Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't know how lucky you are

To be back in the U.S.S.R., boy:
...young and trendy Muscovites are in the throes of nostalgia for the staples of Soviet childhoods, relics of a time when the U.S.S.R. was at the height of superpower status.

That may explain why one of the most popular fashion designers this fall is Denis Simachev, who is selling overcoats fastened with hammer-and-sickle buttons, gold jewelry minted to look like Soviet kopecks and shirts festooned with the Soviet coat of arms, complete with embroidered ears of wheat.

"People in their 30s see these kinds of symbols as reminders of happy memories, like going to pioneer camp where they lived together, ate breakfast together and played sports," said Simachev, 33, who wears his hair in a Samurai-style ponytail. He insists he is no Communist — for one thing, his overcoats sell for about $2,100 and his T-shirts for about $600. His boutique is sandwiched between Herm├Ęs and Burberry stores on a pedestrian lane, Stoleshnikov, that is one of the capital's most expensive shopping streets.

Simachev first attracted notice with a collection of retro Olympic tracksuits emblazoned with CCCP, the Cyrillic initials for the U.S.S.R., and T-shirts printed with the likeness of President Vladimir V. Putin, which served as a wink at the cult of personality forming around the leader.

....After more than a decade of Westernization, in which international brands have flooded the Russian market and the Russian elite have taken to wearing designers from Valentino to Louis Vuitton, a "Back to the U.S.S.R." movement among consumers seems a logical step, some social observers here say.

"At first, the people of my generation wanted to try those things that our parents could not, but now that we have seen everywhere, we are coming back to our roots," said Evelina Khromtchenko, the editor in chief of the Russian edition of L'Officiel, a French fashion magazine.

Simachev has developed a swaggering fashion lexicon typified in his men's wear by fur hats, fur boots, jackets with muscular shoulders and slim-hipped, low-slung trousers. "We are from Russia, from the former Soviet Union," he said. "It's what I know about, it's what inspires me, and now, after years of Russians trying to live a Western lifestyle and forget they are Russian, other people are getting it."

Unlike the Americana of Ralph Lauren, with his easeful style born of the Ivy League, Simachev's evocation of motherland style often provocatively incorporates jingoistic elements. In the past four years, he has designed collections inspired by the war in Chechnya, the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Soviet Navy and, this season, Moscow criminal gangs of the 1990s.

....Russians more steeped in Soviet history say they are appalled at the merchandising of the symbols of totalitarianism. "Personally, I would never wear something by Denis Simachev because, for me, those symbols mean Stalinist terror, Communism, a KGB spy system and the cold war," said Alexandre Vassiliev, a fashion historian who has published 14 books here. "I disapprove completely."

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