Taking Fashion to the French

Article excerpt

In Soviet times, the concept of the fashionable woman always had a negative shade of meaning. Genuine 'builders of communism' simply could not be fashionable dressed. While overalls or KGB uniforms might have been considered ideal dress for the Soviet woman, in real life she would normally wear locally-manufactured skirt suits resembling working clothes. If she were very lucky, she could buy clothes produced in socialist bloc countries, but this generally required spending half a day standing in line. Moreover, as the imported clothes often arrived in big batches of identical items, women found themselves dressing in a kind of involuntary uniform, and there was little room for the expression of individuality.

Perestroika opened the way for young Russian fashion designers eager to dress women. Among them was a charming, long-haired youth called Valentin Yudashkin, an ordinary graduate in fashion design from teacher training school.

Yudashkin started his career in the Moscow House of Fashion, at the time the only one of its kind in the city, managed by Vyacheslav Zaitsev, the only couturier in the Soviet Union. But tensions with Zaitsev and the pressure of working on obligatory state orders persuaded Yudashkin to abandon his job and launch his own business.

In 1987 Yudashkin created his first collection. In those days he could not have even imagined that his clothes would one day appear on the same catwalk as those of Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy and Christian Lacroix. Nevertheless, just four years later Valentin took his Faberge collection to Paris and staged a presentation... in the Russian embassy.

A few years previous, such a scenario would have been simply impossible. The embassy, never before opened to outsiders, received 600 visitors. The demonstration of the Faberge collection, inspired by the works of art created at the turn of the century by the company of the same name (see Russian Life Practical Traveler section, May issue), was highly successful.

Today, many in the fashion industry accuse Yudashkin of having taken advantage of the tide of interest in the Soviet Union to break through to the French market. However, recalled Yudashkin, "when in 1991 I told my French friends that I was going to organize a presentation, they were genuinely surprised. They tried to convince me that nobody would come, since at that time Gorbachev had just sent tanks to the Baltic states."

Since 1992, Yudashkin has been creating haute couture collections and presenting them as a guest of high fashion weeks twice a year in Paris. His models always have a 'Russian flavor,' - rich in ornaments and bright in an almost theatrical way. Many fashion critics consider this feature specific to Russian design and traditions. Russian designers do not simply clothe, they decorate and dress up their models.

Some, Yudashkin among them, used to have great successes with their theatrical costumes, but this led to difficulties breaking into the ordinary fashion market. Historical and theatrical collections of his like Frescos, Catherine the Great and Ballet, and indeed the majority of his designs, are simply unwearable. While Parisian designers look at practical, dark, simply-cut items for forthcoming collections, Yudashkin still aims to impress his audiences with rich colors and an abundance of hoop-skirts. And while the French thoroughly evaluate the cost of material for their new collections, Yudashkin spares no time or expense in his search for the materials he needs.

"I'm fond of expensive and beautiful clothes," he said, "like satin, brocade and silk."

In 1996, the House of Yudashkin became the first Russian (associate) member of the prestigious Chambre Syndicate de la Haute Couture (Syndicate Chamber of High Fashion). …