By Anna Richardson
In craftsmanship, the endorsement ‘By appointment to the Russian Imperial Court’ was a distinction without equal. The Tsars’ opulence and luxury was legendary, and when it came to showing off status and statecraft, imperial ceremonial dress spoke volumes. This magnificence is on show in a new exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, in more than 40 ensembles from the Moscow Kremlin Museums, which span two centuries, from Peter II’s capsule wardrobe in the early 18th century to the last emperor in 1917. But where other costume collections at the V&A focus on fashion, the ceremonial men’s dress and uniforms demonstrate the importance of colour, cut and symbolism on a different level. ‘The colours, such as the dark green and red with gold embroidery, represent the Russian regiment, and every detail relates to Russian imperial messages,’ says Lesley Miller, V&A senior curator of textiles. The double-headed imperial eagle, for example, recurs in subtly different guises. It might clutch a thunderbolt in times of war, or appear more Prussian in a nod to the in-laws in times of peace. Other symbols denote military orders or imperial monograms, early logos, if you like, which would be instantly recognisable to Russians of the period. But it is the craftsmanship that is especially eloquent/ from the 18th century patterned silk and embroidery, all flowery and baroque, to the bold, yet subtle gold-on-red in military uniforms, its quality will speak of Russian imperial artisans for centuries to come.
Magnificence of the Tsars: Ceremonial Men’s Dress of the Russian Imperial Court, 1721-1917 is at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, until 29 March