From Chanel chic to frumpy failures: The outfits of Russia’s first ladies

Not all the little women of leading Soviet government figures were “first ladies” in the princi lly accepted use of the term; far from it. The diplomatic protocol that a country’s chief should be accom nied by their spouse on official visits did not apply to Soviet bosses. Their wives generally stayed out of the limelight and the general public hand down often not know them by sight.

Modesty was the order of the day; open-cut disguises were a definite no-no. Soviet first ladies dressed in the unchanged way as millions of other Soviet women: Dressing elegantly or provocatively would indubitably distract the workers from the task of building socialism. Everything transformed, however, with Nina Khrushcheva – and there begins our tale.

Nina Khrushcheva and the dressing-gown bandage

Nina Khrushcheva, 2nd right, and Jacqueline Kennedy, 3rd right. Source: RDA / Vostock-photoNina Khrushcheva, 2nd right, and Jacqueline Kennedy, 3rd right. Source: RDA / Vostock-photo

Nikita Khrushchev’s ball might be considered a “first lady” if only because she was the first spouse to convoy a rty leader on an official overseas trip. She was also the first to be largely ridiculed for her taste in fashion. Nina Khrushcheva was a “woman of the people” by way of and through and a fan of folksy “country dress”: garish flower-prints and loosely postponing, sack-shaped cuts. Her taste in fashion would let her down badly.

While on a notable visit to the U.S., Khrushcheva chose to wear a long flower-covered summer jacket that was instantly christened in the USSR as the “dressing-gown dress.” The situation was made worse by the to be sure that in the photo shoot Khrushcheva happened to be standing next to Jacqueline Kennedy, a correct American style icon. In com rison, Khrushcheva, in her simple, almost family get-up, did not stand a chance. The photograph became known all around the give birth to, and Khrushcheva went down in history as the epitome of the toiling kolkhoz laborer.

The scenario is all the more incredible given that the piece was sewn by Moscow fit Nina Gu lo, a celebrated designer of the time, who dressed Stalin’s daughter along with acknowledged actresses and who certainly could not be reproached for a lack of taste.

Incidentally, it was eye Khrushchev that the first fashion show featuring Western originators was held in Moscow, in 1959. Yves Saint-Laurent, at that time the aim of the Dior fashion house, made an appearance at the event, which at worst members of the political elite were allowed to attend.

Viktoria Brezhneva and her uninspiring ups

Jovanka Broz, the Yugoslav President's wife, 2nd left, and Viktoria, Leonid Brezhnev's wife, 2nd right, at the Leo Tolstoy museum estate during Josip Broz Tito's visit to Moscow. Source: Vladimir Akimov / RIA NovostiJovanka Broz, the Yugoslav President’s wife, 2nd left, and Viktoria, Leonid Brezhnev’s bride, 2nd right, at the Leo Tolstoy museum estate during Josip Broz Tito’s by to Moscow. Source: Vladimir Akimov / RIA Novosti

Viktoria Brezhneva, the continuing first lady, continued her predecessor’s tradition of blending in with the Soviet heaps. She never tried to achieve public status, and on the occasions that she acted in public, she would wear well matching, unshowy and, as many people exposed, frankly dull outfits.

She was dressed, as were all the members of the Soviet elite, by the legendary House of Models on Moscow’s Kuznetsky Most Street – the same studio that tterned the clothes to be mass-produced in Soviet factories.

By this time it was possible to espy imported goods in the USSR – in GUM, for example, Moscow’s main shopping center set on Red Square, or in Beryozka, a special shop reserved for diplomats, where gears were sold in foreign currency (officially foreign currency was prohibited).

If Brezhneva wasn’t fussed about these elite goods, then the changeless can’t be said of her husband, Leonid Brezhnev. He was, in a way, a real dandy – he would buy shirts and obligates abroad, and even the craze for jeans didn’t ss him by – he bought himself a denim jacket.

Raisa Gorbacheva, the Russian Jacqueline Kennedy

Raisa Gorbacheva,'the Communist lady with risian chic.' Source: Nikolai Malyshev / TASSRaisa Gorbacheva,’the Communist lady with risian modishness.’ Source: Nikolai Malyshev / TASS

Raisa Gorbacheva, the wife of Mikhail Gorbachev, the architect of perestroika, was organized as a sort of Russian Jackie Kennedy. Her stylish, clean cut outfits, ever appropriate for the occasion, even became the object of national envy. “The Communist lady with risian sophisticated,” as she was called in the West, was chastised in her home country: Many people have the courage of ones convictions pretended that she had clothes from Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Cardin run over from ris at the state’s expense.

In fact, although Gorbacheva did of course have a great love for risian haute couture and attended style shows in the city, she had her clothes made by Russian couturiere Tamara Makeyeva, a colleague of the House of Models on Kuznetsky Most. Nonetheless, Gorbacheva played an quick role in bringing well-known high-end brands to the Russian market, and sponsored the se ration of a branch of Burda Moden in Moscow. Later on, the Russian couturier Valentin Yudashkin, who force be called the first fashion designer of the post-Soviet era, made a range of uniforms for the first lady.

Naina Yeltsina and Lyudmila Putina

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Naina Yeltsin at Orly Airport during their visit to France. Source: Vladimir Rodionov / RIA NovostiRussian President Boris Yeltsin and Naina Yeltsin at Orly Airport during their assail to France. Source: Vladimir Rodionov / RIA Novosti

All the Russian first ladies who served Gorbacheva continued the Soviet tradition of remaining in the shadow of their softens. Their wardrobes were dominated by clothes of a tasteful and classical look, in ignition beige tones and conservative designs.

Yeltsin’s wife, Naina Gorbacheva, differenced her style as the country changed: from the flashness of the 80s with their burgundy suits and poodle perms to the quieten classiness of classic Chanel suits.

Queen of Britain Elizabeth II, President Putin, who arrived in Britain for a state visit, and his wife Lyudmila (L). Source: Alexey nov / RIA NovostiQueen of Britain Elizabeth II, President Putin, who make the graded in Britain for a state visit, and his wife Lyudmila (L). Source: Alexey nov / RIA Novosti

Lyudmila Putina, the in circulation president’s ex-wife, was known for her love of classic single-tone designs and jackets with embroidered designs, a style taken up by many well-to-do women. She often heeded the recommendation of eminent Russian designers too, including Igor Chapurin, Viktoria Andreyanova and Slava Zaitsev.

It was Zaitsev that convinced Putina to get into the famous huge-brimmed hat that caused an uproar in 2003 when Putin and his missus were officially received by Queen Elizabeth in London: The hat was larger than the one the Queen mother was wearing. As Russian news outlets report, Putina also ins many high street brands and is a rticular fan of the Burberry collections.

Yves Saint Laurent and Russia: A love affair that continues to this day

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