Fashion can be manufactured by the state, dictated by regional uniform. But in this sense, fashion is fragmented from its all-encompassing meaning. Its full power lies dormant, waiting, plotting for a time at which it can escape and overrule its oppressor. Fashion never really dies, it just changes form.
Wait! I learned this concept in physics! The law of the conservation of matter! Matter can be neither created or destroyed. It simply changes forms! Let’s just substitute matter with fashion:
Fashion can be neither created or destroyed. It simply changes forms.
In terms of constructing individual identity, design creativity, and haute couture fashion absolutely cannot exist with communism. Fashion does not belong to the state. Fashion seeks to create it’s own laws it simple cannot be controlled by a totalitarian regime. It instead belongs to a determined, uncontrollable few who’s visions ignite longing and the need to be beautifully dressed.
Former French Vogue editor Bettina Ballard put it so eloquently in her autobiography, In My Fashion:
The fashion world is no place for timid dedicated souls; it is a field for strong, determined egoists who have an innate desire to impose their wills on the world, wills of iron disguised in rustling silks and beautiful colors.
Let’s take a gander at Russian (then) and Cuba (now) and how their communist regimes attempt to control and regulate fashion:
Communist Russia opposed ostentatious displays of fashion. So what did they do to control women’s need for beauty? First, production of textiles and garments were controlled by the state. In all reality, there was no choice about what you were going to wear. The aim of communist fashion design was to eliminate differences in age, body type, and geographical location. The ideal design must be available for mass production. This aim was elucidated in Comrade Zamushkin of the Tretyakov Gallery lecture at the College of Applied Arts in Budapest. (Medvedev, 260)
Fashion’s aim, in communist Russia, was to level the playing field. Everyone would look the same. So wait, isn’t that a democratization of fashion?
The first communist fashion shows were held at factories to reach the target clientele: the proletariat. Workers often modeled the attire in these shows. Viewers sat at the same height as the models, stressing the idea of communist fashion as a key tool for social leveling. (Ibid)
A plus? The state mandated that the designers had to take audience feedback from each fashion show. This information would help the designers create pragmatic, functional clothing for the Russian women.
The minus? Well, the women were too scared to really voice their real opinions. They would simply be eliminated if they didn’t conform.
Christian Dior paid a visit to the Iron Curtain in the 1950s to do a haute couture photo shoot. Life Magazine covered the action. Judging by the expressions on their faces, I’ll bet the ladies went back to the designers wanting similar ensembles.
Clearly, everyone was paying attention to Dior’s fashion. My favorite photos? The two in which the Parisian models are walking the streets, oblivious to the strident glares.
Things have changed considerable in Russia now, and young designers are forging the way for a new style. My favorite? 22 year old Yelizaveta Pankratova. Check out her video:
Russian designers have a unique issue at hand: creating a unique identity, not something inspired by Western iconography of Stalinist Russia and finding a profitable channel to sell their clothing and distribute their brand.
Cuba’s fashion capital is Santa Clara, and is located right in the middle of the country. Exuberarte is a recent fashion event that debuts collections from the best Cuban designers. They even get a chance to sell their lines. (I think I sense capitalism sneaking into the picture.)
While there was not much I would have considered wearing on the site, I was impressed with the fact that there was a fashion show in Cuba. With a further search, I found a video someone posted of images from the show. In the video, I saw several interesting pieces that hadn’t appeared on the Exuberarte website. The show appeared rather successful, in some ways better than some shows put on in the States.
Deeper down the rabbit hole, I found 2 Cuban fashion designers, Guido Asenjo Puebla and Pavel Lopez Alonso, that are selling their collection on the web! There are some fabulous hand painted dresses I liked.
You can contact them directly for purchase inquiries at their site:
My favorite Cuban designer? Dionisio Abad Jarrosay Ruiz. Equally as charming as Yelizaveta Pankratova, Ruiz teaches design students while working on his clothing line. Inspired by art, sculpture, and Cuban architecture, Ruiz’s clothes have an exciting geometry that was lacking in the aforementioned shows in Santa Clara. Watch his interview here:
Ruiz also designes plastic arts – or accessories, that compliment each piece.
It’s like an eco-chic 70’s modern glam.
Cubans decidedly have an entrepreneurial spirit. They seem to not let communism get in their way of designing fashion. Just don’t tell Fidel that.