Clothing in Action: Constructivism and Avant-Garde Fashion

“The material formation of the object is to be substituted for its aesthetic combination. The object is to be treated as a whole and thus will be of no discernible ‘style’ but simply a product of an industrial order like a car, an aeroplane and such like. Constructivism is a purely technical mastery and organisation of materials.”

An excerpt from the Constructivist Manifesto, published in Lef Magazine, 1923.

For constructivists, art should directly reflect the modern industrial world. The philosophical and artistic movement rejected autonomous art in favor of art as a practice for social purposes and revolutionary ideals. The ripple effects of constructivism greatly affected modern art movements of the 20th century. Originating in Russia, this architectural and artistic philosophy influenced painting, sculpture, graphic/industrial design, theatre, film, dance, and fashion.

In 1921, the first Working Group of Constructivists was formed by Aleksei Gan, Alexander Rodchenko, and Varvara Stepanova. The realm of textile design and production was infiltrated by women artists like Stepanova, Liubov Popova, and Vera Mukhina.

Russian Constructivist clothing represented the destabilization of the oppressive, elite aesthetics of the past and, instead, reflected utilitarian functionality and production. Gender and class distinctions gave way to functional, geometric clothing. The aim was to free the body, emphasizing clothing’s functional rather than decorative qualities.

Stepanova deeply believed clothing must be looked at in action. Unlike the aristocratic clothing that she felt sacrificed physical freedom for aesthetics, Stepanova dedicated herself to designing clothing for particular fields and occupational settings in such a way that the object’s construction evinced its function. In addition, she sought to develop convenient means of clothing production through simple designs and strategic, economic use of fabrics.

Translation: Home Dress made out of a headscarf.
Street wear costume for work.
‘Kaftan’ Dress made out of traditionally embroidered towels.
Summer Dress.
Coat made out of a military uniform.
School dress.

Illustration designs by Vera Mukhina.

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