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Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Russian Emigres, the First Queens of the Catwalk
Topic: Paley, Princess Natalia


Princess Natalie Paley (1905-1981), daughter of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich and his second wife, Princess Olga Paley
 
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the June 17th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Olga Shcherbakova owns the copyright of the abridged version presented below.

Modern-day supermodels enjoy global celebrity and command mouth-watering fees. However, few know that it was the Russian émigré beauties of the early 20th century who first turned the work of fashion models into a prestigious and lucrative profession.

In the period after the First World War, Paris was flooded with émigrés from post-revolutionary Russia. They were well-educated, had impeccable manners and spoke fluent French. Russian aristocratic women, well-versed in fashions and desperate for a living, often worked as models for various Parisian fashion houses. Their beauty, aristocratic upbringing, charm and ability to present themselves generated a lot of income for popular brands of the time.
 
Natalie Paley
 
Natalie Paley was the first Russian beauty to make the journey from a model to a Hollywood diva. She was a daughter of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, Emperor Alexander II's son. After the 1917 revolution, Paley, together with her mother and sister, left Soviet Russia for Paris.

She started working as a model in the fashion houses Yteb and IRFE and very soon conquered fashionable Paris, becoming a trend-setting socialite and a queen of fashion. On Coco Chanel's recommendation, Paley joined the prestigious fashion house of Lucien Lelong, whom she soon married. Later, having separated from Lelong, Paley moved to the U.S. and soon married Broadway producer John Wilson. She also had a lengthy romantic relationship with the writer Erich Maria Remarque, which created a lot of stir in society. Paley appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine on numerous occasions and had a Lelong perfume named after her. 
 

Maria Eristova, former lady in waiting to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna 
 
Maria Eristova 

Eristova, who was born in Tbilisi but lived in St. Petersburg from an early age, was a lady in waiting to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Tsar Nicholas II, struck by her beauty, said once: "It is a sin, princess, to be so beautiful." After the Bolshevik Revolution, Eristova fled first for the Caucasus and then to Paris. In 1925, she was invited to work for Chanel, who at the time supported many Russian émigrés. Eristova, petite and dark-haired, was the epitome of the type of beauty fashionable in the 1920s and perfectly suited Chanel's style of that period. Besides, Coco liked it to have "real Russian princesses" working for her. At the time, models not only showed off clothes but were also supposed to, in several foreign languages, describe the clothes they were wearing to the clients. That was why Eristova, who was fluent in three languages, was very much appreciated. 
 
© Olga Shcherbakova / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 17 June, 2014
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:28 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 19 June 2014 9:40 AM EDT
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