MOSCOW A sweeping new Moscow fashion exhibit illustrates the evolution of Soviet couture behind the Iron Curtain from the post World War One era to Perestroika.
"Fashion behind the Iron Curtain" at the 16th-century Tsaritsyno estate on Moscow's outskirts spans seven decades of female coquetry, describing how Soviet women made do with silk night gowns for theatre, acquired designer items and scrounged for fabric to satisfy a hunger for style in spite of shortages.
The retrospective offers glimpses of the sophisticated, Western-inspired dress of the Communist-era elite.
Elegant crepe-de-Chine dresses, furs, evening gloves, hats and designer heels worn by famous ballerinas, actresses and other personalities draw an arc through history displaying over 1,000 looks from 1920s to 1990s.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's daughter Galina shocked her peers with a risqué floral mini dress, while ballerina Galina Ulanova wore Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo pumps, inaccessible to most at the height of the Cold War.
Visitors have flocked to the exhibit open through mid-June to see other looks, such as the sexy red strapless dress that earned Soviet actress Klara Luchko the nickname the "Red Bomb" at the 1962 Cannes film festival.
Fashion is a rare window into history that speaks to the modern-day, style-conscious public, exhibit curator Irina Korotkikh said.
"The main purpose is to show to the young and those who lived under the USSR that fashion did exist," she told Reuters.
"Soviet women were elegant in spite of the economic and political situation," she said.
Faced with scarcity under the planned Soviet economy, Korotkikh said many women queued - sometimes overnight - for prized bits of fabric and patterns to sew their own dresses.
"I love the fashion of those years because there were no puffy down jackets, there were beautiful dresses," said museum visitor Yelena Yeliseyeva, 60, a retired aeronautical engineer.
"Fashion existed in the Soviet Union and it was very beautiful," she said.
Relatively new to local museums, fashion exhibits have rapidly become popular with the public. Visitors came in record numbers to see Christian Dior dresses at the Pushkin museum and designs by revolutionary French couturier Paul Poiret at the Kremlin Museums last year.
(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Paul Casciato)