MOSCOW (Reuters) - A new show displaying the works of 20th century French couturier Paul Poiret turns the dark chambers of the Kremlin Museums into a colorful showcase of popular modern culture alongside the regal clothing and objects of Russia's past.
The rich and colorful silk and velvet dresses created a century ago by Poiret, a revolutionary designer who is credited with freeing women from the confinements of the corset, opened the autumn season at the central museum in Moscow on Wednesday.
Poiret took his clients out of restrictive 19th century clothes by designing practical sheath dresses and tunics, many of which the explorer of world cultures and lover of Russian ballet created for Russian actresses and ballerinas.
A white tunic-like evening dress embroidered with gold and bright silk flowers, one of many Poiret created for Russian actress Vera Karakhan, stands by his Russian-inspired hats in a gallery filled with dresses, shoes and perfume bottles.
The modern-looking costumes, mimicked around the world since, could easily make any of today's haute-couture fashion shows. They take up two of the Kremlin bell towers usually given over to historic artifacts and icons from the Middle Ages.
"Most traditional museums in the world are trying to incorporate exhibitions of modern conceptual art, and our museum is not an exception," Elena Gagarina, director of the Kremlin Museums, told Reuters ahead of the exhibit's opening.
As if taking up the torch from Moscow's Pushkin Museum, which has just taken down a lavish fashion exhibit of Christian Dior gowns in July, the Kremlin has stepped up the expansion of its modern art and popular culture activities.
"I hope in the future we will hold even more radical modern art projects than we have so far. No museum can develop without incorporating modern art and art forms, and without touching on the pressing issues that emerge with the changing lifestyle, and fashion is part of that lifestyle," Gagarina said.
The next contemporary art exhibit planned for the museum in the heart of Moscow will show abstract works by British 20th-century sculptor Henry Moore in the Spring of 2012.
Over the summer, the Kremlin Museums displayed gem works by Russian jeweler Carl Faberge, a contemporary of Poiret. Gagarina said that exhibit beat all previous attendance records and credited a growing interest in modern art as the reason for its popularity.
Around 2 million people visit the Kremlin museums yearly.
The Poiret exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the couturier's first and only visit to Russia, which inspired many of his creations including linen dresses, boots for women and evening hats with the traditional local tablecloth ornament.
Some pieces, sold by the Poiret family at an auction in 2005 to France's Musee Galliera, which donated 20 costumes, are on show for an international audience for the first time at the Kremlin, said Musee Galliera's Sophie Grossior.
The exhibit, on display in Moscow from Wednesday to January 15, 2012, also has pieces from France's Grasse perfume museum, Britain's Victoria and Albert Museum, St Petersburg's Hermitage and several Moscow libraries.
Although the exhibit offers many magazine and newspaper excerpts, book and booklet pages to see aside from the dresses on display, organizers expect plenty of interest from a public which is developing a taste for museums.
"Now, that women have been freed from hard household labor and people stopped working at their dachas as much as they used to, visiting museums has become a proper thing to do. Lifestyles have changed," said Elena Mikhailova, exhibits assistant at the Kremlin Museums for the past 25 years.
Writing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing by Lidia Kelly and Paul Casciato