Russian Dressing

Rich fabrics, fur accents bring Russian fairy tales, royalty and Faberge to mind.


The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Well, not the Russians exactly, but their clothes will be in stores through the fall and winter. Look for the trend to continue into summer.

Elements of Russian style - also called Russe - are everywhere this fall. Earlier, designer runways were filled with fur hats, trim military jackets, embroideries, voluminous skirts in flowery prints, boots, gold bangles and pendants.

Diane Von Furstenberg even named her fall 2005 collection "Winter Palace," after the former imperial residence in St. Petersburg. Cynthia Steffe declared she was inspired by her daughter's book of Russian fairy tales. Other designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs borrowed from Imperial Russia and Slavic peasantry, but less obviously. The influences were a major theme on many runways.

The style is theatrical and eclectic, to say the least. It pays tribute to Lara in Dr. Zhivago, Russian fairy tales, Romanov czarinas, Cossacks and folkloric peasants from the Russian steppes - sometimes all at once. Its mix-and-match quality keeps Russian-inspired clothing from looking too much like period costume.

David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, which analyzes fashion trends, calls it the winter version of the bohemian look, a style women loved this summer.

The Russian trend "looks so good it's already commercial," he says.

Fashion trends tend to overlap. When you have strong styles like the ethnic look and military fashion, then throw into the mix an interest in all things luxurious (metallic accents, embellishment, rich fabrics, regal colors and furs) - well, suddenly the fact that so many designers turned to Russia for inspiration this season doesn't seem so surprising.

Gregg Andrews, fashion director for Nordstrom's eastern region, has found that customers are responding to Russian-inspired clothing and accessories because these things have a sense of opulence.

"It's the whole Faberge thing," he says. (Faberge, the jeweler to the czar a century ago, was best known for the jeweled and enameled Easter eggs he created for European royalty.) These embellished and fur-accented clothes are often beautifully detailed and finely crafted - or look that way.

It's not just a matter of the style being fashion-forward, says Wolfe. "It's really reflecting what's happening in the global economy. The Russian consumer is now able to buy, and fashion follows the money."

Russe is clothing that all ages can wear, and is more interesting to mature women than some of fall's trends, such as the 1960s redux and cowboy chic. "The appeal to American women is that it's glamorous and feminine without being overtly sexy," Wolfe says. "It's not challenging."

Calling it Russe may be in part homage to Yves Saint Laurent's landmark haute Russian peasant collection in the 1970s. "It classes it up a bit," Wolfe says.

Russian-inspired clothing looked great on the runways, but does the look translate successfully to fashion that Baltimore women can wear?

So far, so good, says Mary Carroll Alderman, owner of Panache in Greenspring Station. To her, much of the beading and other embellishment seems "Faberge-ish" - creating a beautiful, soft and feminine effect. And fur accents are always popular. But, she adds: "Just a touch does it. This is a moderate town."

Andrea Kaplan, associate buyer for Octavia in Pikesville, says the folkloric styles now in the store for fall and winter are doing very well.

"Particularly for evening, women are definitely responding."

They like the fur accents, the rich embroidery, the regal gold threading, and the rich jewel tones like plum and burgundy.

But she warns customers to wear it one piece at a time. You can pair one ornate piece like an embellished jacket with jeans, for instance, for up-to-the-minute casual wear. "It can be too `costumey' if you wear it head to toe," Kaplan says.

Shari Hershon, senior vice president of design at Ann Taylor Loft, the less expensive, more casual branch of the specialty retailer, says the Loft holiday collection has lots of Russian-inspired items, mixing paisley with velvet and trimming with faux fur. There are even hats resembling Cossack hats.

"We always extract elements of a look like this to ensure our client feels fashionable and pulled together, without looking costumey," she says.

On the other hand, what's so wrong with a little costume drama at a holiday party? The good thing about the style is that its elements are so varied you could pair a trim little military jacket in velvet with a swingy paisley or floral print skirt, add some Cossack-inspired boots and gold bangle jewelry, and end up with a flattering ethnic eclectic outfit that can't really be labeled Romanov czarina or folkloric peasant. It just looks opulent, fashionable and fun.

"It's an easy look for someone who's not a fashionista to put together successfully," says Wolfe.



gilded trims

gold bangles


full skirts

bohemian paisley and floral patterns

velvet and other luxurious fabrics

cinched waists

long sleeves


jewel tones like ruby and emerald

fur trim and accents

fur trapper hats

Cossack coats

short, fitted military jackets

boots, of course

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