Lately I’ve become immensely inspired by antiquarian Russian textile and garment designs of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. In terms of craftsmenship, the bespoke intricacies of the carefully manipulated fabrics and the intensive appliqué embroideries found in both the traditional costume and working class clothing of this region require no introduction as the delightful crown-jewel in any and all hypothetical charcuterie boards of delectabley rich non-western fashion (and all other supposed metaphorical cornucopia denoting visual pleasure-trips). It has always seemed to me that where unapologetically rigorous processes of making are present, so too is a person of the most scrupulous disposition. Therefore, I love speculating what sorts of people the seamstresses and tailors were who over-saw the creation of these marvelous concoctions. Needless to say, I would love nothing more at this moment than to visit the Kremlin Museum in Moscow to feast my eyes on the regailia of the tsars . . .
The patterns are decadent, yet the proliferations of pearls, abstract embroideries, trestles, and latticed filigrees should not, in my opinion, be dismissed as mere kitschy ornamentations. Even by todays pared down standards. I make this defence on account of the specific and deliberate integration of pattern against the bizarre silhouettes unique to these clothes as they come together to create forms which posess an oddly self-contradictory nature. The tent-like, boxy outlines, topped with graphic decorative floral motifs are simultaneously evocative of masculine and feminine essences while pesistantly upholding an unspeakably regal aura. In the case of the Sarafan or Dushegreya, for example — we are nolonger observing a womens quintessentially femine attributes, but her very architecture as a unique abstract form in space. She is a bizarre in-between character who seems both ebullient and ecclesiastical, delicate and reppelent. This fabulously duplicitous nature is reinforced by the incredulous spatial expanses of the textiles punctuated by seemingly precarious areas of dense energetic patterns suggestive of both playfulness and militant utility.
There is something amazing about these contrasts which imbues the clothes with an inexplicable sense of vitality and charm making each piece seem almost imperious to the wearer in its unflinching adherence to what appears to be a specific and tightly observed aesthetic mandate — denoting no specific function but to glorify their very selves as unique objects with specific personas of their own. In this way, I sort of relish in what Donald Judd would have thought as these clothes possess a self-referential quality that could be said to brush shouders, if very cooly, with the strict dictums of minimlist doctrine even in spite of their extremely embellished surfaces. In so far as textiles may become autonomous as unique and specific forms against their owner’s physique, the clothing of russian noblemen and women of the past 300 years may indeed just take the cake. Which makes the viewer wonder; is the person wearing the thing, or is the garment wearing them?
This is a simple question, but when asked in the context of viewing these clothes as sculptural objects, makes them rather profound in their unique charge as mere accessories at the disposal of the wearer… What is perhaps most fascinating is the fact that in spite of behaving in this capacity, the clothes actually do very little to accentuate the curvature of the body as most formal wear attempts to do. (Atleast in my opinion). Look no further than the excellent kokoshnik in its variety of iterations which no doubt harken George Lucas characters. Alas, fantasy comes to life.
^ above image: The Russian Sarafan
^ above image: Fedorovna’s coronation herald’s boots and coachman’s jacket. From Magnificence of the Tsars: Ceremonial Men’s Dress of the Russian Imperial Court, at the V&A.
^ above image: The last Tsar: Nicholas II and the empress of Russia, Alexandra Fedorovna in 1903
^ above image: Russian Costumes, 17th and 18th centuries
^ above image: “A wardrobe fit for an Emperor from the collection of the Russian Kremlin Museums. Beginning with Paul I in 1797, every emperor would go to his coronation in military garb.” — (found here)
^above image: variations of the kokoshnik (found here)
^above image: “Léon Bakst Tunic from costume for the Blue God c 1912 from Le Dieu Bleu” (found here)
^above image (found here)
^above image: “Girl in a headdress and dushegreya (beginning of the 20 century) / Northern Russia, Pskov Province / Collection of Natalia Shabelskaya”
^above image: “Woman in Toropetsky pearl headdress and a shawl / first half of the 19century / Abram Klyukvin”
^above image: gorgeous polychrome embroidery . .
^above image: a traditional womens dushegreya (found here)
^above image: ballerina, Alexandra Balashova
^above image: (found here), below images: traditional russian folk costume