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Ushanka and Russian Dior’s kokoshnik: five exhibits from Vyacheslav Zaitsev’s exhibition at the Museum of Fashion

The exhibition dedicated to the 80th birthday of Vyacheslav Zaitsev has recently opened at the Museum of Fashion. To find out more about the most important items on display read the article.

The exhibition, Nostalgia for Beauty. Marking the Anniversary of the Great Master, will remain open till 13 May. Apart from dresses, suites and accessories created by Vyacheslav Zaitsev, the list of items exhibited at the museum also includes plenty of previously unseen paintings, sketches and photos from the designer’s private collection. will explain more about the main stages of the artistic journey of this designer and his main exhibits, who celebrates his 80th birthday on 2 March.

Becoming famous all over the world

Millennium of the Christianisation of Russia is one of the key collections in the extensive list of Zaitsev’s achievements. In 1987, models wearing designs inspired by images taken from medieval Russia and the 1920s silhouettes, won the public over at fashion shows which were taking place in both London and New York. The collection bore no resemblance to that of the Soviet Union, in terms of production: every dress was hand-made, and back then this was typical only for the European fashion houses, while the hats, which resembled Old Russian helmets, quickly became popular and influenced the 1980s street style.

By that time, Zaitsev had become quite popular all around the world. As of the 1960s, his shows were regularly held in the US, Canada and also in Japan. They were held, however, without the designer himself, since he only started regularly travelling abroad during the second half of the 1980s. The foreign media dubbed him The Red Dior, as the works of the Soviet designer were constantly compared to that of the legendary creator of the New Look. The resemblance in their styles was first brought up by Paris journalists back in 1969.

Millennium of the Christianisation of Russia collection, 1987

Millennium of the Christianisation of Russia collection, 1987

Russian Style

Zaitsev’s first collection, however, did spread throughout the world. Back in 1963, when the young postgraduate designer was assigned to working at the Mosoblsovnarkhoz clothing factory, he presented his own vision of clothes for women working in the villages – dresses and garments made out of colourful pavlovsky posad scarfs. The enraged commission rejected the collection saying that it was far too flashy. In the future, the designer would return to that underappreciated concept many more times, creating several collections with pavlovsky posad scarfs plus other elements taken from traditional Russian costumes.

In 2008, for example, Zaitsev presented his collection Istoki (Origins) (Fall/Winter 2008-09), where the legendary scarves with their floral ornaments were made into coats. The designer suggested wearing these coats with Russian ushanka hats – not the traditional ones, but the specially designed ones: knitted hats decorated with imitation pearls and colourful ornaments, with long earflaps made from real fur.

Hat, Istoki (Origins) collection, 2008

Hat, Istoki (Origins) collection, 2008

Elegant 1990s

In the beginning of the 1990s, following the example of his friend Pierre Cardin, Zaitsev introduces the term “pret-a-porter de luxe” to Russian fashion. His dresses are still made from high quality materials and remain expensive, but are not one offs, but included in limited editions with a standard production range. The collections became available for purchasing at brand boutiques and expensive department stores.

In his Probuzhdeniye (Awakening) collection, the designer focused on his favourite combination of light and dark tones, giving the main fashion trends of the late 1980s and early 1990s a brand new meaning.

Coat from the Probuzhdeniye (Awakening) collection. 1995

“Moon shining under her braid”

Kokoshnik, the name of which stems from the Old Russian word “kokosh”, which stands for a chicken or a rooster, is one of the most long-standing accessories in the history of Russian fashion. This headdress survived Peter the Great’s reforms of clothing worn by ordinary citizens and the boyars, became an irreplaceable element of costumes worn in Russian children’s tales, and is now gaining popularity among fashionistas.

Vyacheslav Zaitsev’s works always gravitated towards the elements of the traditional Russian costume. Kokoshniks for Zaitsev’s collection Improvisation-3 were created in collaboration with designer Natalya Chereda. The designer himself said that his goal was to show how these traditional female headdresses could be combined to be worn with modern clothes.

Kokoshnik, Improvisation-3 collection. 2016

With regard to Salvador Dali

High fashion often goes hand in hand with art. Designs of Elsa Schiaparelli, Alexander McQueen and Jean-Paul Gaultier are not just clothes, but modern pieces of art. In Russia, it was Vyacheslav Zaitsev who initiated the introduction of great artists’ ideas to the catwalk. For example, it was Salvador Dali’s paintings that inspired him to create his Babochki (Butterflies) headband, as the great surrealist often used this image. In Zaitsev’s interpretation, butterflies are trying to escape from the cluster of human thoughts.

Butterflies headband

Butterflies headband