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Glasnost On Paris Runways: Velour-Clad Guns and Miniskirts

May 3, 1990

PARIS (AP) _ After years as the butt of Western jokes, East Bloc fashion hit the Paris runways with a display of such glasnost-inspired styles as see-through culottes, minuscule minis and a velour-covered submachine gun.

Four designers from the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and East Germany paraded their creations before a small group of invited guests at the Prince de Galles Marriott Hotel on Wednesday.

It was a preview of a big fashion show-cocktail party for 700 guests to be held tonight at the Salle Wagram, a dance hall-turned-auditorium. A prize will be awarded by the Lalique crystal company to the most talented designer.

Whoever wins will be happy, but all four designers were pleased to be showing in Paris, widely viewed as the West’s fashion capital.

Soviet designer Lena Zelinskaia, 25, startled the audience with shiny velour culotte suits in fire-engine red, turquoise blue and grass green - accompanied by matching velour-wrapped submachine guns.

She denied the guns were a ploy to attract photographers.

″The machine-gun accessory symbolizes the Russian Revolution, which is still very much in our minds,″ Zelinskaia said, taking a bow with the other designers after the show.

Her clothes were a far cry from the Western image of Soviet fashion, perhaps most mercilessly parodied in a TV commercial for Wendy’s, in which a matronly model in a drab dress for daywear merely adds a flashlight for evening, and a beach ball for swimwear.

As for the future of Soviet design, she said: ″It won’t be French. We’re a different country with different religion and politics. But we have many tendencies, and I can’t speak for the others - only myself.″

″I’m an old designer, in the business for 30 years,″ said Polish creator Jerzy Antkowiak, 50, who displayed the most variety in his preview. His clothes ranged from a flowing gray crepe de chine printed duster over a wide long pantskirt to a deep red taffeta mini-dress with several daring cutouts on the back and a transparent navy long-culottes outfit.

″We’ve got many problems in Poland,″ said Antkowiak, dressed in a loose charcoal linen suit and ochre scarf. ″For instance, we have to import all our fabrics. But we have hopes that we’ll get investments from the West to set up better manufacturing and business.″

The show was organized by the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Compiegne, a French business school north of Paris. Last year the school featured top Soviet designer Slava Zaitsev.

This year’s choice of designers evolved from embassy suggestions and from connections that one of the organizers, Boris Bostjancic, has with Moscow Contact, a new firm that seeks to set up East-West commercial agreements.

East German designer Anja Wenzel showed attractive long looks, featuring some folklore-inspired fabric mixes and a black chiffon halter-necked jumpsuit with a metal snake slithering up back and front.

Hungarian designer Katelin Berenyi, 24, has lived in Paris for the past two years, studying at the national decorative arts school.

One of her outfits - reminiscent of Pierre Cardin - included a velvet micro-mini over thigh-high socks and cone-shaped, pleated gauntlets of white paper on the model’s arms.

″I love crazy fashions,″ said Antkowiak, who admits that his clothes look way-out and are expensive for Poland - about $50 a dress. He said they are usually purchased by privileged richer women, diplomats and tourists.

″So far, I have to keep prices high,″ he said. ″Because if I offer cheaper models, my old clientele asks why, and doesn’t want to buy them. They want to be special.″

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