From Russia with style
We interviewed Vladimir Kozhenov – a unique necklace designer from Russia and creator of brand name Vova Fruck. Recently Vladimir and his partners based in San Francisco started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to expose the brand to people outside of Russia.
- Hello Vladimir. Please tell us how you came up for your brand name and whether it has any special meaning.
In Russian, Vova is short for Vladimir, so part of the brand name is my first name. And Fruck is a mischievous play on the English curse word and the Russian word for old-style male tail-coat.
- What do you think distinguishes your jewelry from what your competitors are making and helps distinguish your work in this over-saturated female fashion market?
First of all, I believe I was among the first to start making necklaces with a knit/crocheted base. I went as far as patenting this technique with the Russian patent agency. Then, my necklaces suit females of all ages – I make them for children, young females, as well as more mature women – and they work no matter the age. And finally, there aren’t too many men who make each individual piece of jewelry with their own hands, which is what I do.
- Tell us about your career. How did you learn to knit and crochet and end up in the world of fashion?
I learned how to knit when I was really young. All the females in my family were great knitters and somehow I picked up the habit. The first necklace I made was a present for my wife. Then her sister wanted one and next my mother in law. After that, the requests snowballed from all of their female friends and it took off from there.
- Why did you ultimately start making knit jewelry, instead of maybe focusing on traditional knit items, such as sweaters or scarfs?
Strange question. I like jewelry myself, but it would be difficult to make attractive knit jewelry for men, so I started making knit jewelry for women. I like making jewelry, while knitting scarves or sweaters does not excite me at all.
- How did you initially even come up with the idea of making a knit base for a female necklace? Why did you decide to just have two base models of your necklaces? Are there any plans to add more models in the future?
I don’t really know – one evening at home I just sat down and made a necklace. I am not planning to expand the model line in the future. My dream has been to have each female in the world own one of my necklaces. I also want my creations to be distinct and recognizable, so that when you see a girl wearing one, you would know right away that it’s one of Vova Fruck’s pieces.
- How did you manage to gain popularity in Russia? What worked for you and what did not? What would you do differently if you had a chance to turn back the clock?
I became really popular when the Russian fashion expert Evelina Khromchenko became interested in my necklaces and ordered several versions of them for her private collection. Later, I took part in a special well-publicized event showcasing her private jewelry collection, which included my necklaces. Now even Franca Sozzani has one of my necklaces with Russian traditional matryoshka dolls. I met her during the Tel Aviv fashion week. As far as what I would do different goes – I guess I would work even harder.
- Who are your favorite designers? Whose work inspires you?
I don’t look to other designers for inspiration. I don’t look at what others do at all. I look for inspiration in what surrounds me – people who are around and close to me, nature, and things like that.
- Tell us a bit more about your whole work process. Where do your ideas come from? How do you find and pick your materials? How many people work with you and how long does it take you to make one necklace?
I always seem to have some ideas of what my next several necklaces will look like. Sometimes I write them down to remember the color and material combinations that occur to me at a given time. I find the materials when I travel the world. Many of my necklaces are made of materials that can only be found in Russia. Sometimes I make exclusive necklaces that I only make one version of and will never repeat. I work alone. Different necklaces take different amounts of time to make. I try to complete one necklace per day.
- We hear your necklaces have one special feature. Can you tell us what it is?
Yes, it is true (smiles). All of the necklaces I make have a mild and pleasant fragrance. What is it? – that is my secret. You will have to get one for yourself to find out! I have been doing this pretty much since the beginning and nobody has been able to guess what the fragrance is exactly, but all agree that it is very pleasant.
- How did you come up with the idea of launching a Kickstarter campaign? Who are your partners?
My partners are a married couple of Russian immigrants who are based in San Francisco, CA. Their names are Nadia and Dmitriy. Nadia has been a fan of my work for a while and has been following my Instagram account. She put in an order for a necklace and her relatives in Moscow helped her pay for it and picked it up for her. The reason she had to ask her relatives for help is because I had no means of accepting payment remotely from abroad and had no reliable way of shipping the necklace to her. Then I met Nadia in Moscow last summer and in the course of our conversation we decided to give it a try and create an infrastructure, a website, payment processing and logistics for selling and shipping my items outside of Russia. This way those who can’t speak Russian or have no relatives in Moscow can have easy and secure access to my products. We decided to try Kickstarter to help us attract some initial funding for making this project happen. We hope that fashion-conscious crowd overseas takes note of my works and they will support our fundraising campaign!
 Evelina Khromchenko is a local celebrity who has a fashion show on the Russian TV
 Franca Sozzani is editor-in-chief of Italian-language Vogue Magazine