Underground Fashion

It's not exactly what you'd expect to find under a nondescript building on an ordinary street in the Taganka area of Moscow -- but Stalin probably intended it that way. What he presumably would not have intended was for his secret nuclear bunker, buried 60 meters below ground, to be transformed into an unusual venue for a fashion show.

The only way to identify the Tagansky Protected Command Point was the crowd buzzing around the entrance. The crush in the line betrayed an interesting logistical problem -- imagine if all these people had been Politburo stiffs trying to get away from a nuclear attack rather than into a fashion event! There is also an exit, no longer in use, to the Taganskaya metro station -- apparently, the trains can be heard rumbling past when things are quiet.

The clothes had an underground feel.
The six-person elevator and standard stairwell are barely adequate access, but then again it was only in April that, as Izvestia reported, the company Novik-Servis purchased the 7,000 square meters of underground space at a price of just over 65 million rubles ($2.66 million). Eventually, the place is to be expanded into a complex comprising a bar, a cinema, a spa, and maybe a club. A Cold War Museum is already functioning, containing artifacts from the period and offering a tour through the secret tunnel and a video-presentation.

Stalin ordered the construction of the bunker in 1951, but it wasn't completed until after his death, requiring the work of more than 2,000 people. In case of a nuclear attack, there was provision for three months' survival. In the 1960s, the bunker became an underground telegraph station for the Ministry of Communications and, allegedly, a missile control center. Rumor has it that it was here where fingers were on buttons during the Cuban missile crisis in late 1962.

The opening of the new entertainment complex is planned for 2008 and is expected to be an expensive development in thematic Cold War style.

Igor Tabakov / MT
The dimly lit tunnels and humming of the ventilation system give the underground bunker an authentic Cold War atmosphere.

But the fashion show took place in the authentic Cold War atmosphere of this dusty, claustrophobic bunker, which has had little attention since its last occupants abandoned it at the end of the 1980s, taking any furnishings and equipment of any value with them.

Yekaterina Karamzina, of the up-and-coming designers White.Trash.For.Cash, said in an interview that this kind of place was exactly what they had been looking for to launch their summer 2008 collection. "We consciously chose this location because of its strangeness," she said. "It really fitted in with the underground feel of our collection."

Igor Tabakov / MT
The museum has a variety of Cold War exhibits.
The collective's work is described on their web site as "a protest against ubiquitous glamour." And in this sense, Maxim Kushnaryov, another member of the fashion collective, said this place fitted with the political motivation of their work. "Using this place was like a political statement. We wanted to show our opposition to the whole fashion scene in Russia."

And this venue could hardly be further from the glossy elegance of Gostinny Dvor, where Russian Fashion Week took place. Descending the bunker's 22 stories by the stairs, the overwhelming impression is one of entering the bowels of the Earth. The monotonous hum of the ventilation system fills the warren of dark, dusty tunnels that leads to the main rooms where the show took place.

Igor Tabakov / MT
The bunker's long, narrow tunnels made an ideal catwalk with an intimate setting.
Marina Galkina, another member of the design collective, said this was a unique opportunity to use the space. "The owners did everything for us -- tidied the place up, put toilets in. The difference between before and afterwards was huge."

The only event to have taken place in the bunker before the fashion show was a book launch, but White.Trash.For.Cash envisaged something on a much larger scale. "We wanted it to be more than just a fashion show," Karamzina said. "This was an event."

Asked about the irony of holding an event in the secret bunker of a man not known for his fashion taste, the designers said they felt that the irony lay elsewhere. "This was supposed to be a top secret place," said Karamzina. "But we got nearly 2,000 people in there for a fashion show."

Museum entrance costs 500 rubles for Russian citizens, 1,000 rubles for foreign citizens, 200 rubles for children. Groups of more than 10 must book in advance.

11 5th Kotelnichesky Per., 500-0554, M. Taganskaya, www.zkp42.ru.