Sunday, January 17, 2010

Amsterdam: The Russian bespoke connection

If you're in Amsterdam this month, don't miss the exhibition "At the Russian Court: Palace and Protocol in the 19th Century" at the Hermitage Amsterdam museum (ends January 31). This inaugural exhibition of the museum recreates the sumptuous materiality of courtly life in 19th century tsarist Russia. For the sartorially inclined, there's an extensive display of courtly and military uniforms and women's dresses and gowns, some of which are astonishing in their construction and handwork.

Hermitage Amsterdam

For male attire, here are some highlights of the exhibition:
  • Knight of the Order of the Garter ceremonial attire: Consisting of a blue velvet cape made for Tsar Alexander I by the ceremonial dress tailor Ede & Ravenscroft circa 1800-1810 (specifically by William Webb and A. Ede). On their website, E & R describes the Order of the Garter ceremonial robe as a "deep blue silk velvet lined with white silk taffeta, a hand embroidered gold badge on the left breast displays the cross of St. George, encircled by the motto: 'Honi soit qui mal y pense'". Amazingly, the design appears to have remain unchanged for more than two centuries.
  • Red frockcoat (c. 1800-1810): This is a somewhat frayed 5x5 double breasted coat but whose buttonholes show pure handmade goodness. This is for those readers who live for handwork!
Additionally, I saw kaftans, uniforms for officers and generals, ceremonial uniforms for senators, chamberlains, stewards, etc. On the main floor were court and ceremonial uniforms featuring 6 button double breasted coats and 8 button (!) single breasted coats paired with narrow trousers (or tailcoats with breeches). To the modern eye, the number of buttons may seem a bit much. However, what is considered "classic" men's style in any period is frequently not transferrable. So what is classic in one age is almost never imagined to be classic in another. An interesting topic but for fodder for another post.

If you were in London last year, you may recall seeing a similar exhibition "Magnificence of the Tsars" at the Victoria & Albert Museum. That exhibition focused more specifically on courtly dress but both feature exceptional examples of handwork, embroidery, braiding and lacework that may never be reproduced again.

Additional links
- Photos of the Magnificence of the Tsars exhibition
- Christine Ruane, The Empire's New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917
- Textile Museum in Tilburg

Additional videos
- Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (1896)


- Magnificence of the Tsars video walkthrough

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