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Fashion here and there, yesterday and today 0

Photo: Sergejs Timofejevs

Alexandre Vassiliev in a way is a one-man genre. There are rather few people in the world, who work so extensively in the area of fashion publicity and collecting, organizing exhibitions, lecturing and writing books on the matter. His collection consists of more than 10, 000 costume pieces, and its selections are exhibited in various countries from Baltic States to Japan. On June 14, his exhibition “Art Nouveau Fashion” was opened in Riga at the Latvian National Museum of Decorative Arts, and on 22th of June his exhibition which recently was a great success in Moscow, is opening in St. Petersburg. 

Before the press-conference in Riga, we asked Vassiliev to shortly describe what to expect at his show in the City on Neva River. “Fashion Behind the Iron Curtain” is a project that began in Tsaritsyno Museum in Moscow and had a colossal success.

Number of visitors went over 100, 000. There was more than 1, 000 showpieces on view, mostly from wardrobe of Soviet era (1917-1991) celebrities. There are costumes that formerly belonged to Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Lidiya Smirnova, Klara Luchko, Lyudmila Gurchenko and other stars. Public was very touched by the exposition, maybe because Russia doesn’t have its own fashion museum, not even in perspective. And now the exhibition moves to the Northern capital of Russia, to the Sheremetyev Palace, St. Petersburg.

And here comes the moment when Art historian needs to begin telling about Art Nouveau. Few dozens of press representatives equipped themselves with voice recorders, microphones and cameras. Of course, most of them were women. They ogled at Vassiliev, who addressed them as doushetchka (sweetheart) and koshetchka (pussycat) and was jet informative and elegant.

Interest towards Art Nouveau is traditional for Riga, mostly because of the city architecture. By the way, there also will be few dresses from A. Vassiliev collection on view at the local Museum of Art Nouveau. But Alexandre Vassiliev, of course, sees this époque from his own point of view. Era of Art Nouveau lasted from 1890 till 1914, until WWI, and then it perished and Art Deco took over. This style is related to Japanese art. It was Japonism that gave the first shove to the birth of Art Nouveau: fascination of asymmetry, nature and flowing lines came to Europe from the Far East. Later, interest towards national culture, national romanticism, Middle Ages and even elements of so called Third Rococo, gave the final touch to this unique art culture that bloomed in several countries. This style became first international phenomenon and symbolized the turn from Victorian era to the 20th Century. In women’s fashion it manifested in especially bright manner: wealthy women didn’t have to work, thus, had lots of time to spend on her appearance. It takes more than 20 minutes to dress each mannequin up, because so many buttonhooks and fasteners make the whole process uneasy and time taking. And, given women changed six times a day, one can imagine, how much time they spent just dressing up. Not to mention elaborate hairstyles of long hair, large pinned hats, complicated shoes and very thin underwear. Silk stockings, suspenders, boomers, corsets…

Vassiliev also points at the demographic reason that have affected the époque and its style. Dresses back then were fabulously expensive, and making it took months of painstaking work. Men idolized women, because population in Europe at the time consisted 55% of men and only 45% of women. Fighting for women was terrific. Women were liken unto nymphs and angels, being an object of lust. The basic figure was waist size. For example, waist of Paris star, Belgian dancer Cléo de Mérode, was 48 centimeters small. More accessible ideal was about 50-55 centimeters. 

Fashion was associated also with many curious details, even of criminal nature. Back then women used 22-25 centimeters long hatpins made of steel, because hats were not just put on the head, they were pinned to the hair, so the hat doesn’t fly away. These hats were an entire construction, and hatpins served as self-protection against men, and sometimes even as revenge tool. I have read that there were cases of murder using these pins: men were found with these pins in their hearts and the note “For you, unfaithful!”

It was the dramatic finish of the press-conference in Riga. However, the exhibition at the National Museum of Decorative Arts with support of AB.LV Bank, will last until late October. Its organizers plan to arrange series of lectures on Art Nouveau fashion, interior and Jeweller’s art, and it will take place in September, after summer break.