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Soviet Fashion Week

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An interesting thing about Russian Fashion Week is that it was opened by a 70 year old, Slava Zaitsev, and is dedicated to Diaghilev, which serves to remind us how long Russians have been ultra fashionistas.

Doom and gloom reports in the press might focus on the ‘couture crunch’ - Stella McCartney and Diesel have pulled out of Russia recently - but austerity and reigns of terror have never dampened Russian talent or enthusiasm.

And what’s a couture crunch exactly? More ugly journo jargon of the week speaks of de-premiumization — meaning that shoppers are trading down for cheaper items. Sorry, but nice clothes have always been must-haves for Russian girls, even if it’s a passion born of deprivation.

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During Soviet shortages, Western styles would be carefully copied from imported movies and run up at home, so everyone could be a la mode. Up-to-the-minute looks to sweep Soviet Russia included Barbara Streisand’s funny girl hairdo, again mostly recreated in the kitchen. Well, perhaps not quite up to the minute since Soviets only got the film 15 years after release, but you get the idea. There’s not much resourceful Russians can’t do at home and anecdotal evidence suggests the long queues outside Soviet shops were more likely to be for things like a good pair of tights than bread.

So in Moscow, Spanish designer Francesc, isn’t making any concessions to recession. Though he notes that his dark colours can be mixed and matched easily, which might translate into economies of wardrobe. But really, the ticket on the outfit is largely irrelevant. A fun old Vogue article insists that looking good in Moscow is ‘all about having a car and driver idling day and night. Which is why you can wear Marc Jacobs round-toed red patent-leather platforms or silver snakeskin spike-heeled boots with a tiny skirt and a chinchilla shrug when there’s a foot of slush on the ground.’ Unquote.

It’s only recently been acknowledged that Russian women are simply world class at dressing up so it’s good of Zaitsev to remind us about Diaghilev, whose costumes outspectacled anything Paris could offer as long ago as 1912. For those who didn’t grow up with the Ballet Russe, Russian talent might have been spotted earlier, since Zaitsev created stunning costumes for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.That many nations stayed away from that bash was absolutely their loss. Even a hairy armpitted shot putter looked good in Zaitsev shorts. In the opposite way, Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova (below left - Goodbye Lenin) can comfortably wear the tackiest outfit or East German drabs. With Eastern European girls and clothes, this talent is something very deep in the genes.

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Much of Diaghilev’s genius was commissioning designers from other disciplines and getting them into textiles. Diaghilev must surely be the greatest impresario who ever lived and he was never afraid of taking a shot at the shocking. That the young Stravinsky’s ‘Rite Of Spring’ was booed offstage didn’t deter him at all from coming out with even more outrageous scores and costumes. By coincidence, poet and couturier Zaitsev originally studied chemistry and technology of all things.

Despite some fairly unwelcome articles in the media designed to diss Fashion Week in Moscow, it’s got to be a more appealing show than the simultaneous G20 event in London. Certainly the current G20 world leaders will be lucky to be around as long as Slava Zaitsev.

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