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Russia! Ballet to babushkas

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From the folkloric peasants, through the Bolshoi ballet to Constructivist inspirations, this is a Russian moment in fashion.

For their winter shows, the Moscow designer Igor Chapurin picked a ballet theme; Costume National made the iconic Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev into a male fashion hero; Antonio Marras recreated a world of Ballets Russes tutus, and Jean Paul Gaultier elevated folklore to haute couture.

The ongoing refurbishment of the Bolshoi theater in Moscow and the exhibitions of Russian art in Western cities have set a context for the clothes. Even among models, the star is Natalia Vodianova, formerly a vegetable vendor in Nizhny Novgorod. In this latest Russian revival, there are two different strands: romantic and modernist. Gaultier drew inspirations from folkoric costumes at the Bolshoi and from a visit to Ukraine to capture the festive peasant decoration in his couture show; while in his other role as designer for Hermes, the designer re-created the linear grid of the Soviet era, although this geometry was in fact inspired from 1930s Hermes archives.

"It was an accident I was at my Moscow boutique, surrounded by snow and then I went to the Bolshoi where I saw on stage Ukrainian peasants and absorbed the red and white colors, folkloric shawls and straw baskets, the flowers and ribbons," Gaultier says of the couture, where the braids outstaged the signature hairdo of the former Ukranian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The romantic Marras show ended with the models grouped as ballet figures below a line of tutus. The Italian designer, who is currently in Moscow celebrating 10 years of Kenzo in Russia, says that he has always been fascinated by dance. The highlight of his first Russian trip was visiting the Bolshoi and Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater.

"You discover a whole world when you visit these mythical theaters," he says. "You can feel the presence of an icon like the dancer Anna Pavlova, the great composers Stravinsky, Prokofiev, the movie director Eisenstein and the painters Larionov, Gontcharova, Malevich. Anybody who does my job can't resist the fascination of Russia: its decorated handicrafts, its costumes, the violence of its colors and the stories of great romances. Nobody can forget Lara of Doctor Zhivago. What attracts me is the history, the fairy tale and the traditon."

Aliona Doletskaya, editor in chief of Russian Vogue, sees a difference between the deeply felt collections and vaguely Russian ideas expressed in ethnic floral patterns at MiuMiu or in fur trims (plus a borzoi dog on the runway) at Just Cavalli. She is intrigued by the ballet references and not just from Chapurin, who costumed a ballet at the temporary Bolshoi theater last week.

"Marras definitely looked into Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and especially the costumes drawn by Leon Bakst," Doletskaya said of the sapphire and terracotta pallette. "Chapurin went more modern into the so-called white ballet, without being literal."

Fashion interest in Russia goes back at least as far as the 1909 Ballets Russes in Paris, when all things Russian were in vogue. Soviet style was the inspiration for fabrics in the 1920s; while Russia starred on the silver screen in 1934 when Marlene Dietrich was Catherine the Great in the "The Scarlet Empress." The last big Russian fashion moment came from Yves Saint Laurent, who offered an iconic Russian doll knitted wedding dress in 1965 and peasant blouses in fact inspired by Henri Matisse paintings in 1976.

Today's fashion folklore has its own cultural backdrop. In museums, Russian decorative arts are to the fore, not least at Katharina Prospekt at Antwerp's ModeMuseum ( There a fashion exhibition of "The Russians" is guest-curated by the Belgian designer duo An Vandervorst and Filip Arickx, who had played with Soviet style in their 2004 winter collection. They have developed themes such as uniforms (subverted or worn with military pride), furs, decorations, kokoshnik headdresses and babushkas.

The "Russia!" exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (www./ has encouraged the public to re- evaluate the heritage of Russian painting. Very different contemporary work is on display at November's show in London: Moscow Breakthrough, Russian Contemporary Art;

Will all this inspire more Russian designers to explore their complex heritage? "In Russian fashion, designers get their inspiration from different sources: folk influences from Malyavin; and avant-garde influences from Kandinsky and Malevich," says Doletskaya. "But non-Russians are sometimes more Russian than Russians. The natives are normally subtler and more cautious about their own culture than the foreigners."

(C) 2005 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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