At the end of 1950s a real sensation happened in Moscow: Christian Dior models came to visit the capital of the Soviet Union. Muscovites who wandered into GUM, the USSR’s premier department store, were treated to an extraordinary scene: a trio of willowy French models, dressed in vibrantly colored suits, greeting shoppers and posing for the photographers.
Under the directorship of Yves Saint Laurent, the new head of Dior, the Parisian brand held a five-day fashion show featuring 12 models, at the House of Culture’s “Wings of the Soviets.” The timing was key. 1959 was the year in which the Soviet authorities finally removed their ban on fashion shows, and also ended the practice of persecuting citizens who, they believed, dressed inappropriately for Communism.
The world of Soviet fashion would not be exempt from “Khrushchev’s Thaw,” as the government brokered person-to-person exchanges with Western design houses to help revitalize the Soviet fashion industry, and French couturiers like Dior were especially coveted as guests.
As a part of the show, to allow commoners to have a look at the models in their beautiful outfits, the organizers arranged a walk through the center of Moscow.
They visited Red Square, local markets, adjacent streets, and went to an area that was the center of Soviet fashion, a key spot you had to visit while in Moscow. 3 out of 12 models took part in the walk, and Mr. Howard Sochurek (official photographer of the whole Dior event) was with them, ready to record all the amazing moments of the clashing cultures and fashions.
As Svetlana Smetanina of ‘Moscow News Weekly’ informed: “After the Dior fashion show, ‘Pravda Daily’ wrote that some of the styles were too open and short; therefore, they would not look good on women who are stout and short in stature.”
It was evidently taken for granted that the majority of Soviet women were stout and not tall. One of the Soviet magazines of those days described narrow skirts and spike-heeled shoes as: “Bourgeois fashion makers come up with such styles that a woman has difficulty walking and must wrap herself around her man.”
Djurdja Bartlett, fashion historian and researcher with the London College of Fashion, has a non-standard explanation for the Soviet system’s strong aversion to European fashion. According to him, the shifting fashion trends unwittingly personified the times; it posed a threat to the system, which valued stability above all.
(Photo credit: Howard Sochurek / The LIFE Picture Collection).