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'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

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15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

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The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

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Dressing the Soviet Woman Part 2: Stalin Vs Schiaparelli - by Waleria Dorogova

17 May 2016 | By

Being a press genre of a generally unpolitical nature, fashion magazines very rarely instrumentalise political symbolism for their purposes, with the exception of fashion journalism in the era of the Soviet Union, when it was internationally a common practice to mock the "Comrades" for their lack of attention towards fashion and female elegance. When Stalinism was flourishing in the 1930s, American Vogue published what must be the wittiest illustration the periodical has ever produced, depicting an imagined conversation between the dictator of Soviet Russia, Stalin, and the dictator of Paris Fashion, Elsa Schiaparelli. Published in the mid-June 1936 issue, the "Impossible Interview: Stalin versus Schiaparelli" illustrated by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias shows the protagonists in a heated dispute over the Soviet woman's entitlement to fashion:

Stalin: What are you doing up here, Dressmaker?

Schiaparelli: I am getting a bird's-eye view of your women's fashions, Man of Steel.

Stalin: Can't you leave our women alone?

Schiaparelli: They don't want to be left alone. The want to look like the other women of the world.

Stalin: What! Like those hip-less, bust-less scare-crows of your dying civilizations?

Schiaparelli: Already they admire our mannequins and models. Sooner or later they'll come to our ideals.

Stalin: Not while Soviet ideology persists.

Schiaparelli: Look below you, Man of Steel. Look at the beauty parlours and permanent-wave machines springing up. The next step is fashion. In a few years, you won't see kerchiefs on heads any more.

Stalin: You underestimate the serious goals of Soviet women.

Schiaparelli: You underestimate their natural vanity.

Stalin: Perhaps I had better cut your parachute down!

Schiaparelli: A hundred other couturiers would replace me.

Stalin: In that case, cut my ropes!

Other than serving a merely satirical intention, this Vogue page pinpoints a development in Soviet dress behaviour in the years following the systematic undermining of fashion and sartorial luxury in the 1920s and hints at Elsa Schiaparelli's attempt to dress the Russian woman in 1935. Being criticized by fashion journalists for being poorly dressed, female workers of the USSR required a helping hand, which the Soviet government planned to provide in Elsa Schiaparelli. In winter of 1935 she was invited to visit Moscow and design suitable workwear for the female population of Russia, coinciding with the opening of the Dom Modelei (House of Prototypes). Following this invitation, Schiaparelli set out for Moscow in November of 1935, accompanied by British photographer Cecil Beaton, to present her capsule collection, attend social functions and even visit the Kremlin’s treasury. For dressing the Soviet woman, she had envisioned a practical black wool jersey dress with a little turn-over collar of white piqué and a box calf belt, combined with a simple three-quarter coat of red felt with large black buttons, both with a little knitted hat reminiscent of a military pilotka cap. At the first Soviet Trade Fair in Moscow (the first capitalistic exhibition of its kind in the USSR), Schiaparelli’s inventions were presented to their target audience, failing to cause the expected enthusiasm about a leading Paris couturière designing for Russia's women. Schiaparelli’s coat and dress ensemble never went into production for authorities saw a danger in the big pockets on both garments and predicted that they would most likely attract pickpockets on the Metro. While the Paris designs eventually missed their intended effect on Russian dressing habits, the Russian capital seemed to have made a visible impact on Schiaparelli. Returning to Paris, she introduced parachute-skirt dresses in her spring 1936 collection, inspired by the parachute jumpers she saw during her trip to Russia. American Vogue concluded: "Practically every single time that Schiaparelli buys a railway ticket, there are fruitful consequences for this world of ours".