Riga This Week - FREE RIGA CITY GUIDE made by locals since 1992

Elegance of the 1930s

Hollywood divas Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, renowned couturiers Lucien Lelong, Maggy Rouff, and Elsa Schiaparelli, sport and permanent wave, Art Deco design and the femme fatale image, Great Depression and premonitions of war – those years were glamorous and full of contradictions. Unique and elegant dresses out of the collection of Alexandre Vassiliev, as well as an array of fashion accessories, will provide a full cultural immersion into the era, known as the “pre-war chic”.

Life during the first post-war decade had people reminiscing about the festivities which were made to come to an abrupt end in 1929, when Wall Street's stock market crashed and lead to a financial crisis. The beginning of the Great Depression marked the end of the Art Deco era of the Roaring Twenties. The quality of life was quickly changing for the worse, and the fashion industry was experiencing change as well.

It was a difficult time for the fashion industry however, Hollywood's influence helped overseas. Hollywood films served as a distraction from the struggles that people faced in their everyday lives. Greta Garbo became the beauty idol of the era: her blonde hair, defined cheekbones and mysterious gaze completing the femme fatale image, which is later characterized as “glamour”.

The femme fatale image took a lead in fashion. The female silhouette became more feminine in Europe, the US and, in spite of the Iron Curtain, the USSR. This new silhouette emphasized the bust, and the waist to hip ratio. Madeleine Vionnet, a famous Parisian designer, introduced an asymmetrical cut on the bias which has influenced many ateliers to do the same.

It's hard to say what had a greater influence on fashion: Hollywood or designers? Was it the celebrity influence of actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard and Mae West, or were the real trendsetters Parisian fashion houses such as “Lucien Lelong”, “Nina Ricci”, and “Maggy Rouff”? It was during this time that the bond between fashion and cinema was born and lives on to this day.

Political climate in Europe was changing. Mussolini came to power in Italy, Hitler – in Germany, Franco – in Spain, and Stalin in the USSR. The cultures began to lean back on the Greco-Roman styles and it's traditional values. The woman was no longer viewed as a defenseless delicate flower, but as the strong, sturdy, and buxom mother of “the Hero”. Elsa Schiaparelli became one of the most prominent designers during this time.

The 1930s marked a time when sports had a large influence on fashion. It resulted in the appearance of tracksuits, two-piece swimsuits, and bell-bottomed pants in women's fashion. There had also been an increase in the popularity of cosmetology, massage therapy, water and spa treatments, and artistic gymnastics.

Pre-war fashion was not mundane and redundant. It was during this time that talented designers such as Spain's Cristobal Balenciaga and Ireland's Edward Molino, had stirred a large influence for decades to come. The 1930s era of fashion, despite all of it's contradictions and conflicts, is known as the “pre-war glamour” era by fashion historians.

What about Latvia in 1930s? After Latvia gained it's independence, Riga became known for it's elegance and style. The city held a high regard, and was even nicknamed as “Little Paris”. Riga's fashion industry developed rapidly and it's quantity of small shops and the production rate of all things related to fashion substantially increased. Riga housed many trendy ateliers, and shoe stores. People's keen passion for cinema that has taken popularity over the world, did not exclude Riga. In the 1930s, Riga had a few dozen movie theaters which fueled it's citizens' fascination with film. Rigans were especially interested in films with Lilian Harvey, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo. “Splendid Palace”, considered to be the most beautiful movie theater of that time, still stands in Riga today and is open to the public.

Latvia was going through a period of national and cultural rebirth, and no one was expecting the cyclone that was to hit the small, independent state…