“I feel really connected to Moscow, but I also still feel a little bit like a tourist,” Sasha Arutyunova said. Ms. Arutyunova, who lives in Brooklyn, was born in Moscow in 1988, a few years before the Soviet Union collapsed and during an era when Levi’s were still a coveted item in the country. She moved to Florida with her mother when she was 6 years old.
For the last eight years, Ms. Arutyunova has worked on a personal project focusing on her family members in Russia. “I spend most of my time photographing interiors and images of my family’s intimate moments in spaces that I know really well,” she said.
When it came to capturing street style, she said,“I didn’t want to deviate too much from the way that I typically shoot, so I was trying to think, ‘What is the environment and how do people fit into it?’”
Over three trips to Russia, one of them on an assignment for OneBeat, a nonprofit that brings together musicians and dancers, she photographed people outside and inside of subway stations, in parks, public squares and around monuments in Moscow and Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan in central Russia.
She spotted the woman in red, above, posing for a friend outside the Kul Sharif Mosque, which was built in 2005 within the walls of the Kazan Kremlin, a citadel that is on the Unesco World Heritage list and is composed ofbuildings that date as far back as the 10th century.
In Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow, a young woman in cinched pants, a purple button-down shirt and sneakers sat hunched, reading a book, in front of a statue of the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. “It was cloudy,” Ms. Arutyunova said. “And then, as soon as the sun came out, she leaned over like this. It was a complete transformation.”
While shooting, Ms. Arutyunova noticed that Russian women do not shy away from bright colors or patterns, especially in combination. “I think a lot of it is from picking up clothes at markets and secondhand stuff and just kind of throwing it together, or having had something for like 20, 30 years,” she said.
“These women had just left the monastery, I think, and were waiting for the bus,” she said. Several of them wore head scarves, a common adornment for many women who are Russian Orthodox.
The flowers on a woman’s sleeves, vivid and dramatic against the monochrome backdrop of an arriving subway train, caught Ms. Arutyunova’s eye. “Russian culture is beauty and tragedy are all wrapped into one,” she said. “There’s a vibrancy and a moodiness.”
The view from the studio where Ms. Arutyunova met Kolya Ershov, an engineer/developer of musical devices, amazed her. “You see a big church in the distance and all of Moscow,” she said. “Coming from New York, where it’s difficult to get a studio with a nice window, I was pretty shocked.” Less shocking was Mr. Ershov’s look: He embraced the kind of globalized cool-kid aesthetic that might show up in a Brooklyn coffee shop.
Karina Zinchenko is an experimental dancer whom Ms. Arutyunova shot several times for the OneBeat project. On their final evening together, she was struck by Ms. Zinchenko’s top, both the bold red, a color she kept seeing Russian women wearing, and the fabric.“It reminds you of a bathrobe,” she said. “But it’s also really chic.”
“Religion is really prevalent on the street,” Ms. Arutyunova said. It was especially noticeable in the Zamoskvorechye District in central Moscow. “Particularly in this neighborhood, I noticed a lot of churches, and a lot of women walking in and out of them,” she said. “This woman was praying outside.”
Ms. Arutyunova met Nadezhda Likhogrud, a sculptor and painter, in Moscow a year ago, and later shot her on a rooftop. “She typically wears a mixture of vintage, and clothes that she makes herself or that she sources from her friends,” she said. “There’s really a culture of that among young people. It’s cheaper, and it’s a way for people to express themselves in a way that’s more specific than buying from stores where everything is the same.”
“Older people in Russia tend to really have fun with the way that they dress,” Ms. Arutyunova said. “My grandma, for example. Sometimes I’m completely baffled by what she’s wearing. She went through a phase where she would wear head-to-toe purple. I asked her why, and she’s like, ‘I have this purple ring. And that’s why I need everything else.’”
Ms. Arutyunova spotted the woman above in Moscow “City,” a new neighborhood of high-rise offices and stores that has the same imposing shine as its flashy counterparts around the world. “It just sticks out like a sore thumb,” she said. “And I think that’s also something that comes out in the fashion there. People wanting to be noticed with what they’re wearing.”
While Ms. Arutyunova was in Moscow this summer, many of the streets were under construction as the city widened the sidewalks and replaced concrete with white tiles. “These green barricades were lining every street, and it was really difficult to get to places,” she said. “And yet this guy was just standing there, smoking in head-to-toe white and his Formula One cap.”
It is impossible to discuss Russian fashion without mentioning members of its upper class, many of whom wear outfits that can sometimes seem like calculated displays of wealth.
Ms. Arutyunova saw this woman striding across Manezhnaya Square in the center of Moscow with an ice cream cone in hand. “She’s got stilettos on for a Sunday stroll,” she said. “She’s got this really structured dress on. Everything is perfectly matched in color, from her cream top to her white stilettos. And the bag matches that all, too. It almost felt like a performance.”
Ms. Arutyunova compared Patriarch’s Ponds in Moscow, where she photographed this woman, to SoHo or the West Village. There, she said, “Some of the younger people dress in a more subdued way and in a way that reminds me of New York.”
Tracksuits were a sartorial hallmark in Russia as the country transitioned out of the Soviet period, and some people still wear them from time to time. But the context has changed. “I like the idea of how he put on this pretty fashionable jacket from the ’90s to do labor,” Ms. Arutyunova said.