Soviet and Russian fashion icon Slava Zaitsev dead at 85

By Lidia Kelly

(Reuters) -Vyacheslav “Slava” Zaitsev, the couturier behind world-famous Soviet fashion that was often adorned with colourful Russian folkloric motifs, died on Sunday at age 85.


Born into a working-class family in 1938, Zaitsev’s first international recognition came in 1963 when the French Paris Match magazine wrote about his collection of overalls for female workers, according to a note posted on the website of his fashion house.

The bright, flowery jackets and skirts of the collection were rejected by the Experimental Clothing Factory for which Zaitsev worked, the RIA news agency reported.

The French press nicknamed him “Red Dior” in the 1960s.

In 1965, he began working as the artistic director of the experimental All-Union House of Fashion Models in Moscow, and some of his designs, which often implemented flowery traditional Russian patterns, were displayed in the West.

In 1969, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted a show of women’s dresses based on sketches by Zaitsev, among others. After the show, Zaitsev received offers to open stores in the West, which the Soviet authorities rejected.

In 1979, Zaitsev left the All-Union House of Models for a small atelier, which by 1982 he had turned into the Slava Zaitsev Moscow Fashion House, becoming the first Soviet designer allowed to label his clothing.

Among Zaitsev’s Russian clients were music stars, actors, socialites and politicians.


Russians on Monday paid tribute to him as a “pioneer” who helped reshape the previously drab image of Soviet clothing.

“He was called a Soviet Pierre Cardin. For his style, probably. For his taste and his sensitivity. We remember full well what Soviet fashion was (before)… But he was a pioneer, he had style and taste,” said Moscow resident Bakhit, who did not give his last name.

The patronage of Raisa Gorbacheva, the wife of the last Soviet Union leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, elevated Zaitsev’s international fame in the 1980s.

He also counted the former wife of President Vladimir Putin, Lyudmila, as his client.

“I was incredibly lucky that at the beginning of my conscious life I decided, thank God, what to strive for, who I should be,” Zaitsev wrote in a note on his website.

“Thank God, I found the meaning of life in search of Harmony and Perfection through means of the Highest art of clothing, art of painting and graphics, photography … in life, poetry.”

(Reporting by Reuters in Moscow and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Gareth Jones)