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&A‘s 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.