Siluett was one of the most seductive fashion magazines of the 1960s. And it was produced in Soviet-occupied Estonia.
Estonia’s second-hand bookshops throw up a lot of exciting discoveries, one of the most visually compelling of which is Soviet-era fashion magazine Siluett. Iconic, ground-breaking but also homely and practical, Siluett kept its Estonian readers at the forefront of global fashion for well over thirty years.
Launched in 1958 by the Tallinn Fashion House, Siluett was arguably the only genuine fashion magazine the Soviet Union ever produced. Avidly read throughout the union, it was published in both Estonian and Russian languages at its peak.
Siluett was launched at a time when the Soviet Union was keen to improve te production of consumer goods and pay more attention to the life and leisure time of the individual citizen. That it appeared in the Estonian capital Tallinn rather than Moscow or St Petersburg was no surprise. Estonia was considered to be one of the most westernized parts of the Soviet Union, a Nordic country that had ended up on the wrong side of the Cold War divide. Tallinn was also sufficiently far enough away from the Soviet mainstream to allow relatively liberated experiments in popular culture to take place.
In one sense Siluett served the Soviet regime’s purpose by demonstrating that the USSR was capable of matching the west in terms of style and modernity. However it was also an opportunity for Estonians to carve out a corner of national self respect by demonstrating how far in advance of Moscow their art-and-design capabilities really were.
Estonian models were shot in Estonian locations, giving the Baltic state a glamorous contemporary sheen. Although many of the designs in Siluett were adaptations of western styles, there were also attempts to develop ideas for knitwear, hats and blouses that drew their inspiration from local folk attire – another sign that the subtle but unmistakable Estonian-ness of the magazine was a key ingredient of its appeal.
Every issue of Siluett was accompanied with sets of patterns, allowing readers to make their own garments at home. Soviet-occupied Estonia was far from being a functioning consumer society in which a wide range of clothes were available from the shops – if you wanted to be seen in something really up-to-date, you had to make it yourself.
Siluett’s peak was in the Sixties, a decade when anything seemed possible and progress was taken for granted. Copies of the magazine in the Seventies reveal muddy layouts, bad quality colour printing, and increasingly conservative attitudes to design. Maybe the very fact of the magazine’s pan-Soviet popularity had blunted its original Nordic sense of focus.
© Jonathan Bousfield