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And yet, as Djurdja Bartlett shows in this groundbreaking book, the socialist East had an intimate relationship with fashion. Bartlett outlines three phases in socialist fashion, and illustrates them with abundant images from magazines of the period: postrevolutionary utopian dress, official state-sanctioned socialist fashion, and samizdat-style everyday fashion. Utopian dress, ranging from the geometric abstraction of the constructivists under Bolshevism in the Soviet Union to the no-frills desexualized uniform of a factory worker in Czechoslovakia, reflected the revolutionary urge for a clean break with the past.
Everyday fashion, starting in the s, was an unofficial, do-it-yourself enterprise: Western fashions obtained through semiclandestine channels or sewn at home. The state tolerated the demand for Western fashion, promising the burgeoning middle class consumer goods in exchange for political loyalty. Bartlett traces the progress of socialist fashion in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, and Yugoslavia, drawing on state-sponsored socialist women's magazines, etiquette books, socialist manuals on dress, private archives, and her own interviews with designers, fashion editors, and other key figures.
Fashion, she suggests, with all its ephemerality and dynamism, was in perpetual conflict with the socialist regimes' fear of change and need for control. It was, to echo the famous first sentence from the Communist Manifesto , the spectre that haunted socialism until the end.
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Bowlt Responding to her primary question, 'Can fashion start from zero? Djurdja Bartlett's magisterial survey of fashion in the USSR and East European countries in the socialist period not only unearths a treasure trove of little known material, including some beautiful illustrations and interviews with designers who managed to operate within stringent state restrictions, but also reveals the reasons for the contradictory attitudes towards Western fashion found in these countries and their underlying ideologies.
A unique book about a little researched but very important subject.
Responding to her primary question, 'Can fashion start from zero? The breadth and depth of Bartlett's research is truly impressive, as is the theoretical sophistication of her analysis. This is an absolutely fascinating book that will appeal not only to scholars across the disciplines, but also to students and readers interested in the relationship between fashion and politics.
FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism by Djurdja Bartlett, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
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