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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

From the Catwalks to the Trenches

MTA saleswoman showing off a uniform at the Ataka military store on Komsomolskaya Ploshchad on Wednesday.
With endemic hazing, corruption and inadequate housing, the military appears to be mired in difficulties.

But according to the Defense Ministry, the men and women of the armed forces have another problem: They are badly dressed.

The ministry is holding a tender -- now entering its final stages -- to bring in the most sweeping redesign of the country's military uniforms since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some of the country's best-known designers have thrown their hats in the ring, including Valentin Yudashkin, whose clothes regularly appear at fashion weeks in Paris and Milan, and Igor Chapurin, who has designed costumes for the Bolshoi Theater.

"These people where chosen as specialists in their field and as designers who follow fashion trends," said Alexander Kolpakov, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry's logistics arm.

The ministry has allocated 100 million rubles, or $4 million, to spend on the contest, and results will be announced in October or November, Kolpakov said.

The defense minister -- still to be named after Anatoly Serdyukov's resignation this week -- and President Vladimir Putin will then have to sign off on the redesigned uniforms, Kolpakov added.

Kolpakov declined to name the finalists in the tender, but a report in Kommersant last week identified them as Yudashkin, Chapurin and the Central Scientific Research Institute of the Sewing Industry, a Moscow-based enterprise that goes by its Russian acronym, CNIISHP.

While CNIISHP has made military uniforms since 1930, Yudashkin and Chapurin are the sort of haute couture designers who tend to watch fashion models -- rather than MiG-29 fighter planes -- moving down runways.

"This is an unusual project for us, and we were pleasantly surprised that the Defense Ministry invited us to participate," said Irina Nosova, a spokeswoman for Yudashkin.

Nosova declined to reveal what Yudashkin's designs looked like or to give any further comment on the tender. The designer is not a complete stranger to uniforms, having created the Russian team uniforms for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Marina Platonova, a spokeswoman for Chapurin, said his uniforms would be more Imperial Army than Red Army but did not go into detail. "As a talented designer, Igor Chapurin can take on anything," she said.

Kommersant reported that Chapurin had teamed up with CNIISHP and that the two were working in tandem, giving them an advantage over Yudashkin, thanks to CNIISHP's long history of working with the Defense Ministry.

But Platonova denied that Chapurin was working with CNIISHP, saying the two were competitors in the tender. CNIISHP director Svetlana Lopandina declined to be interviewed.

A retired Air Force colonel who spoke on condition of anonymity was dismissive of the whole initiative.

"Why should Yudashkin be hired to do this?" he asked. "Any ordinary tailor could make a new uniform. A lieutenant would order him to do it, and he'd do it."

The main purpose of military uniforms is to be practical, so worrying about how they look is a waste of time and money, the colonel said. "They do this every time there's a change of ministers," he said.

Indeed, the redesign plan was launched not long after Serdyukov, a former furniture store manager and tax collector, was appointed defense minister in February.

Serdyukov first expressed his desire to give the armed forces a makeover in May. The Defense Ministry announced the tender in July, inviting various designers to participate.

Kolpakov, the ministry spokesman, told reporters at the time that the new uniforms should take into account both Russian historical traditions and the country's geography and climate.

It was unclear whether the fate of the uniform redesign would be affected by Serdyukov's resignation, which was announced Tuesday by new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who is Serdyukov's father-in-law. (Stories, Page 3)

Repeated calls to the Defense Ministry for comment went unanswered Wednesday.

The basic design of today's uniforms dates back to 1992, when then-President Boris Yeltsin ordered his defense minister, Pavel Grachyov, to give the military a new look marking a distinct break with the Soviet past.

The resulting uniforms, a mix of Soviet, NATO and pre-revolutionary Russian influences, were widely criticized.

One much-mocked feature was the peaked cap, which had to be made especially high to accommodate the two-headed eagle insignia, a tsarist-era symbol that was placed on the cap just above a Soviet-style star.

Some said the towering caps, with their abundant insignia, made officers look like the generals of a Latin American junta. Others joked Grachyov had boosted the height of the caps to compensate for his own diminutive stature.

The caps became lower in a 2005 reform that eliminated the bulky two-headed eagle. But while there have been a number of uniform reforms over the years adjusting elements such as boots, headgear and the colors used by various branches of the military, the basic look has remained the same.

Several pillars of the Russian establishment have hired prominent designers to redo their uniforms in recent years.

State-owned airline Aeroflot held a fashion show last year to unveil new uniforms created by Viktoria Andreyanova, a designer who has also won contracts to create new garb for Moscow Metro employees and Russian postal workers.

In 2003, traffic police got navy blue uniforms based on a design by Slava Zaitsev, although the flamboyant fashion veteran complained that the Interior Ministry had altered his original design.

Now the military appears to be next. But men in uniform don't seem overly enthusiastic about a fashion makeover, at least judging by the reactions of several officers interviewed outside the Air Force Academy near the Dynamo metro station in northern Moscow.

"The main thing is that they shouldn't make them any worse," said one officer, who refused to give his name or rank.

Another officer gave a curt, contemptuous answer before hurrying away. "There are so many things we could be spending money on besides that," he said.