Love of fabric leads to fantastic creations


POSTED: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Zhanneta (pronounced zhan-yeta) Sharov's designs aren't for the office set ... not yet anyway. Her dramatic creations occupy a more fantastical space, demanding a place on stage or intended for women who worship the spotlight.

There's nothing timid about her dresses and gowns, created under the name ZhanVi, which showcase her love of the theatrical. Her distinctive style reflects her youth in Russia, where she trained as a dancer who sewed her own costumes, and after becoming a mom, continued to dress entire corps of dancers.

It was something she'd done even as a child. She said she enjoyed expressing herself through the clothes she created for herself, friends and neighbors.

“;I liked to have new skirt, new blouse, different from the other girls,”; she said. “;Nobody else liked to sew, only me, because they see it's hard work. Even today, some people want to help me and they work for an hour and give up. They say, 'I'm tired.' To do this work, you supposed to be crazy about it.”;

When we met, Sharov's hands were blue from dyeing fabric. After staging an attention-getting fashion show last fall at Level 4, she's eager to get back to the stage again, and is hard at work on a blue collection for spring and summer. She's already completed about a dozen designs and is aiming for 28 pieces to show sometime in April.

Until then, she continues to create, understanding there's not much of a market for her work in Hawaii, but content to entertain herself with what emerges from her hands and imagination.

“;My clothes are like my children. I love this and I do this with heart. I'm always crazy about what I'm sewing. I could do this 24 hours. Sometimes at 3 in the morning my husband, Victor, is asking me, 'Why don't you come to bed?' but I don't want to stop.”;

Sharov came to America 26 years ago with the help of her sister, Lara Woltag, who operates her own spa at Century Center and recently branched out into hat design to augment her sister's work. Her hats aren't formally for sale, but she's working on a collection that will be available to the public.

Sharov initially settled in New York, but after attending a wedding in Hawaii, decided to stay, working as a dressmaker and alterations specialist, only recently launching her own brand.

“;My children grow and I feel stronger for design,”; she said, aided by the encouragement of her daughter, Victoria Sharov, her model and muse, hence the combined name of ZhanVi Designs. Victoria, a graphic designer, is currently in Los Angeles working to get her mother's work seen by a larger audience than Hawaii affords.

It's understandable that Victoria would want her mother to have some attention — otherwise, she'd be perfectly content to stay at home and sew in anonymity.

“;When I make dress, I don't think about what I'm going to do, who's going to wear it, I just do,”; Sharov said. “;It doesn't matter what I'm going to do with it. I don't think about money, I don't want to be somebody. Sometimes, if I sell a dress, it's like I lose something, like I lose my child.”;

Sharov said she believes she works differently from other designers, who might start with a concept and illustration. Instead, she takes a tactile approach, starting with her fabric finds, a remnant from working in times of scarcity in Russia when she made do with what she could find, searching for exotic imports on the black market because “;stores had nothing.”;

Like “;Gone With the Wind's”; fictional Scarlett O'Hara, she at times found herself making clothing from curtains and discarded handbags, and once used lace to create the illusion of shoes for her dancers.

“;Some people draw first but I have to look at fabric and feel fabric, and then I have ideas,”; she said. “;The fabric have to tell me what I have to do.

“;I spend a lot of time looking for something unusual, not regular fabric. I like to mix cultures, like European style with fabric from Asia, something unusual, something different. Sometimes it's very cheap fabric, sometimes it's very expensive, but if I love this fabric, it doesn't matter.”;

IF THERE is one local niche that does need addressing, it's that of plus-size women. Sharov already creates her samples to suit a size 6 figure, two to three sizes larger than the typical New York sample model, but seeing women walk around in shapeless muumuu has bothered her for years, and she's finally in a position to take action.

“;All muumuus are the same, ruffles and big piece of fabric. I want to make muumuu, but more pretty, with more shape. Not all girls like muumuu, but I want to make muumuu girls like to wear. Even big women wants to look nice.”;


» To view a video of ZhanVi's fall fashion show click here.