Magnificence of the Tsars


Pictures: left: Coronation uniform of Paul I, 1796, Russia. Right: Chanel Pre-Fall 09 Paris-Moscou Collection.

It has been a few weeks since I wanted to reflect on my visit to the V&As exhibition Magnificence of the Tsars. I have always been fascinated by Russian Tsars’ fashion and seeing these incredible pieces of history was really fantastic.

The exhibition was not very big but I spent quite some time visiting it since it inspired me many sketches – that I will not show you for the poor quality of paper and purple ink pen used would look particularly bad compared to the grand clothes made of gold!

The exhibition featured two centuries of costumes worn by the Russian Court and emperors (1720-1920) from the Moscow Kremlin Museums Collection. Several aspects particularly interested me. First the influence of European fashion on a then isolated Russia when Peter the Great introduced tailored suits into the traditional wardrobe of a Russian man, since at that time Russia did not have the textile factories to produce silks, wools and linen.

Secondly, I found very interesting that the costumes I was attracted the most to were not the Tsars’ costumes – too richly decorated and embroidered, and with much gold so therefore probably very heavy too – but the imperial servants’ dress such as court uniforms and coachmen’s liveries, that were usually plain blue or navy military jackets with gold buttons, but still had to be approved by the emperor himself.

Lastly, a fashionista cannot help but think of all the contemporary references such dress inspires to today’s designers. I am thinking of Russian Tsars, but also the British Empire or French Marie-Antoinette. Collections from Alexander McQueen (FW08) and Balmain (SS09) are obviously inspired from these historical garments, and general trends such as the whole military style in general, and embellishments of sequins and pearls.

But it is Chanel with the latest Paris-Moscou that pays the best tribute to the Russian legacy. The pre-fall 09 collection designed to show off the skills of French embroiderers, milliners, goldsmiths, and shoemakers the house supports was shown in Paris small theatre Le Ranelagh, with a short film created by Karl Lagerfeld for the occasion – watch it here. This collection was absolutely sublime and I could not help thinking of it when I visited the exhibition.

Fashion is always coming back.

7 Responses to “Magnificence of the Tsars”

  1. those are so classy. I would have one for myself for the special event.

  2. The Chanel Paris Moscow collection was very impressive as for men (même pour homme, rires, je n’étais pas sûr de la bonne traduction, you see it, i try !), i really like the cut of military uniforms. See ya. Kisses.

  3. Russia has always fascinated me too, but I must admit I had never approached it from the Fashion angle. But I would defintely wear this uniform-like piece on the bottom right picture 🙂

    I vaguely (v.a.g.u.e.l.y) remember studying the so-called Russian Enlightenment, when Catherine the Great stronly encouraged the development of arts and should definitely check out some of the architectural and artistic evolutions it lead to, absolutely wonderful!

  4. Yes… Lagerfeld remains king… Alize you’re so eloquent!

  5. I was in awe of the collection as well, the wealth was so apprant in even what the carriage driver wore, not to mention the Tsar’s gowns. Can’t believe they were designed by Tsars themselves too… Definitely reminded me of McQueen.

  6. thiiht: I must admit most pieces from Chanel are quite wearable, yet the show was made particularly grand with the decor and the hair accessories. I can see why you would one for yourself!
    Pierre-Jean: you know my love for military-style jackets! Love the collection for men too, that’s why I included a menswear picture (as you can see I am making more an more efforts to feature menswear!) x
    Olivier: Russian enlightenment? I’ll definitely check it out! thanks for the insight Monsieur! 🙂 x
    Jessica: Thanks! 🙂 Oh, yes Lagerfeld, he just does it all, it’s really impressive! x
    Shini: I know! I felt like I had to link it to recent fashion shows, because the Tsars style has been copied quite a lot recently! In a good way by great designers mostly. 🙂 Loved this McQueen navy & gold vest.. x

  7. […] inspired by the arts recently, from Russian Constructivism with the Fall-Winter 09 collection to the legacy of Russian Tsars with the Paris-Moscow […]

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