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Fashion: Couture for the Comrades

2 minute read
Nancy Traver/Moscow

Katya Mikhulskaya giggles as she shows off her outfit — a red-and-gold- braid ed army jacket paired with a frilly white lace skirt — then coquettishly pulls up her hem to reveal black knee-high jackboots. Mikhulskaya, 23, developed her theory of fashion from years of riding the Moscow metro, where she saw women wearing a tasteless hodgepodge because the state-controlled fashion industry had made it impossible for them to put together well-coordinated wardrobes. “When it comes to fashion in Moscow,” she says, “a sense of humor is especially important.” Her fellow designer, Katya Fillipova, 29, pokes fun at Soviet icons; her creations include a portrait of Lenin fastened to a rhinestone cross and sewn onto the jacket of a border guard.

Mikhulskaya and Fillipova are emerging leaders in the avant-garde underworld of Soviet fashion design. They labor over sewing machines in cramped apartments shared by husbands and children; every drawer is crammed with fabric, zippers and buttons scrounged up in state stores and weekend flea markets. Thanks to their sardonic use of hallowed Soviet symbols, the two women cannot be members of the Society of Soviet Designers, and their styles are not bought by Dom Modeli, the state fashion center.

Nonetheless, Fillipova and Mikhulskaya sell their designs (from 100 rubles for a simple jacket to 1,000 rubles for a full suit) to a small group of relatively prosperous rock musicians, artists and filmmakers. With the aid of newly relaxed travel restrictions, the two are hoping to take their creations to New York City this fall. Who knows? If the hammer-and-sickle designs become popular enough in the West, they may wind up as eagerly sought after items in a place that already covets such Western garb as T-shirts and dungarees: the Soviet Union.

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