1 November 2014 -
After the 1917 October Revolution, many Russian artists and craftsmen joined the Bolshevik regime and utilized their skills to work towards communism. Artists began experimenting with ways to visually form the new society, championing the incorporation of art into everyday life and a fusion of art and industry. Among these efforts, party members began devising new dress philosophies for mass-produced clothing that represented socialist values. While the Bolsheviks extolled the virtues of machines and technology, World War I and the subsequent civil war left Russia with massive economic obstacles that did not allow for industrialization on a significant scale. Many artistic experiments did not accommodate the current reality nor popular interest, and were left unrealized. However, not all programs were mere utopian conceits. Art in Everyday Life, a graphic how-to booklet published in 1925, is rare evidence of an effort to bypass economic limitations of the 1920s and engage directly with the people. This document provided home users with instructions to make their own Soviet objects using minimal technology, such as theatre sets, signs for street demonstrations, decorations for communal reading rooms, children's toys, and clothing. Each plate of the booklet features a pattern diagram, instructions, and a depiction of the finished product.
Designed by Nadezhda Lamanova; Illustrated by Vera Mukhina. A house dress from a headscarf, Tablet No. 6 in Iskusstvo v bytu [Art in Everyday Life], edited by Ia. A. Tugendkholʹd. Moscow, 1925. 13 x 21 1/4 in. Property of New York Public Library. Photograph by Alison Kowalski.
The clothing in Art in Everyday Life was designed by Nadezhda Lamanova, a high-end fashion designer in Moscow before the Revolution who turned to work for Soviet dress reform after 1917. My essay considered the six designs for women's wear, focusing on this specific response to the question of how Soviet citizens should dress, and furthermore, how Soviet citizens could dress. I explored the relationship between folk traditions, fashion, and modernism in devising a program of dress that satisfied Soviet ideals, and considered the role that the graphic style played in this formulation. Additionally, I evaluated the practicality of Lamanova's designs by examining the availability of the materials required to make the garments as well as the complexity and functionality of the flat patterns, informed by my practical knowledge of dressmaking.
While Lamanova was very involved in early Bolshevik efforts, her dress reform program has received little attention by scholars, except in limited cases when it has been discarded as an unrealistic plan. However, I argue that Lamanova's solution to the dilemma of Soviet dress as presented in Art in Everyday Life was moderate and practical. I reveal that Lamanova's dress fulfilled Bolshevik ideological requirements, considered the current and prospective economy, incorporated nationalist aspects that could give socialism a voice abroad, and satisfied the essential element of consumer demand. Rather than another visionary experiment that ended with a drawing or single model, Lamanova proposed a Soviet fashion that could potentially be brought out of utopia and into real life.