Soviet Fashion Design
Модельеры и текстильные дизайнеры в Советском союзе


Soviet Fashion Design

Fashion designers born and educated in the Soviet Union did not have an easy life. In the 1920s and 1930s fashion was disregarded in general and at times even a synonym of those burzhuaznie shtuchki (Russian for “bourgeois gadgets”) that were highly undesirable for socially committed hardworking Socialist people. After the II World War ended, this attitude changed and the State founded two entities through which commissions to create post-war styles were to be conveyed. These were the Moscow All-Union House of Prototypes (Московский Общесоюзный Дом Моделей (ОДМО)) created in 1944 and the Leningrad House of Prototypes (Ленинградский дом моделей). The All-Union House of Prototypes was a vital organisation for Soviet fashion. It carried out State nation-wide commissions, organised fashion shows, provided information on trendy styles and distributed dress patterns to Soviet tailors.

The fashion industry was completely reorganised after having disappeared during the war in the 1950s and the first fashion shows of Western designers hit Moscow at the same time as Soviet designers were encouraged to show their fashion abroad as means of pro-Socialist propaganda. In 1959 the first - now legendary - Christian Dior show took place in Moscow. All party elite and top civil servants attended, to welcome the world-wide acclaimed French couturier. At the same time, the so called stilyagi or “style hunters” started making havoc. These fashion conscious youths behaved and dressed in an outrageous anti Socialist manner while they listened to Western music and wore bright clothes and bourgeois hairstyles.

In the 1960s the USSR finally caught up with Western fashion trends although fashion items remained a privilege for diplomats and members of the political elite. The first great designer, Slava (Vyacheslav) Zaitsev graduated from the Moscow Textile Institute in 1962 and triggered a belated cultural revolution. Our exhibition shows a few of his theatre costume sketches. In 1965 he started working at the House of Fashion (Дом Моды) on Kuznetsky Most. He committed to haute-couture and at first he would not even be allowed to leave the country as the authorities feared that he might stay in the West. His clients were movie and music stars, among them such renowned personalities as the ballet dancer Galina Ulanova and actress Liubov Orlova. Slava Zaitsev was the first Soviet time designer to create modern clothes with a Russian flavour. Later, he would quit the House of Fashion on Kuznetsky Most to open his own Moscow House of Fashion in 1982 which is active to the present day.

The 1970s witnessed the establishment of real ties with fashion trends in the West. More imported goods were available, among them garments that would be sold through the hard-currency shops Beryozkas. Still Western stylish clothes items were only accessible to the happy few, members of the party elite and diplomats who were allowed to shop there. These could also be acquired on the black market for exorbitant prices. Denim jeans were the most desired item to have for women and men alike.
In the late 1980s the Burda Fashion magazine started to be distributed in the Soviet Union and with it Western style paper patterns became handy to the masses. Home made clothes produced following Burda patterns were a common item for Russian fashion conscious costumers. These deficit years were tough for the national industry and the term recycle design would be more appropriate to name what happened with fashion at the time. Creating good quality was out of the question since there were no threads, no needles, and no fabrics. Items created by designers during the 1980s are considered to be true non-conformism art items, made from recycled materials. In 1989, Valentin Yudashkin, another icon of Russian fashion design, starts his career.

This exhibition includes the works of fashion designers educated at the Moscow Textile Institute (московскии текстильный институт) created during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Irina Kulakova´s thin waistlines dresses remind as of the fashion for housewives of the fifties, clothes for genuine Soviet Stepford wives.

Tatiana Nikiforova, a graduate of the Moscow Textile Institute in 1976, followed the unmistakable trends of the 70s, with broad shoulders lines, ample use of knitted sweaters and knitted fabrics, miniskirts and bell bottom trousers. Also included of her works are a few designs of childrens' clothes.

The works of the two textile designers, Natalia Zhovtsis and Irina Trofimova, have also been included in the exhibition. These are sketches for women´s scarves and their lines and composition show the unmistakable influence of the Russian avant-garde, the arts and crafts, and art deco art movements.

Boris Derzhavin, also a graduate and later teacher of the Moscow Textile Institute shows the freedom of line and tonality only a decorative textile artist could afford at the time. The works shown convey the stylish and carefree atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s.

Nina Shirokova graduated from the Moscow Textile Institute in 1962. She belonged to Eliy Bilyutin’s (famous non conformist “formalist” artist) circle of students, along with Natalia Zhovtsis and Boris Derzhavin. Although mainly a textile designer, she was fashion aware, and her styles were depicted in a series of genre portraits of stylish Soviet women of the 1950s and 1960s included in this exhibition.

Ninel Ryndich, another artist from the Moscow Textile Institute of the 1950s worked as a fashion designer in Moscow. Her design of the 1950s reflects the relieved lightness of post-war Soviet life.

(total images: 49)


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