Top secret: where the elite of the USSR dressed

We tell you about all the secret places where the cream of Soviet society could find the most desirable and fashionable outfits available only to the privileged strata.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Ballerinas Maya Plisetskaya and Natalia Bessmertnova; models in fur coats by fashion designer Irina Krutikova as part of the Soviet Chic project

There have always been clothes in the Union, but it is since the 1960s that the isolation of the USSR from the world of Western fashion begins to inexorably decrease. The VI World Youth Festival in Moscow in 1957, the I Moscow International Film Festival in 1959 and athletes, musicians, dancers and the diplomatic elite traveling abroad become new fashion stars, and the ideology of a classless society is undermined by fashion. The emergence of a solvent “middle class” and the elite created a demand for privileged service around them. And they, of course, wanted to dress in the first fashion. Fashion analyst Rosemary Thurman told us about all the secret places where the cream of the USSR society could find especially desirable novelties.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Raisa Gorbacheva, 1986

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Maya Plisetskaya, 1970

Seamstresses and costumers

Among the favorite masters of perestroika was Nina Khalatova, a Bolshoi ballerina, and in her spare time — a seamstress and milliner, whom Maya Plisetskaya loved very much. On stage, Khalatova achieved almost nothing, but she advanced in the costume field, cut professionally, always came up with something like that — for proud actresses. It was said that Khalatova’s mother was a seamstress and taught her daughter this craft. Hats were ordered from Raisa Kapustyanskaya, whose services were used by many Moscow artists. The atelier of the Literary Fund and the House of Models on Kuznetsky Most enjoyed incredible popularity, for whose benefit the great experimenter Vyacheslav Zaitsev also worked. Raisa Gorbacheva, by the way, was the first lady and not only literally, but also figuratively – a crazy fashionista who corresponded to her status 100% and externally, was the main client of the House of Models. Her personal fashion designer was designer Tamara Makeeva.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Vyacheslav Zaitsev in the House of Models, 1982

The fact that the inhabitants of the countries of the socialist camp sewed dresses themselves or used the services of private dressmakers did not cancel their desire to possess Western-made clothes and accessories. On the contrary, European and American fashion products — diverse, stylish, relevant and high-quality – had an exceptional appeal in the eyes of consumers, especially against the background of poorly manufactured and functional-oriented aesthetics of domestic products.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Designers I. Belan, S. Petrakova, V. Kobeikina, E. Velichko, M. Chichenkova, N. Svetova, L. Shokhina

Another important part of the “Soviet Chic” project was the production of furs and fashion designer Irina Krutikova, who was called the “queen of Russian fur” around the world. Soyuzpushnina was integrated into the currency trading system in Berezka and other stores of the Ministry of Maritime Transport, Torgmortrans, where trade was carried out by special checks. Well, the third floor of GUM was considered the most inaccessible for an ordinary citizen. The prices in these stores were unthinkable and in foreign currency rubles.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

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“Birch”

In Moscow, there was a network of thrift stores, popularly known as “lump”, which, along with second-hand items, also sold Western fashion products. However, “ordinary people” could also appear in these stores. The privileged minority had the opportunity to purchase imported clothes – from jeans to corduroy trousers and dresses – in a special network of stores “Berezka”. The trading network, which united all the stores in the USSR that accepted currency since 1961, was named “Berezka” in 1967. Stores with this name have become a real symbol of elite consumption in the Union. The prices there were higher than in regular stores, but it was still impossible to buy the desired thing for money: the goods were purchased exclusively by special checks / cards or certificates. There were also currency “Birches”, where payment was possible only in currency and to a very limited circle of diplomats and foreigners. Only diplomats, athletes and artists had direct access to the cherished counters. Sometimes – with doctors and engineers after business trips. In rare cases – from the intelligentsia, who received royalties for articles in foreign publications and translations of works into foreign languages. A simple Soviet person could not get into the “Birch Tree”.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

The network of elite consumer stores “Berezka”

The system of currency exchange certificates was introduced in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. They were issued to Soviet citizens who worked abroad as diplomats or technical specialists, as well as writers and scientists, the foreign currency that these people earned was withheld by the state, which exchanged it for the aforementioned checks.

Fartsa

No less notable players in the market of “Soviet luxury” were fartsovschiki. The farcists were mainly young people who had the opportunity to communicate closely with foreigners: guides, translators, taxi drivers. The total shortage, the Iron Curtain, and, of course, the irresistible desire to dress beautifully have become fertile ground for the development of this underground business.

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Crocodile magazine. The issue dedicated to the farcists in the USSR

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Poster “Selling soul”, USSR

In the book “Fashion and Geniuses. Costume biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Catherine II, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Oscar Wilde” Olga Khoroshilova told about the great Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya – the fashionista sacrificed a lot for the sake of elegant and very rare foreign things in the Soviet Union. I bought them from Klara, a farce dancer from God and from the party. The whole “thaw” Moscow knew her. The farcist Klara, without a past, without a family and a surname, appeared as if out of nowhere, found important patrons, spread a stormy trading activity. Patronesses, rich wives and relatives of party bosses, sold Clara what they got in a blessed foreign country or received as a gift from their spouses. The fartsovschitsa bargained with them angrily, brought down the price, bought things at a big discount. Then, of course, she wound up the price, offering “exclusive” from Paris, London, Shanghai to solvent clients “from the non-traveling”, among whom was Plisetskaya.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Fartsoviki in the USSR

Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya told how she bought outfits from an “entrepreneur” named Clara, and recalled her “impressive-sized bag that could fit a whole wardrobe”: “Things are always new, with rainbow labels and brands of overseas stores. Only the prices were not rosy — luxury items were fabulously expensive. But you don’t look like a rag. It is necessary to dress no worse than those who travel abroad. Everything I wore, I bought from Clara. At exorbitant prices. She wasn’t an altruist.”

She knew all of Clara’s tricks, she knew that she was cheating, cheating, that she sometimes sold second-hand, passing it off as “the freshest, only from a boutique.” But who else in Soviet Moscow, where they were imprisoned for farce, could get the coveted new bow dress from Dior, a skillful Patchett hat, an elegant Lanvin cape, a Cardin blouse, gloves, handbags, stiletto shoes, and underwear, because the body wanted so much pampered otherworldly comfort.

Особо секретно: где одевалась элита СССР

Shop “Wanda”, 1974

In the 1960s, stores began to open that sold goods from socialist countries. The first was the Polish “Wanda” and “Sofia”, “Leipzig” on Leninsky, “Budapest”, “Belgrade”, “Prague”, “Sofia”, “Polish Fashion” and several others. Clothes and cosmetics from the GDR, Poland and Yugoslavia were considered especially fashionable. The first to get access to the best things, of course, was the elite of the capital. The Yugoslav sheepskin coat and imported leather boots, for example, were considered a special chic and it was possible to buy it in the “Jadran” in a Warm Camp.

There were also those in the Union who could go abroad themselves and buy scarce clothes, for example, in Hungary, all the fashionistas went to the open market in Budapest, where they could buy contraband goods, ironically called Comecon Market – the name referring to the official trade agreement between the communist states. The trade was conducted publicly and openly.

Analyst of the modern fashion industry, business consultant and creator of the online fashion school How Fashion Works.

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