some of the top agencies took 50% off. The company also said it gave people equal opportunities to pitch, rather than dividing their list into high and low income.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Lumpen operation is that its model has a story to tell, the Alexandrova hypothesis.
“Everyone in the organization comes from the suburbs or the provinces and goes through certain things in life – things that are usually stressful,” she said. “Maybe they were held in the street, or they may have spent time in prison (but) in the end, if we like the face, then you will enter, regardless of your background.”