When Evgenia Luzhina-Salazar emigrated from Russia 22 years ago, she barely knew how to speak English or how to sew. Now she’s a successful costume designer and more recently a celebrated fashion designer, appearing in one of New York’s fashion shows.
“My life is very funny. Everything I have reached now is by mistake,” said Luzhina-Salazar, 56, who has lived in Bowie for about 10 years.
Luzhina-Salazar said her first “mistake” was meeting Andrei Malaev-Babel, co-founder of one of Russia’s first private theater companies, who hired her as the costume designer for his new company in Moscow.
Malaev-Babel, 46, said he began collaborating with American theatre companies in the early 1990s and decided to permanently move to the United States, eventually directing a production at the Prince George’s County Community College in Largo.
“I couldn’t think of a better designer to collaborate with, so I was able to convince Prince George’s Community College to sponsor Evgenia’s visa as a guest artist to come and design my production at the college,” he said.
Malaev-Babel went on to co-found the Stanislavsky Theatre Studio in Washington, D.C., in 1997 and put Luzhina-Salazar in charge of costume and set design.
“She built things out of nothing ... She was wonderful at working under budget with the very meager means we could offer her,” he said.
It was the first time Luzhina-Salazar actually made a costume, she said.
“Here, you have to design and make it,” she said. “I learned by myself. I’m not sure even if now I’m doing it correct or not.”
Luzhina-Salazar made her second “mistake” when the Stanislavsky theater closed in 2006 and she took home all the costumes she had made, she said.
That same year, she transformed them into elaborate dresses and put on her first runway show — “Passion Runway.” She debuted the show in her backyard, then at the Russian Embassy and Sylvan Theatre Stage in the District, she said.
To her surprise, she was selected to appear in New York Couture Fashion Week’s Spring 2014 collection show from Sept. 6 - 8, she said. This year was her third appearance in the show.
“Suddenly everybody knows me and the next year, they invite me to [New York] Couture Fashion Week,” she said.
“Couture” clothing is one-of-a-kind, created from high-quality material and adorned with intricate, handmade embellishments, said Andres Aquino, who founded the event in 2005.
The three day event features about 30 international designers twice a year in the spring and the fall. Designers submit applications and are selected based on clothing quality, including material and embellishments used, Aquino said.
Since Luzhina-Salazar began designing dresses, she quit designing costumes and has no plans to start again, she said.
“I’m doing this for fun only,” she said. “I am so relaxed right now because I am doing what I want.”
A custom piece of couture clothing sells on average for $2,500 and takes anywhere from 30 to 100 hours to make, said Ella Pritsker, who is also a native of Russia and founder of the Maryland Academy of Couture Arts in Timonium that teaches couture sewing. She calls Luzhina-Salazar a “fabulous designer.”
Luzhina-Salazar said she refuses to sell her dresses as she has few buyers willing to pay full price, and her husband, Miguel Salazar, works to support them both.
Luzhina-Salazar said she promises herself after each fashion week show, after all the hard work, it will be her last, but she is already creating her next collection in her head.
“By mistake, I became a fashion designer,” she said.