Designers often cite their own archives as inspiration, reinterpreting their vintage designs or reimagining a familiar silhouette. Nikita Chekrygin of the buzzy Russian label Ch4rm is no exception, but he goes a step further. For his most recent collection, he referenced designs by his late aunt, Lyudmila, who created flashy clothes during Russia’s aughts.
When Chekrygin sends me photos of his aunt’s work from the early ’00s, I almost mistake her designs for Chekrygin’s own work. The saucy pieces have the same buzzy brashness as Chekrygin’s: one model wears a deep V-neck to expose maximum cleavage, while another is in a full denim look composed of skin-tight jeans, exposed underwear, and a cropped jacket with a ruffle peplum. The maximalist clothes contrast with the provincial scenes behind the models, as evidenced by one photo of a woman in a mini skirt and exposed underwear outside in the brush among the leaves.
This past season, Chekrygin used his aunt as the main inspiration for his collection. Over the past few years, Chekrygin has made a name for himself with his Y2K-minded designs. His pieces have been worn by the Russian It crowd, including Olga Karput of KM20, as well as the Estonian rapper Tommy Cash. His current spring 2022 collection, titled “Beauty Shop,” includes denim jeans with a teardrop cut-out to reveal a butt crack and tank tops created out of fabric petals.
His primary inspiration is Russian culture after the fall of the Soviet Union, when clothes were over the top and excessive—even more so than other Western countries. Think denim everything and animal print everywhere. “In my childhood, fashion was very exciting, everything was very big and theatrical. Everything was very hot and flashy,” he says. “Almost everyone walked on high heels, no reason was needed at all. I don’t remember shoes without heels at all! All schoolgirls, girls on public transport, just everything!” In the Ch4rm lookbook, male models sport square-toe dress shoes—a Russian staple—and women don denim skirts the size of a thimble.
Using personal history as a fashion reference is somewhat of a family tradition. His aunt would travel back to her and Chekrygin’s hometown of Tula, a small city in western Russia, about 120 miles south of Moscow, to shoot her lookbook. “There is no concept of trends there; you don’t know what year it is,” he says. “It could be 2001.” Like his aunt, Chekrygin makes a point to travel back and shoot his collections there, showcasing the dichotomy between his excessive designs and the town’s stark concrete buildings and bucolic fields. “Global trends are taken out of context and mixed with local personal tastes,” says Chekrygin. “Everything is to the maximum.”
Chekrygin has fond memories of his aunt, remembering her as an eccentric. Once, after his aunt held a show, Chekrygin attended the following celebratory dinner. Chekrygin, who was seven at the time, recalls her wearing a transparent dress with no underwear. “She swore a lot and her whole body was covered in tattoos. I understood that I should stay away from her, but I was so drawn to her,” he says. “We talked very closely. When I was a teenager she moved to China, and I often came to visit.” While his aunt passed away in 2012, Chekrygin still honors her memory and works with the tailors that his aunt worked with. “She was a little worried that I wanted to be a designer because she thought it was a very difficult path if you were from Russia,” he says. And as Chekrygin’s star is on the rise, there’s no doubt she’d be proud.