As with many of our posts, the subject of this one started with one topic but ended with a completely different topic. Initially, we came across some pictures of a ballgown that had been designed in the early 1900s for the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, consort of the Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. Then, we noted that the designer was a one Nadezhda Lamanova. What was interesting here was that it was both a designer that was unknown to us and even more striking was that she was female. While almost all of the labor force making Haute Couture dresses were female, it was rare that the designer was female, at least before the 1920s.
Nadezhda Lamanova was born on December 14, 1861 in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia and died in Moscow on October 15, 1941 at the age of 79. Due to her parents’ death at an early age, in 1877 she underwent training as a seamstress at the Moscow School of Sewing. Two years later, she went to work for a fashion house. In 1885, she opened her own dressmaking shop in Moscow and successfully built up her business; until it had become the most popular dressmaking establishment in Moscow. At some point (the translation is unclear), she traveled to Paris and met up with Paul Poiret (hopefully we can find out more about this in the future). Eventually, her work came to the attention to the Imperial Court and she was designated as “Supplier of the Court of Her Imperial Majesty” with her designs being worn by the ladies of the Court and the Empress herself. Finally, starting around 1901, Lamanova also designed costumes for theatrical productions.1Unfortunately, there’s not a lot about her in English so we’ve gleaned some of the basic biographical details from a variety of sources.
However, it’s after the Russian Revolution where Lamanova’s career became even more interesting. Arrested in 1919 by the Bolshevik Government (having been an officially designated designer for the Imperial Court could easily have been her death warrant), she was freed by the intervention of the writer Maxim Gorky after spending about 2 1/2 months in prison. Afterwards, she focused on designing theatrical costumes (presumably rehabilitating herself in the eyes of the Bolshevik regime in the process).
By early 1920s, Lamanova had started designing clothing aimed at the masses, drawing upon traditional Russian dress and even some of her designs were incorporated in an official graphic “how-to” booklet called “Art in Everyday Life” in the form of simple clothing patterns. Below are two samples:
During the 1920s and 1930s, Lamonova’s designs were successfully displayed in various exhibitions outside of Russian and at the same time she continued to design costumes for both the theater and film. Below are just a few examples of her work (one can definitely get a Paul Poiret vibe looking at these):
So, what dress is it that got us travelling down this unusual path? Well, here is is, a ballgown that belonged to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna:
This is a ballgown that was created in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, specific details (in English, at least) are scanty but based on the dress style, we are probably looking at the 1900-1906 time frame. The dress is constructed from white/ivory-colored silk satin underskirt combined with a white/ivory tulle decorated in sequins, beading and appliques using a floral design motif. As with any of these dresses, the hours of hand-labor put into the embroidery and attaching the sequins is simply mind-numbing.
This ballgown is stunning and it epitomizes the luxury of the Russian Court. At the same time, know some about the designer, it’s amazing that Nadezhda Lamanova was able to successfully reinvent herself at a time when anyone with an association to the Ancien Regime, no mater how remote, was suspect and oftentimes a one-way ticket to the firing squad. In the next installment, we will look at some more of Lamanova’s work prior to 1917.
To Be Continued…