Fabric and Clothing Design of Female Avant-garde Artists of Soviet Union

Avant-garde art was an important part of soviet society and it’s influence was noticeable in many aspects of everyday life. It’s aesthetic was prominent in furniture, dishes, and even clothing design.

During this time there was a peculiar group of Russian female artists, that nowadays are referred to as the Amazons of the Avant-Garde. Apart from their paintings thy have made an impact on cultural life by copious works in the sphere of design. Such women as Varvara Stepanova, Lyubov Popova, and Alexandra Exter, for example, stood on the forefront of fashion industry.

Revolution brought not only a different political system, but also a different worldview, which was also reflected by the innovative notions in clothing design. Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova took it upon themselves to create a new type of clothing that would correspond with the image of a new, modern person – “prozodezhda” – comfortable and adequate clothing for the working class. Those costumes had to be, first and foremost, functional. Artists wanted every piece to be practical and relevant in the new society that was quickly forming around them. With their design they strived to improve the life of every soviet man.

The idea itself developed in connection to the theatre of that time. Both of the artists worked on costume designs for the plays staged in Meyerhold Theatre, an innovative theatre of the soviet times that employed Vsevolod Meyerhold’s acting system of biomechanics. When working on a play “The Magnanimous Cuckold”, Popova created constructivist decor and clothing for the acting team in monotonous colours, using geometrical shapes. Stepanova was in charge of making costumes for “Tarelkin’s Death” by Aleksandr Vasilyevich Sukhovo-Kobylin. Her bold unisex designs relied on clean shapes and clear contrast of bright colours. Both of their projects were a revolution on it’s own, introducing concepts and looks that were not yet seen by the soviet public.

In 1924 these female artists began developing new prints for the First State Textile Printing Works, that was located in Moscow. During this time they have sketched various patterns that used soviet symbols in their design, thus creating clothing that was able to communicate ideas on it’s own. They have also produced many fabrics that were decorated with abstract geometric prints, that shared the aesthetic of contemporary abstract paintings. Their pieces show the influence of Cubism and Futurism, art movements that were popular and essential at that time. The basis of their design were simple shapes and rhythmical structure. They also employed various optical effects that contributed to the overall complicated, yet clear image.

Varvara Stepanova has also worked on a new type of sports clothing. It’s contrasting colours, genderless silhouette and simplicity were a completely new step in design for the people of that time.

Another amazon, who extensively contributed to clothing design was Alexandra Exter. In this sphere she is most famous for her theatre costumes.

Her vision was quite different form the one that her colleagues had. Exter didn’t walk away from the elegance and beauty of the female garments, which can be seen in her sketches for a play “Salome” and for a sci-fi film “Aelita”.  Futuristic, somewhat whimsical costumes became visual interpretations of character’s personalities and, in tandem with decorations, build a perfect surroundings for translating emotions to the audience. Even now they remain as captivating and fascinating to the viewer as they were before.

Exter was also in charge of creating a new uniform for the Red Army.

The works of those women were often published in the journal “Left Front of The Arts” or “LEF” for short, thus introducing their new ideas to the public and shaping their fashion tastes.

The innovative findings and ideas of the Amazons of the Avant-Garde inspire fashion designers even in modern times. Several famous foreign brands, for example Cerruti and Chanel, have paid attention to their work and used some of its’ elements in their collections.

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