While pondering what I would write about next on Savoir Faire, today after numerous false starts I had finally settled on an historical post that would takes us back to the splendour of Russia before the revolution of 1917. My chosen subject was Prince and Princess Felix Yusupov whose wealth it was said was greater than the Romanovs themselves. The couple had immense savoir faire, and their story is full of luxury, intrigue, near poverty and a mix of scandal. Prince Felix has the dubious distinction of being one of Rasputin’s assassins and Irena was an incredibly ethereal beauty, the only niece of Tsar Nicholas II.
Their story can be read in numerous books, and research on the Internet, which I will let Savoir Faire’s readers do for themselves.
Of course I got sidetracked and stumbled on Irfé, something I had forgotten about. While in exile in Paris the Yusupovs founded a short-lived couture house Irfé, named after the first two letters of their first names. The fact that the prince had played a part in the death of Rasputin added to the house’s cachet in the late 1920’s. Irina modeled some of the dresses the pair and other designers at the firm created. But the prince had little business sense, and two years after the 1929 Wall Street crash ruined his most prosperous clients, the Yusupov’s were forced to close Irfé.
Only two of the house's original creations are known to survive, as many American clients used to clip the labels out of the dresses they bought in Paris in the hope of evading customs duties.
After being closed for over eighty years the House of Irfé reopened again in 2008 and is now located on the Rue de Fauborg Saint-Honore in Paris, under the direction of creative director Olga Sorokina. "The story of this house is a part of Russia's history and heritage," Sorokina, has said of Irfé.
Sorokina said she was drawn to the label after reading "Beauty in Exile," fashion historian's Alexandre Vassiliev's account of the artists, models and nobility who fled the Russian revolution and influenced the world of fashion. She contacted Xenia Sphiris, the granddaughter of the founders, who agreed to a re-launch of the brand. The re-launch of Irfé is testament to the growing purchasing power of Russia's new rich, who have joined the exclusive coterie of haute couture clients in recent years.
All this aside I like the fact that Sorokina is not resting on or drawing on the faded glory of a forgotten label, but designing fresh new clothes that are perfectly suited to the clients they wish to serve. These are modern clothes for the under 20 something, who is rich and has money to spend. Maybe the new rising Russian rich?
“We want to be Russian but modern, respecting our origins but not caught in the past,” explained Sorokina. This season, Sorokina showed modernist architectural lines, employing protective finishes and complementing looks with lustre detailing. There were great astrakhan biker blousons with cut off sleeves, and wonderful sculptural skirts and dresses. The clothes were also practical – with natty leather biker pants for a woman on the move and precise cashmere knits for the more active customer.
Other elements to impress were the fine high-heels and ankle-boots, made in snake-skin or leather and bags finished with Royal crowns and violet interiors, all the better to sum up the posh Tsarist rocker mood of this collection.