Fashion and the Cold War

14.09.2012–20.01.2013
The Great Hall

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The exhibition examines fashion and related phenomena in Estonia from the 1950s to the 1970s, providing a captivating insight into the life of Soviet Estonian women and the dialogue with Western fashion. A book will be published, and creative and educational programmes for the public will be organised in connection with the exhibition.

Fashion and the Cold War combines politics with fashion and, among other things, describes the developments and aspirations of Soviet fashion, based on the example of the fashion designers at the Tallinn Fashion House and Siluett fashion magazine. The exhibition strives to reveal the dual role played by Soviet fashion: mediating the West to the East and presenting the East to the West.

“In the East-West face-off, the intimate nature of fashion produced surprising results – fashion can be considered to be the most successful border crosser of the Cold War,” said Eha Komissarov, the exhibition curator. “All great wars change clothing habits and reform fashion. The Cold War, which lasted for fifty years, was very closely related to fashion because, along with the arms race, a relentless economic battle was fought between the West and the East. The systems made the greatest efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to improve their images by increasing the living standards of their countries and people.”

Estonia was the most westerly and Western-minded republic of the Soviet Union, which was cut off from the rest of the world by the Iron Curtain. Similarly to culture, the central focus of the clothing culture was being up-to-date with the latest international developments. For instance, the Tallinn Fashion House was established in 1957 in order, along with other similar fashion houses, to mould the appearance of the Soviet people and surpass the West.

With the help of the Estonian History Museum and private collections, the exhibition includes designer fashions and examples of the clothing traditions of the period. The fashion designs and photos originate primarily from the Tallinn City Archives, where the archives of the Tallinn Fashion House and Siluett are stored. A fascinating insight into the period is provided by documentary films from the Russian Documentary Film and Photo Archive, the U.S. National Archives, the Estonian Public Broadcasting and Estonian Film Archives, as well as photo reportage from the Pilt ja Sõna magazine published at that time, and Boris Mäemets’s photos from the collection of the ETK Cooperative Commerce Museum. The exhibition also includes more intimate topics, such as “The Floral Dress” and the influence of space travel on fashion. The famous American exhibition in 1959, which took place in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park, is also covered.

In the exhibition, the achievements of Western haute couture in the 1950s and 1960s are mediated by the Costume and Lace Museum in Brussels and the Finnish top model Carita Järvinen, who worked as a model at the Paris fashion houses, thereby introducing the creations of the Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Courrèges, Nina Ricci and the other famous fashion houses from the 1950s to the 1970s to Estonian museum visitors.

Sixty contributions made to the project “My Most Beloved Dress” are exhibited electronically. In the course of the project, people throughout Estonia sent in pictures and stories about their favourite dresses from this period.

The exhibition is accompanied by a voluminous book, which includes a large amount of pictorial material and interesting observations and important conclusions about the relationships and contexts of the Cold War era. The latter includes politics, economics, fashion and the related institutions and journalism, as well as the role of women, the kitchen and home, youth and subcultures.

The exhibition curators and book compilers are Eha Komissarov and Berit Teeäär. The exhibition designers are Siiri Vallner and Indrek Peil; Tuuli Aule is the book designer and designer of the exhibition’s graphic texts. OÜ Stagecraft provided assistance for the execution of the exhibition design solution.

The Art Museum of Estonia thanks the following exhibition sponsors for their cooperation: the Estonian Ministry of Culture, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Baltika Group, including Ivo Nikkolo, the Tallinna Kaubamaja, LAWIN, MOOD magazine, the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn and the BLRT Group, Liviko, Estonian Public Broadcasting.

Fashion and the Cold War will be open at the Kumu Art Museum until 20 January 2013.