It was on a rather dull day that the idea of Lookatme.ru, a powerful Russian fashion website was born. Vasily Esmanov recalls how in 2005, he and his girlfriend went out and took photos of stylish people on the streets. In 2006, Lookatme.ru was established as a street-style fashion blog. And while scouring Moscow for stylish people, Esmanov realized that these were generally interesting, creative people. Many of the people that Esmanov then captured have gone on to become designers and photographers that dominate the Moscow fashion scene. And gradually, it was not simply limited to what they were wearing. Esmanov also asked them about their interests – whether books, music or more.
Slowly, Look At Me grew into something of a social networking site. It was still a fashion blog, just not exclusively so. In 2007, the site launched a feature that closely resembles the Events feature on Facebook. It began to cover parties and events, and let users know which of their friends were attending. Esmanov would himself head to the events and parties, taking photos and posting them on the site for users to view and tag. As current CEO of Look at Me, Alexey Amyotov puts it, Look at Me soon became “a successful street-style and party-reports blog”. Amyotov reveals that Esmanov had by then become familiar with most of the creative people of Moscow. But he was not satisfied with just knowing the creative crowd. He wanted them to contribute as well.
Soon they met Katya Bazilevskaya, an ex-employee of Publicis Group Media Russia. Bazilevskaya soon became the third member of the Look at Me team and its Chief Commerical Officer. Short on funds but high on ambition, the trio approached a creative web-studio named Nimbler, offering them a share in the project when it took off. The team pooled in 5,000 euros each for initial salaries and the set-up.
Look at Me has come a long way since. It may not be well-known outside Russia, but few fashion websites can attract 100,000 visitors daily and clock 1.5 million unique visitors every month. Moreover, it is not just about street-style or luxury fashion anymore. Look at Me now holds forth on music, design and film as well. Registered users can connect and interact with people with similar interests – with most visitors being from Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev. And now, users can go online shopping on the site, thanks to the site’s store which stocks fashion brands like Complex Geometries and Carin Wester as well as young Russian designers.
The site also generates profits, but not solely from banner ads unlike other fashion and online shopping sites. The team started selling image ads much like print magazines do. The first such project was with Volvo in 2008, and the site has won several advertising awards since. Plus, brands get to sponsor content that is tailored to the brand image. But this does not extend to editorial support and they are not seeking an external investor either. Interestingly, the team is between 19 to 25 years old. Perhaps that is why the site is the epitome of cool.