Masterfully researched and beautifully illustrated, Beauty in Exile by Alexandre Vassiliev is no ordinary book. It is a true testament to the spirt of thousands and thousands of Russian emigres that, having fled the horrors of Revolution and Civil War in their homeland, managed to reinvent their lives and conquer the world of art and fashion.
Written by world renown historian, theatre and set designer and fashion collector, Alexandre Vassiliev, Beauty in Exile opens with the traces the Russian influence in fashion, the origins of the mode a la russe and the influence of Diaghilev’s famous ballet shows. Vassiliev then takes us to Berlin, Harbin and Paris, retracing the steps of countesses, ladies-in-waiting, sons and daughters of provincial officials and many others that have shaped the world of fashion in the early 20s-40s.
What is remarkable about is the sheer breadth and scope of research. Undoubtedly, it can be called the definitive book on not only the Russian influence in fashion, but the men and women that began the conquest of the podiums nearly a century ago.
As Vassiliev noted in one interview, he travelled the world, tracing some of the still-living Russian nobles and the relatives, and spent countless hours in fashion archives around the world. Some of the aristocratic families were hesitant to talk with the man from USSR, some refused to do so altogether. Vassiliev had to ask for recommendations through mutual connections and coax some of his interviewees into believing that the book will be published in Paris, and not in Moscow, the capital of the Soviet country that has brought many of them so much pain. The result? Volumes of hand-written manuscripts, some of which are yet to be published.
Vassiliev paints a by-gone world that is not only fascinating, but also deeply moving and real. The author reconstructs the stories of hardships and triumph with great care, giving a vivid account of the lives of women that wore Chanel, graced the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and inspired legendary photographers like Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst. Beauty in Exile truly is a marvelous introduction into the world of Russian fashion and the history of the White immigrant community in the 20s-40s.