Belgrade: a man shows photographs of Jovanka Broz in 2013, after her death (Nebojsa Markovic/ Shutterstock)

Belgrade: a man shows photographs of Jovanka Broz in 2013, after her death (Nebojsa Markovic/ Shutterstock)

"Jovanka Broz – in colour" is the title of the exhibition that was inaugurated last week at the Belgrade headquarters of the Serbian Radio Television and which will be open until November 30th

12/10/2021 -  Luciano Panella

Tito and Jovanka, eight years after her death and more than forty after his, continue to arouse interest and curiosity. Complex characters, whose political and personal history, with lights, shadows, and mysteries, continues to fascinate. These days the first channel of Serbian television is broadcasting the documentary "Jovanka Broz and the secret services", and an exhibition  was inaugurated at the television headquarters which, in addition to the uniform that Jovanka wore during the Second World War, features some of her clothes worn between the 1950s and the 1970s, the years in which Jovanka appeared alongside Tito on the international stage, like other famous first ladies of the time such as Jackie Kennedy and Farah Diba.

Designer Igor Todorovic, co-curator of the exhibition together with stylist and costume designer Maja Nedeljkovic Davidovac, draws attention not so much to the controversial figure of Jovanka, but rather to the interest that this collection of clothes has in the context of history of costume and the relationship that these historical dresses have with the period in which they were created.

The wardrobe features over 600 dresses, worn by Jovanka on public occasions, accompanied by hundreds of pairs of shoes and gloves, and in the future it should be housed at the Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade. The clothes are not labelled, so it is not always possible to trace them to a specific tailor, be they state-owned companies or important foreign fashion houses. However, they are mostly made-to-measure clothes, with top quality materials.

Looking at Jovanka's dresses, despite the passing of fashions, we can see that over the years the cut remained largely unchanged: marked and rather high waist, short but not thin sleeves, open neckline. A precise and identifiable image, like the famous hairstyle with the hair gathered in a bun. The strength of the clothes lies above all in the fabrics, of great quality and very often bought in Italy. The colours are bright: yellow, red, green, orange. The designs are very often enriched with decorations and embroidery with stones and beads. The style of the hats is mainly the turban, also declined in different variations of materials and colours.

The first lady had a significant relationship with Aleksandar Joksimovic, considered perhaps the most important designer in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and 1970s; in his collections of clothes, including the famous "Simonida" from 1967, Joksimovic had taken inspiration from decorative motifs typical of Serbian popular culture as well as from Byzantine art. This had earned him the attention of the French press and the proposal to work at Christian Dior, a proposal he refused. Jovanka was also a client of other important designers of the time, such as Hungarian Klara Rothschild, and of great Yugoslav fashion brands such as Zuzi Jelinek, Mirjana Maric, and Mila Kavaloti.

Jovanka becomes Joksimovic's client in the mid-1960s. Interviews with the designer, who passed away in March of this year at the age of 87, slightly play down her image of a woman who loved luxury: Joksimovic first of all recalls the international protocol for first ladies, with precise rules for public occasions, and then remembers how Jovanka preferred "Yugoslav" companies and creations and wanted to promote their image.

What is the message that Jovanka wanted to convey with these dresses? Both Joksimovic and Jelinek, in the interviews released in the past, recalled the difficulties of the clothing sector in post-war Yugoslavia, with the paradox that, despite the scarcity of material, in certain periods ready-made clothes remained unsold due to their bad quality. Probably for this reason on "national" occasions Jovanka wore simpler models than on "international" occasions, in which her elegance had to be on a par with that of the other western first ladies. On public occasions with representatives of other socialist countries, her style seemed to want to highlight the different role of Yugoslavia – we can clearly see this in the photo of a reception in Moscow in the 1950s, in which the few women present wear simple, sternly cut dark dresses, while Jovanka literally shines in a light shiny satin dress.

The collection is probably only a part of Jovanka's original wardrobe – the public one, more characterised and portrayed in the official photos. Curiosity remains for what is missing, what has probably been stolen over the years, or what perhaps Jovanka herself would not have wanted to display.

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