Serbian Response to Fashion Revolution
He was the first fashion designer in the world, who gave a name to his collection. He gave a modern expression to national heritage, different from everything coming from the West. He embedded the experience of Serbian medieval painting, folklore and literature into fashion. His collections ”Simonida” and ”Damn Jerina” provoked great excitement in the world of European haute couture. He showed everyone that provincial imitation is a meaningless path for losers. We can be interesting to others only if we are our authentic selves

By: Dragana Barjaktarević

”We would perhaps never be able to speak about Yugoslav fashion of the sixties if it weren’t for Aleksandar Joksimović”, said Neda Todorović, PhD, at the lecture ”Aleksandar Joksimović and Serbian fashion journalism”, held within the accompanying program of the exhibition dedicated to this great fashion designer. Watching the sketches and photos of his models, exhibited on the walls of the Museum of Applied Arts, we read both the fashion and the comprehensive history of an époque. Through more than a hundred exhibits, which Joksimović donated to the Museum, Bojana Popović, MA, senior custodian of the Museum of Applied Arts and author of the exhibition, renewed the memory of a somewhat forgotten fashion icon, caused by times of general amnesia under the pressure of staggering speed.


The story about Aleksandar Joksimović is a story about the development of the Yugoslav fashion industry after World War II. At the time of rigid socialism, the only request from fashion was to be simple and practical. Fashion designers were replaced by ready-made production, with unimaginative cuts and designs. The situation began to change in the sixties, after the strengthening of the new middle class, who tried to imitate the western consumer habits. Since the local fashion industry had nothing to offer them, people started going on shopping tours abroad, especially to Trieste, or had their clothes made at tailors. This caused a discrepancy between production and consumption, and opened a space for the ascension of Yugoslav fashion design. Fashion designers restored their place within the new cultural politics, escaped anonymity and even gained international recognitions. Aleksandar Joksimović was one of them.
He graduated from the department of textile processing in the School of Applied Arts in Novi Sad. Then he moved to Belgrade and applied for a job at the Household Promotion Bureau. His extraordinary talent was recognized by Milica Babić, costume designer and wife of Ivo Andrić, who chose him based on only one sketch in the application form. He worked as an assistant for work suits. Designing school and work uniforms brought him his first recognitions.
The Household Promotion Bureau founded a National Salon in 1963, with an idea to offer the national as modern and, of course, different from everything coming from the West. That was a moment that marked Joksimović’s entire work. He began discovering Serbian medieval painting, frescoes, monasteries, folklore, literature… He continued borrowing from tradition until the end of his career. At the opening of the National Salon, he presented a collection inspired by decorative motifs from zubuns: geometrical ornaments, circles, spirals, curves, pompons, braids, ribbons… The fashion show provoked ardor of both local and foreign fashion experts, so from the following year on, his collections began traveling abroad, usually as an integral part of economic exhibitions and international events, promoting the country in the best possible manner.


The first Joksimović’s haute couture collection was ”Simonida”. The fresco depicting the Serbian queen did not inspire only Milan Rakić. The starting point for Aleksandar Joksimović was the coloring and elements from frescoes and stone friezes of Gračanica monastery. He entitled his collection ”Simonida” and it was the first time in the world for a designer to give his collection a name. Models made of fine thin woolen fabric and silk were presented in the Gallery of Frescoes on March 8, 1967. Joksimović gave his fellow citizens a new fashion obsession. ”There was not a single girl in Belgrade without a ‘Simonida’ dress”, claims Neda Todorović, PhD.
The wondrous collection also had a premiere abroad. In the same year of 1967, the Soviet Union opened towards the western world, and organized the first Fashion Festival, gathering fashion representatives from the eastern and the western block – about six hundred famous world fashion designers, including Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin… However, the only awarded designer at the festival was Aleksandar Joksimović. He guessed the taste of traditional Muscovites, but also found the fine balance between the East and the West in his models.
Logically, from that moment on, the entire attention of the media was focused on him. ”His work was followed by many photographers: Tomislav Peternek, Moma Vučićević, Nikola Dević, Srboljub Vranić, Ratomir Radetić, Vladimir Bačlija, Velisav Tomović, Đorđe Nikolić, Milan Simić, Dušan Aranđelović… The ‘Simonida’ collection was photographically recorded in the exterior. Just like Arc de Triomphe can be considered as one of the symbols of the French capital, ‘Albania’ Palace was one of the symbols of then Belgrade, since it was the highest building in the city until the completion of Beograđanka in 1974. The collection was also followed by studio photography, pervaded with the same dynamism as the exterior photos, expressed in the lively faces of models”, told Andrijana Ristić, senior librarian of the Museum of Applied Arts, at the lecture ”Fashion photography of the XX century sixties and seventies”.


There was another Serbian governess who inspired Joksimović. Two years after ”Simonida”, he designed the ”Damn Jerina” collection. It was his last haute couture collection.
Looking up to Parisian designers, Joksimović’s fashion shows were real musical and theatrical spectacles. The ”Simonida” fashion show was accompanied by Belgrade Madrigalists, and ”Damn Jerina” by ”Korni Grupa”. Kornelije Kovač spoke at the opening of the recent exhibition in the Museum of Ethnography, remembering his performance at the ”Damn Jerina” fashion show in Paris, within the exhibition of Yugoslav art and industry: ”Paris, 1969, Aleksandar Joksimović’s fashion show ‘Damn Jerina’, the first Serb in the temple of world fashion. Serbian despina Irina Kantakuzin, wife of despot Đurađ Branković, wouldn’t have a single remark on Aleksandar Joksimović’s stylization, especially due to the fact that she gained numerous admirers in the metropolis of world fashion thanks to Aca’s designs. While Tamara Bakić, Milica Aleksić, Gordana Živić, Dušan Mušicki and others were stepping on the catwalk during the show, ‘Korni Grupa’ performed ‘Marš na Drinu’, ‘Igrale se delije’, ‘Pastir i cvet’ in a low voice. After the end of the show, there was a storming applause of the audience, including editors of the French Elle and other magazines, Tereza Kesovija and Miro Ungar, actor Peter Ustinov… There were also new foreign experts in Yugoslav circumstances, thrilled by Joksimović’s authenticity in merging the contemporary with the traditional, a gift that singled him out from the environment, considering imitation a rule in fashion. Model Tamara Bakić expressed the surprise and amazement with the wonderful reception and excellent assessment of the collection by the requesting French fashion public by saying: ”Maybe it was a dream!”
On the following day, there was a photo shooting of the collection in the streets of the French capital. ”Our models are very beautiful, confirmed the newly arrived member of ‘Korni Grupa’ Dado Topić. The interest in our models was obvious, since the masses on Parisian squares squeezed around them, often distracting Tomislav Peternek from taking their photos, granting them spontaneous applauses”, remembers Kornelije Kovač.
After the success of the ”Damn Jerina” collection, many doors opened for Joksimović. He was offered to work for ”Dior”, but rejected it, because, as he said, he loved to travel, but not to stay.


Despite all local and international recognitions Joksimović received, the socialist regime could not accept the idea that a fashion designer is observed as a genius who owns his work. A Law on organized work was brought, denying talent and achievements of individuals. Thus Joksimović’s models were produced in large series, for lower prices and without a label with his signature. As if followed by a horrible curse, this internationally renowned and appreciated designer was moved to third-grade companies, upon the orders of the management of ”Centrotekstil”.
However, thanks to his great talent and enormous creative energy, he returned to the fashion scene in the eighties and his designs regained their popularity in the international market. Together with the ”Radinost” cooperative from Kraljevo, he engaged three thousand weavers from the city surrounding, who manually wove clothes from the finest Icelandic wool, according to his sketches. Then came the nineties and international sanctions against Serbia, which put an end to the cooperation with foreign markets. Due to the difficult political and economic situation in the country, Joksimović retired in 1995 and was only occasionally engaged in creative work. In 2002, he finished his last collection ”Life is Love” for the ”Mona” fashion house.
”And finally, Aleksandar Joksimović, a man of great talent, knowledge and creative energy, a designer who represented the Serbian response to the fashion revolution in the 1960s, successfully broke through the internal barricades of uniformity, single-mindedness and garments. With his imagination and daring creations, he woke up the imagination of other people, encouraged them to search for a new aesthetics of fabric, colors, cuts, as well as life itself. He was a pioneer and revolutionary in his work, a man who, with his talent and work, became a fashion guru and inspired young generations of designers. His significance is therefore bigger and wider than the limits of the profession he was so successful in”, concludes Kornelije Kovač.


Gift to the Museum
Aleksandar Joksimović donated sketches, a book of samples, slides and photographs of models and shows, the awards he was granted, press clipping and three of his portraits to the Museum of Applied Arts. Making a complete museum collection, these gifts are a document of the entire Joksimović’s opus, since the samples of Joksimović’s models were not preserved in the companies he had worked for.


Famous Models
Many local and international celebrities wore Joksimović’s creations: Milena Dravić, Dragan Nikolić (Joksimović was the costume designer for the ”Cheek to Cheek” show), Đorđe Marjanović, Tereza Kesovija, Josipa Lisac, Olivera Katarina, Branka Petrić, Bekim Fehmiu, Danka Žujović, Japanese princess, wives of Peter Ustinov and Claude Lelouch, Jovanka Broz… Having in mind that Jovanka Broz was a moving advertisement of Yugoslav fashion, he designed several suits and dresses especially for her every year.


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