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A trend Russian teen designer Kira Plastinina didn't see coming

A rough economy and belt-tightening shoppers force the Moscow teen queen's U.S. chain to file for Chapter 7 seven months after its debut. The chain had plans to open 250 stores in the U.S.

January 03, 2009|Tiffany Hsu

Seven months after 16-year-old Russian golden child and fashion designer Kira Plastinina burst onto the U.S. scene with a dozen boutiques bankrolled by her millionaire father, the much-hyped chain has filed for bankruptcy protection and closed most of its American stores.

The teen's May debut in the states was meticulously orchestrated, with a publicity spree and a bicoastal pair of glittering launch parties. But her apparel and accessory offerings -- often slathered in pink and purple and girlie accouterments like hearts and stars -- apparently stumbled as the economy began to flail.

Los Angeles-based KP Fashion Co. filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Wednesday in New York, and at least four of the six branches in Southern California shut their doors in the last two weeks. At least three other stores around the country have already closed, according to the shopping centers where they were based.

The chain had plans to open 250 stores in the U.S., executives told The Times in May. Now, the chain's website is advertising 75% discounts on all merchandise.

More than 100 creditors, including Verizon, the Glendale Police Department and Ford Models Inc., are owed $54.5 million while the company has just $9.7 million in assets, according to the bankruptcy filing. KP Fashion is also embroiled in a trademark infringement suit brought by Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., according to the filing.

KP Fashion representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

With her $60 bubble dresses and $90 fur-trimmed puffy jackets, Plastinina faced tough competition in the U.S. from other clothiers such as Forever 21 and H&M, which offer similar fashions at lower prices. But she still has a sizable fan base in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, where she has dozens of stores. (Those stores are not included in the bankruptcy filing.)

Since offering to turn his daughter's doodled designs into a clothing line when she was 14, Plastinina's father, Sergei Plastinin, has said he has sunk $80 million into setting up the chain. Plastinin, who has a net worth of more than $600 million, is a shareholder in and former chief executive of Wimm-Bill-Dann, Russia's largest dairy and juice producer. He also has investments in real estate, agriculture and fertilizer businesses.

The first Kira Plastinina store opened in Manhattan in May amid a pink blaze of fanfare and sparkling names, accompanied by the incessant use of labels like "wunderkind" and "phenom" in media coverage. The teen, who appears in many of her line's ads, recruited Audrina Patridge of the MTV reality show "The Hills" as a brand ambassador. It-girls such as actress Hayden Panettiere flitted through Plastinina's L.A. launch party and "Sweet 16" bash as R&B crooner Chris Brown performed.

Paris Hilton sat in the front row of one of Plastinina's fashion shows. The Moscow high school student spent the summer hobnobbing in Malibu.

On Plastinina's pink-rimmed MySpace page, sprinkled with photos of her in a voluminous pleated white dress and posing with celebrities, she discusses her desire to be a role model for teens.

"I've been working really hard, and am very proud of myself for keeping my determination and being able to work and accomplish so much at my young age," she wrote.

But retail experts said the hoopla over her collection quickly died down, making the brand vulnerable to competition. Plastinina's location at the Americana at Brand closed just after a Kitson store, notorious for a similar concept of fashion lines designed by high-profile names, opened in late November.

Part of the problem was that bigger homegrown stars like Hilton and Jessica Simpson already commanded much of the celebrity design market, said Betty Chen, a research analyst with Wedbush Morgan. And by striking out on her own, Plastinina lacked the security net of a major chain to distribute her designs even as aspiring fashionistas like singer Avril Lavigne and model Elizabeth Hurley paired with retailers such as Kohl's and Mango.

"Earlier in the year, people were quite excited that she was so young and yet starting out on her own," Chen said. "But the momentum kind of died, and now people are not going to spend more money just because of a celebrity name."

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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