Russian fashion designer Viacheslav “Slava” Zaitsev, nicknamed the “Soviet Christian Dior”, has died at the age of 85, his fashion house told AFP on Sunday.
Confirming Russian media reports, a spokeswoman added that when Zaitsev celebrated his birthday in March with friends, “you could already see that he was very, very, weak.”
“Fashion designer Viacheslav Zaitsev has passed away,” Russian public broadcaster Perviy Kanal reported, paying tribute to a man who “dictated Soviet and Russian fashion for decades, an innovator who was not afraid of daring experiments.”
“It’s a great loss for the international fashion world,” Ria Novosti news agency quoted Russian designer Sergei Zverev as saying.
Russia’s most famous fashion designer, Zaitsev achieved worldwide success with bright dresses adorned with the floral patterns found on traditional Russian shawls.
From a modest childhood in Ivanovo, a city of 400,000 inhabitants northeast of the capital, his career took him to the catwalks of Paris, New York and Tokyo.
The French press of the 1960s nicknamed him the “Soviet Christian Dior”.
Closely watched by the KGB because of his contacts with Western designers and his flamboyant character, Zaitsev was initially refused permission to leave the Soviet Union and his first collections were exhibited abroad without him.
In 1962, Zaitsev’s first clothing collection – a uniform for female workers that featured skirts with the floral patterns of traditional Russian shawls and multicolored boots – was rejected by Soviet authorities.
“The colors were too bright and contrasted with the grayness of Soviet everyday life, where an individual should not differ from the rest of society,” Zaitsev said in a 2018 AFP interview.
But the collection nonetheless attracted international attention. In 1963, the French magazine Paris Match became the first Western media to describe Zaitsev as a pioneer of Soviet fashion.
– Famous customers –
Born into a poor family with a mother who worked as a housekeeper, he was initially barred from attending a top university because his father, taken prisoner by the Nazis during World War II, had, as other former prisoners of war, labeled “enemy of the people” and sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp.
“When I was a child, my mother taught me embroidery so I wouldn’t wander the streets aimlessly,” he told AFP.
“In the evening, I picked flowers with girls on Lenin Avenue to draw them and recreate them in embroidery. That’s how I started my adventure in art.”
He studied at a vocational college until he was 18, then went to the unglamorous Moscow Textile Institute.
“During my studies, I lived with a family whose children I took care of. The apartment was tiny and I slept on the floor under the table,” he recalls.
Later in life, between 2007 and 2009, he hosted a popular TV show called “The Verdict of Fashion”, in which stylists dressed contestants in the latest street looks.
He counted several Russian movie stars, singers and President Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife Lyudmila among his clients.
Read all the latest news here
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)