Constructing a Soviet Narrative: Jean Paul Gaultier’s Russian Constructivist Collection, 1986
Mansfield College, Oxford University, September 5-7, 2016
Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues
As the Soviet Union drew its last breaths, major design houses created collections that included garments and accessories that drew upon its impending collapse. The year 1986 was particularly significant, as the Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s complementary policies, glasnost and perestroika, found their place on some of fashion’s greatest runways. Although houses such as Thierry Mugler and Yves Saint Laurent sent Soviet-inspired pieces marching down their Fall/Winter 1986 runways, the fashion world’s enfant terrible, Jean Paul Gaultier’s, collection was arguably the most expressive. Gaultier brushed past the overt Soviet militarism that his colleagues had drawn upon, and instead, focused on the early period in the union’s history during which the Russian Constructivist art movement formed and thrived. With a stage and runway set to underscore the terminology and philosophy of the Constructivists, Gaultier presented his collection as an homage to, and dialogue with, some of the Soviet Union’s most devoted, politically-charged, and prolific artists. In his collection, Gaultier utilized many of the
techniques and motifs from the Constructivists’ body of work. He captured the essence of the Russian Constructivist aesthetic by integrating Cyrillic letters and numbers in block type, linear and geometric forms, and photomontage, in a color scheme that was analogous to, and nearly duplicated that of his Soviet counterparts. Gaultier delved into the precarious social and political climate of the Soviet Union, drawing numerous connections between his own work and that of
the Constructivists, and the USSR’s policies. Reverberations of this collection continue to be felt nearly three decades after its debut: it was featured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Russia’s fifteenth anniversary issue, a monumental achievement for a magazine that was founded only after the USSR had collapsed. Undoubtedly monumental, Gaultier’s Russian Constructivist collection has a longstanding legacy that underscores its importance in fashion and Soviet history.