Dr Djurdja Bartlett, University of the Arts London


This research identifies the processes of mutual reflections, appropriations, hybridisations, reciprocal fascinations and misunderstandings, which characterised the translations between East European and Russian fashion, and its western counterpart throughout the 20th century to the present day. From that historical and comparative analysis, this research focuses on previously unrecorded, dress-mediated discourse between East Europe and the West, which adjusted to, but also influenced, social, political, cultural and aesthetic movements.


This research addresses the dynamics of the relationship between East European and western fashion in the context of confrontations between modernist and anti-modernist tendencies in dress, changes in gender representations and consumer practices. The differences and similarities between dress practices in East and West, as well as between East European countries themselves, provide a more complete picture of fashion in general, but also identify the types of modernity associated with the different social, political and cultural frameworks, from capitalist to socialist and post-socialist society.


Fashion is one of the most important expressions of modernity in the West, but this research also interrogates the role of fashion in the struggles of the East European countries to be national and modern, vernacular and cosmopolitan. By reversing the narrative which privileged western fashion, this research advances the existing knowledge of the relationship between East European and Western fashion through original Russian and East European archival documents and images. New or rarely seen materials from western sources, such as the archives of the leading fashion houses will be used to demonstrate their activities in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as continuing East European influences on their collections.


In addition to the analysis of dress and artefacts from each country, this research will interrogate the national media in Eastern Europe and the West, from fashion and women’s magazines to illustrated monthlies and weeklies, art and applied journals, daily newspapers, and documentary and feature films. The printed media and film were crucial both in the promotion of modernity, its urban and cosmopolitan rituals, including fashion, and its visual language in the West. The media also played a critical role in the transmission of these phenomena into Eastern Europe. These societies embraced western modernity and developed their own rituals in the inter-war period, only to be made to create their own versions of modernity and fashion during the socialist period.


From the beginning of the 20th century, new, modernity-related rituals facilitated the advance of fashion from the upper classes to the lower middle and urban working class women of cities such as Berlin, Budapest, London, Moscow, Paris, Prague, St Petersburg, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb. This research will reveal the democratisation of fashion as part of the new mass culture and a marker of the social stratification taking place in Western and Eastern Europe. It therefore offers an analysis of history based on both national difference and the class divide.


Today’s fashion in Eastern Europe and Russia is contextualised within the significant political, economic and social changes brought about by the collapse of socialism and the globalisation of information and commerce. New markets, consumerist practices, modes of production and imagery all inform the changed relationship between Eastern Europe and the West. Through its textual and visual evidence this research points towards both the connections and the lost meanings in sartorial translations between East and West, thus significantly contributing towards the better understanding of the similarities, as well as the historical and current differences within a common European history.


Dr Djurdja Bartlett

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