From a sumptuous gown of the last Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna to a peasant-style smock worn by Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya, a new exhibition on the wives of Kremlin leaders illuminates a turbulent century.
The exhibition, "Russian First Ladies in the 20th Century" -- just opened at Moscow's Museum of Contemporary History -- displays clothes, jewelry, photographs and furniture relating to these women who stood, mostly silently, by their husbands, but also symbolised their times.
"Such an exhibition would have been unimaginable before. Under the tsars these things were kept in the family. Under the Bolsheviks affairs of the heart were not discussed," said Larisa Vasilyeva, author of a book entitled "Kremlin Spouses."
The exhibition starts with a glimpse inside the pampered tsarist household and the life of German-born Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, from early childhood embroidery to an ornate gilded egg given in her name to an injured soldier.
With the imperial household swept away -- Alexandra was shot by Bolshevik agents in 1918 -- the exhibition turns to Soviet first families, starting with the austere Krupskaya.
Her personal effects include a briefcase of letters from her husband, revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, notable less for their poetic qualities than as political testimony.
Other items in the Krupskaya section include an austere black smock and tough leather walking shoes, as well as reading glasses.
Then there are letters written by brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, and a stiff photograph of the two "relaxing" by the sea, a few years before she committed suicide in 1932.
A sunnier picture emerges with the wife of modernising leader Nikita Khrushchev, Nina.
She is seen revelling in a visit to the United States, while a stylish yellow-trimmed leather suitcase suggests the age of austerity is coming to an end.
"She played with verve the role assigned to her by the Communist party, promoting the image of a highly moral family, one of the 'cells' of society, with a touch of humanity," said Vasilyeva.
The optimism of that age is dimmed however as the exhibition moves to the nearly two-decade reign of Leonid Brezhnev and his wife Victoria, who appears dour and dependable, not least during a visit to a Soviet fashion studio with the wife of Richard Nixon, Pat.
"She knew how to make cakes and jam: such a first lady was needed in a period of stagnation," commented Vasilyeva.
The mood is transformed with the arrival of Raisa Gorbachev, the last Soviet first lady, who manages to steal the show from her retiring post-Soviet successors, Naina Yeltsina and Lyudmila Putina.
A shimmering gold two-piece outfit is one reminder of Raisa's expensive shopping trips during visits to the West -- and why she infuriated rank and file Soviet women struggling with perestroika-era hardships.
The exhibition runs until March 10.