Vladimir Filonov / MT
Polyakov gestures as he puts together the exhibition. The pictures show a cut-away top designed to encourage marriage proposals.
In All the Right Places
Russia's best-known male model, Danila Polyakov, turns his hand to fashion design with unpredictable results.
By Marina Kamenev
Published: February 1, 2008
When people think of clothes to wear at home, they think of tracksuits and pajamas, a T-shirt or slippers -- the kind of loose clothes that are unobtrusive and disguise the body. In an exhibition of his avant-garde clothing, "100% Vanilla," runway model and designer Danila Polyakov shows a breezy disregard for this kind of conventions. Polyakov is represented by the British agency Storm Models, the same company that has Kate Moss on the books. He has been photographed in many ways, from nude to modeling women's dresses and high heels; he also adopts a more masculine look and facial hair to walk the runway in sharp suits and leather jackets.
"This top here is for breastfeeding," Polyakov said, pointing at a photograph of a model wearing a T-shirt with a heart-shaped hole, that exposes her nipple and breast.
"These pants here have a shorter crotch and are tighter than a regular tracksuit. They are more homely," he said, indicating a photo of him groping a girl wearing very little, with a strategically placed stain on the groin of his pants.
Tall, pale and fragile with long flowing red hair, Polyakov is Russia's most famous male model, prized by designers for his ambiguous look and willingness to pose in high heels. His one-off designs, now on display at Art4.Ru museum, blur the line between art and fashion, and the images of him modeling them possibly cross the line between fashion photography and pornography.
The nightlife blog Moscow Doesn't Believe In Tears has helpfully pointed out that, "He's not just Russia's top male model; he's Russia's only male model."
Polyakov is hardly the textbook example of masculine beauty, especially according to Slavic stereotypes of male machismo. But the editor of the Russian Harper's Bazaar, Anzor Kankulov, thinks that may be the key to his success.
"When people hire Danila, they are hiring a personality, not just a face to wear their clothes," Kankulov said. "He is not for every designer."
Polyakov has modeled for Russian prankster Denis Simachev, futuristic designer Yohji Yamamoto and the sexy and feminine Jean Paul Gaultier. He has also appeared in photographs by the acclaimed contemporary art group AES+F.
"He isn't Russia's only male model, but the other models are all pretty boys who stand for the same thing. Yes, they exist, but in my head they blur into one. Danila is the one that stands out," Kankulov said.
Vladimir Filonov / MT
Polyakov shows a photograph of him posing in tracksuit pants with a carefully placed stain.
At an interview this week, Polyakov was dressed in a textured leather jacket and patterned sweatshirt, his silky mane tied back. He was striking and on the feminine side of androgynous, but looked far less intimidating than photographs of him wearing eye shadow, tattoos or corsets would suggest.
When speaking, he was friendly and seemed older than his 25 years. He exposed his sharp canines and giggled when he lost his train of thought, which often happened mid sentence. He repeatedly asked, "What were we talking about?" and put an end to ideas that he had only half expressed with a noncommital "anyway."
Polyakov started modeling when he was 12. He was dancing in a trio with two other girls and a university student of fashion design wanted to use him for her graduation project.
"I still didn't know what being a model was and had no idea that it was what I wanted to do," he said, adding that, "People who know they want to be models from childhood are sick in the head."
Before he was signed by Storm in 2002, Polyakov did a bit of modeling and performed as a go-go dancer; he was even in a pop group called Demo. "It was electric and kind of poppy, not electro-pop. Calling it electro-pop would make it sound much cooler than it actually was," he said.
"It was the time when I learned I wanted to express myself," he said. "It was also when I first wore high heels."
Last year Bolshoi Gorod magazine listed the word Danila in its dictionary of slang as a synonym for freak. "I don't have any problems with that word. I mean, when I use it I don't use it to describe those that dress differently," he said. "For me, it has a positive connotation."
These days, Polyakov does not just model. "I am a stylist, model and designer. When I do just one thing, I can't focus. I turn into a machine and I get angry," he said, furrowing his brows.
In a photograph at the exhibition, a model demonstrates Polyakov's design for a handbag that can also be used as an ashtray.
Polyakov's clothes are not at all wearable, but they are his pride and joy. "These pants are double-sided," he said, pointing first to a topless girl wearing the pale yellow pants with a hole near her crotch. "Look," he said, walking to another photograph that showed him lying on a couch in the same pants, genitals protruding from a hole, with a naked model next to him.
Another photograph showed Polyakov balancing an object on his erection, while in another he was naked except a T-shirt, but he didn't flinch and continues talking about the clothing as if he were invisible in the photographs.
"This top here, you wear it to convince your loved one to propose," he said about a T-shirt with metal rings in the place of fabric on the chest.
Getting more enthusiastic he walked on. "This is a bag," he said, pointing to a model clutching an elongated ashtray with a handle between her legs.
"At a party you can sit and smoke on it and then tip the ash on the floor, and no one would know," he giggled.
The photographs in his exhibition are taken by his friend Alexei Kiselyov. "The way I behave in front of the camera all depends on who is photographing me." Polyakov said.
"If I see they are burning with creativity, I will do anything," he said, glancing around the room. "For some people, I will run through the forest, naked in the middle of winter, but for others I won't move my knees apart."
"100% Vanilla -- Beware of Your Desires" runs to Feb. 14 at Art4.Ru, located at 4 Khlynovsky Tupik. Metro Arbatskaya. Tel. 660-1158, www.art4.ru.
Copyright © 2008 The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.