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Prince Aleksey

21 November

On November 21, 1716, Prince Aleksey, the son of Emperor Peter the Great, requested political asylum in Austria.…

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Peter Carl Faberge

Peter Carl Faberge was a world famous master jeweler and head of the ‘House of Faberge’ in Imperial Russia in the waning days of the Russian Empire.

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Of Russian origin: Kokoshnik

"Whenever you wear your hat, your day will be special."

So said the famous American hat-maker Margo Nickel. And who wouldn’t feel special, sporting the dome-shaped majesty of a Kokoshnik?

A traditional Russian piece of female head-wear, the Kokoshnik has been around since at least the 17th century. Possible forebears have been found in the tombs of the ancient city of Novgorod from as early as the tenth century.

The origins of the word come from both the distinctive arches visible in Russian architecture from the 14th century, and from the ancient word “Kokosh”, a female version of cockerel, with his large comb atop his head. No married woman was allowed to show her hair in public, so she could plait it and keep it hidden under her magnificent hat.

The Kokoshnik is based on a construction of thick cloth or a wire frame, with varying degrees of ornamentation on top. The high arch of the hat extends down to the ears, or can continue into a veil or shawls with ribbons and bows flowing down over the neck and shoulders. Pearls were a favourite decoration for Kokoshniki, especially ones associated with wedding rituals. They are not meant for everyday use but for special occasions. There is some debate as to whether in their early days Kokoshniki could only be worn by married women, but it seems they were worn by unmarried women in time. 

One author summed up the role of the Kokoshnik thus, “In the artistic scheme of the Russian national costume, the Kokoshnik played a significant role, crowning a monumental form of women’s festive costume, accentuating the face, emphasizing the solemnity of those situations in which these richly decorated Kokoshniki were worn.”

Кокошник XVIII века (Photo from http://mith.ru/) Kokoshnik of XVIII century (Photo from http://mith.ru/)

Peter the Great banished the Kokoshnik from the upper echelons of society, but its decline was halted by Catherine the Great, who presided over a revival in Russian fashion.

In the 19th century, a second great renaissance arrived with the surge of patriotism around the Napoleonic wars. The Kokoshnik flourished and was seen at weddings and festivals across Russia. Some brides were supposed to wear one from the time of their marriage until the arrival of their first child. In 1834, Tsar Nicholas I issued a decree, once more rehabilitating the Kokoshnik to the royal court. With the renewed enthusiasm for Kokoshniki came caricature and over-exaggerated “opera”, versions of the headdress, dripping with adornments. 

In Communist times, Kokoshniki were forced once more into hiding, gathering dust in the bottom of family cupboards. But nowadays they are once more being shown off proudly, as a link to Russia’s past, and as Margo Nickel says, as a way to make one’s day just that little bit more special.

Written by Tom Barton , RT correspondent