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The Art of Russian Popular Dress

Magic and Wonder at the Pierre Berge/Yves Saint Laurent Fondation Exhibit

ARTIFICE writing for VINGT Paris
Russianfolk The Fondation Pierre Berge - Yves Saint Laurent exhibit on Russian Dress is filled with wonderful details, in a carefully designed space complete with lighting, and scenic elements which evoke the idealized world of the Russian Peasant. I was taken in by the sheer splendor of this beautiful exhibit space: Sheaves of wheat decorated the room, patterns of light were on the walls and the floors were covered with wooden floorboards which felt different under your feet. Music played and a large grouping of white figures dressed in full costume stood silently, as if a performance was about to begin.

The archive of Russian costumes were lovingly assembled by Yves Saint Laurent, an avid collector of all things Russian during his lifetime. He even built a Russian summer home, a “Dacha”, on his property at Normandie. A replica was recreated as part of the exhibition space and cleverly divided the rooms. I was prepared for a series of costumes that were simple in character: regional, homespun, and evocative of the typical Russian peasant that populates a Chekov play. Some of those costumes there, were showing homespun details, embroidery and fabrics mostly red in color. 

The gorgeous fabrics, many of them metallic brocades, embroideries, soutache trims and gilded laces which adorned each costume, were exquisite and otherworldly. It was glamour and simplicity, all in one beautiful moment. But then, that was what Yves wanted us to see and appreciate: the magic and wonder of the surface details, trims, layers, shapes of sleeves, and their silhouettes. 

While I was aware of the many cultural differences in the vast Russian landscape, the exhibit showed me how each costume had its own origins in the regions of Russia's unique in character and style. Marking the stages of life, these costumes were worn for weddings, celebrations, coming of age, and other local festivals. Period photographs, around the exhibit, depicted the many women who wore these unique garments. This helped the viewer to connect to a human element. These women stared out hopefully from each picture that marked the important events in their lives. 

A few of Yves’ own designs from his famous “Collection Russe” were placed in the Exhibit, so you could begin to understand his fascination for this culture and how it was expressed in his collections. In this exhibit, we begin to see, understand, and be inspired by his unique vision, and to see how these archives were important to his design process. The “Bohemian Russian Peasant” look is now a fashion classic, and it all began in this collection. 

NOTE: This exhibit will close in the next week, and the clothes will be carefully filed away into the YSL archives afterwards. 
The Foundation Exhibition space is located at 5 avenue Marceau, near the Ave Montaigne shopping district . 

Photos: Top: http://www.modemonline.com. Middle: http://thegreatexposition.com/. Bottom: www.metmuseum.org

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    Copyright © Susie Hollands.