Fashion / R

A Red Centenary

As the last fiery autumn leaves give way to the first snowflakes, my mind is drawn to the events that took place 100 years ago this week: the Russian Revolution, which shaped much of the history of the 20th century, not least in fashion – back home and abroad.

It might be a surprise for some to hear that Russia was a fashion trendsetter at the turn of the 20th century, inspiring the likes of Coco Chanel to design Slavic peasant-style blouses. Ironically, many Russian émigrés ended up working for the storied house of Chanel after the Revolution.

Photo via condenast.ru

After the Red October, when Russia along with the rest of Europe was in the grip of death and devastation brought about by World War I and its own civil war that followed, fashion was relegated to a mere frivolity, a remnant of a bourgeois lifestyle.

Out with velvet and lace; in with canvas and sackcloth to dress the new Bolshevik woman. The Revolution had a twofold effect on Russian women: on the one hand, it paved the way for women’s emancipation in political and economic life; on the other,  it deprived women of their right to enjoy fashion for many decades to follow.

The first Russian fashion show was organised by French designer Paul Poiret in St Petersburg just a few years before the 1917 Revolution. The next one – by another Frenchman Christian Dior – was not to be held on Russian soil until 1959.

‘Will technology save fashion?’ panel debate with Mira Duma. Photo via vimeo.com

One hundred years on after the October Revolution, Russian fashion has made a comeback on the world stage. Today’s Russian fashion revolutionaries – like Mira Duma – are pioneering technology and innovation at the service of sustainability.

And thanks to the political events of a century ago, the colour red has become entrenched in our minds as a revolutionary hue – a lasting legacy that has outlived that of Red October’s.

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2 thoughts on “A Red Centenary

  1. An interesting post! Being Russian with aristocrat background, the revolution is always a painful thing to remember. There is a most beautiful book on RUssian emigrés and fashion that I recommend: “Beauty in Exile: The Artists, Models and Nobility Who Fled the Russian Revolution and Influenced the World of Fashion” – it includes everyone, even Erté and Irfe. The revolution caused a real genocide of intellectuals, educated classes and aristocracy and killed the Czar family who are now prayed to as holy saints in church. Women of upper classes had to hide their fashion, because the lower classes who had gained power could cause physical harm to them. The colour red of the Communist regime commemorates the blood of all those assassinated by them.

    • Thank you for sharing – it was indeed a painful and tragic chapter in history. I recall my grandmother telling me about growing up during those difficult years and how resourceful women had to be. Xx

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