7 March - 7 April 2008 ã.
The exhibition of photographs, Beauty in Exile: Russian Beauties in Paris and Hollywood in 1910-1960ies, on display at The State Russian Centre of Photography, gives a new incarnation to one of the main projects by Alexander Vassiliev, stage designer, fashion historian and writer.
Beauty in Exile, Vassiliev’s book published in 1998 which immediately became a best-seller, served in 2001 as a basis for his film for Culture TV channel. Alexander Vassiliev is also known as a collector, and without exaggeration, a prominent one. His collection of countless dresses and accessories incorporates a massive photographic archive (counting something ten thousand items) evidential of the glory of Russian models and fashion houses in Europe and the USA after the 1917 revolution.
The exhibition shows only a small part of this unique collection, however the selection made personally by the owner is representative in full measure.
The sitters are ladies from Russian noble families, the finest and most elegant beauties of the day. Almost all of them, escaping from the revolution and civil war, were destined to the journey from St.-Petersburg and Moscow to Kiev, Odessa, Yalta, then further on to Constantinopolis which fortunately didn’t become their final destination, even though the Turks were so fascinated by the unfamiliar Russian beauty that, as declared by a contemporary, ‘they thought that it were angels coming down from heaven’.
Having settled in Paris, Berlin or New-York many Russian women worked as tailors, seamstresses or fashion models. This is how first Russian fashion houses came along, with titles featuring the names of their noble owners, such as IrFe fashion house founded by the princely couple, Irina and Felix Youssupovs.
The photographs from Alexander Vassiliev’s collection leave the hard labor and humiliations of emigrant life out-of-shot, and it is just as well: we can easily fill the gap by reading memoirs. These women’s beauty which didn’t fade from the sufferings but was as though born anew in another world, speaks clearly of the happiness of their companions and contemporaries. And it is not any more so important what their names are – whether celebrated all over pre-revolutionary Russia or having become famous only through Alexander Vassiliev’s collection.