Lumpen looks a little different than your average modeling agency. Named for the term for a social outcast, Lumpen’s aim is to show the fringes of Russian society, with an online casting board that boasts intentionally unglamorous faces from across Russia. Models include a tattooed man with multiple piercings and one eye swollen shut, or a woman with a blank, glassy stare and a disheveled, frizzy hairstyle. These are not necessarily the genetic-lottery winners typically trotted out to sell toothpaste and trenchcoats, but as it turns out, the street-casted aesthetic has struck a nerve in the fashion industry: Models from the year-and-a-half-old Lumpen agency have already walked for big-time fashion houses and new upstart labels alike, including Balenciaga, Vetements, and Gosha Rubchinskiy, as well as Kenzo.
Founded by Moscow cool girl Avdotja Alexandrova, Lumpen was originally created as a visual database of off-kilter local models for her director, photographer, and designer friends to source from. It was not an undertaking driven by an interest in making money. “Everyone here [in Russia] works through an agency, and then they send their girls to the West, and then just receive 10 percent,” says Alexandrova. “That is not interesting to me. Money doesn’t interest me nor does business in that plan.” Alexandrova’s passion is in scouting atypical faces, but not just any will do. Lumpen is focused on scouting those who live in Russia. “I like to observe Russian faces,” says Alexandrova. “I have liked this aesthetic essentially for forever. Since I was young, I have wanted to see these types of kids [cast], from photo shoots to movies and basically everywhere.”
Lumpen’s casting methods are well-timed, syncing up neatly with fashion’s movement to cast interesting civilians alongside catwalkers. Labels like Hood By Air and Eckhaus Latta are known for featuring non-models, and bigger houses have recently joined the fray, with Gucci including artist Petra Collins in its lineup. “I think that everyone is tired of one ideal type,” says Alexandrova of the phenomenon. “People want to see individuality.” Nonetheless, people also want to see diversity on the runway, too, an issue that arose at Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga debut, and it’s fair to say that Alexandrova’s interpretation of diversity is very much a product of her upbringing: a reaction to a society that enforces a strict set amount of physical ideals and rules on how people should look, something along the lines of neat, simple, trim, no piercings. Not, as it were, a Lumpen model. “There were many moments when people were like, ‘Why do you have freaks in your agency?’ ” says Alexandrova. “But I believe they are crazy beautiful.” And she’s only just getting started.
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