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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sexy Spirits of the Past Light Designer's Vision

Flipping through a magazine when he was 12 years old, Alexander Sheshunov came across an old photo of Russia's top model of the '60s, Regina Zborskaya. It blew him away, he says.


More than 20 years later, rated as among the top six designers in Russia, Sheshunov remains true to his muse. He dedicated his spring and summer '95 collection, shown Friday at Moscow's Central House of Fashion, to Zborskaya.


Barely known in Russia, Zborskaya conquered the world's catwalks during Krushchev's thaw. Feted by the press as "Sophia Loren's younger sister" and "Krushchev's shapely envoy," she personified the beauty and promise of her reawakening country.


Sheshunov blames the brutal communist system for breaking such a bright spirit. Hounded by the KGB, her husband forced to emigrate, she died an early death in virtual oblivion.


Sheshunov's show reevokes Zborskaya's spirit with a bright, sexy and glamorous collection, the emphasis on fine tailoring and chic elegance. Short A-line silk coats swing from the shoulders, worn with three-quarter sleeves and long gloves; full, fluffy skirts bounce from tiny waists, high heels show off long, long legs. Clouds of net and skillfully draped scarves create a timeless look, both demure and sexy.


It is a self-assured look, drawing on Sheshunov's favorite styles, the '60s A-line silhouette and the '40s close-fitting, curving suit, reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich's uniforms.


Rich brocades, velvets and stiff silks -- Sheshunov insists on natural fibers, saying, "You should respect your body" -- for a sultry look; satin flounces and metallic raincoats for a flirty youthfulness. The best of the collection are his impeccably tailored suits, narrow fitted jackets over knee-length skirts in reds and pinks and charcoal grey pinstripe trousers suits.


The collection reflects the mature, confident and successful women for whom Sheshunov designs: "Women in the theater and cinema, and women working in business, banking; more and more now from banks," he says.


"Young girls are there to be undressed, not dressed," he is fond of saying. "I want to dress older women, and I want to stop women worrying about age." He is searching for a 60-year-old model willing to take part in the full show of his collection at the end of the month.


Last week, he only showed part of his collection, protesting, along with Slava Zaitsev and others, against being forced to show one outfit after the other in a single day at what Sheshunov calls the "collective farm of fashion."


Sheshunov has broken out from the collective farm, but has to pay for his independence. He is taxed 135 percent on every outfit he sells. He is looking for a backer, or better still a foreign partner. The time is ripe, he says.


Russian fashion is heading for a boom-time, according to Sheshunov, similar to Germany in the '40s. "The nervous stress of the situation during World War II produced in the '40s the most sexy styles, the best tailoring and design. The German uniform was the best design of the time.


"Now we are going through crisis and change in Russia and fashion is reacting," Sheshunov says, adding, "When life is hard people want to dress up."


Sheshunov's 15 years of experience as a costume designer in the theater have placed him in good stead. His designs are always on show somewhere in Moscow, most recently for the much-acclaimed comedy "Balaganchik" by Alexander Blok which premiered in October at the Mossoviet Theater. The image he created for the Vivaldi Chamber Orchestra uniforms has made them famous.


It has also led to a devoted following of actresses whom he dresses on and off the stage, including most of the cast at the Lenkom Theater. One of his longtime admirers is award-winning actress Inna Churikova, currently playing Arkadina in Chekhov's play "The Seagull" at the Lenkom. She is renowned for her elegance on and off the stage.


Sheshunov designed Churikova's dresses for each of her three appearances to collect awards at the Cannes Film Festival. "My clothes have promenaded along the Croisette," he laughs.


His pride, as he prepares his models before the show, serving them with a shot of Cognac and lavish compliments, is not in his clothes in but the women he presents.


"It is as Churikova says in 'The Seagull': 'I am an actress; I must be absolutely comme il faut,'" he says.