Russian Fashion History: VDNH in Fashion

In June, during a vacation in Moscow, I visited an exhibition about fashion history at VDNH Park. This retrospective featured articles of clothing (mainly dresses) from the years 1939 to 2019. Although the exhibition was relatively small, I did find lots of inspiration there. Especially the older pieces were worked beautifully and creatively, but also some of the newer models stood out through unusual pattern drafting.

Here are the introductory words of the organizer:

Since 1939, VDNH has been the foremost exhibition site housing not only pavilions of the numerous Soviet Union republics but also all kinds of prominent achievements of the national economy.

The vast surface and the imperial grandeur of the location drew to the exhibition a great number of visitors from all across the Soviet Union. For them, going to VDNH was similar to attending a high-society gathering. Thus, out came the smartest dresses, embroidered shirts, the most elegant hats, purses, umbrellas and footwear. Only holiday makers going for a seaside stroll in Sochi or somewhere in the Crimea would show such an attention to the outfit details.

Soviet photographs taken at VDNH in the spring and summer times perfectly convey the fantastic atmosphere of a period when fashion was feminine, smart and full of harmony. Ladies could still be seen wearing hats adorned with artificial flowers, crepe de chine dresses with floral prints, seamed stockings, leather or chamois court shoes, clutch bags and jewellery.

Numerous international delegations coming down to Moscow with the Khrushchev Thaw visited the exhibition as a city must see, thus transforming VDNH into an international forum. International tourists, journalists and photographers were ease to come across at the exhibition at that time.

VDNH was a place of romantic dates, new acquaintances, nascent couples, just like the characters of the famous 1941 feature film „They Met in Moscow“. It’s at VDNH that the swine-herd Glasha, played by Marina Ladynina, met the Dagestan shepherd Musaib, played by Vladimir Zeldin. The shepherd’s song „There Is No Forgetting a Friend Met in Moscow“ remained an unofficial hymn of the exhibition for many years.

The exhibition staged on the occasion of the VDNH 80th anniversary invites visitors on an odyssey throughout the foremost periods of the Russian history, including the Stalin era, the Khrushchev Thaw, the Brezhnev Stagnation, the Perestroika, the swinging 90s and, finally, the 2000s. This one-of-a-kind collection puts on display an extensive retrospective of female and male outwear for the past 80 years and vividly depicts the evolving image of the VDNH visitor throughout the years.

Alexandre Vasilyev Foundation

The 1940s

At the start of the exhibition, dresses worn by actresses and other society ladies were contrasted with those worn by farmers. The former feature unusual details, the latter lovely embroidery on plain fabrics.

The 1950s

At the start of this section was a display with various imported products. They show the increasing influence of Chinese and European fashions through trade relationships.

My favorite piece in the exhibition:

The 1960s

Things are starting to get colorful! Synthetic materials are also becoming commonplace.

In contrast to these Russian designs, three French models from the same time period were shown. They feature more subdued fabrics but interesting details:

The 1970s

Russia apparently was not spared by Flower Power. Psychedelic patterns and tartans were also shown:

The 1980s

The pieces selected for this decade where quite extravagant. The navy blue dress was a real eye catcher with its voluminous shape.

The 1990s and 2000s

The garments shown for this decade are from the personal collection of the curator, who is a fashion designer himself. According to my Russian friends who accompanied me, they are not a representation of what “normal” people wore.

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