Fashion historian Alexander Vasyliev believes that the model profession was invented by Russian emigrants, who were the first who said, “We’ll do it all the time and for money!” In Russia the word combination “a fashion model” became the synonym for “the standard of beauty” ages and ages ago, and it has always been an admiration for all foreigners. Let’s take a look at the list of Russian fashion models abroad, modern ones and those who became fashion stars back in the early 20-ies of the 20-th century.
Noble people of the Russian Empire had to emigrate from their country after the October Revolution. Most of them, who survived in political reshuffle, were ready to go wherever it was possible, but the majority of the former elite was trying to get a visa to France. Those who had servants before now turned into dishwashers and tailors or even started to work in plants, so, of course, the prettiest women preferred to become photo models or demonstrate newly made clothes rather than to be at the very bottom of the ladder.
Paris adored the Slavic type (fair skin, blue eyes and prominent cheekbones), but also employed Georgian woman, though, with much less enthusiasm. The man criteria was the height – 160 cm, while the build was a minor factor, anyways, it was quite hard to find a chubby Russian, as the war and emigrant starvation didn’t really favor plumpness. For the women, who were applying for this job, it was a must to speak several languages fluently and be talkative and communicate with customers and behave like natives.
There we several types of models – the most popular one was a “home model”, women who had to stand in tailoring shops for hours while seamstresses were adjusting the clothes to fit.
The second category was “fitting room models”; these women worked for fashion houses and demonstrated new clothes. Big model houses employed six or eight girls, and small ones had two or three girls. Every-day a fashion house would arrange shows in the main room, and the customers could touch dresses, which the models were wearing, and study the outfit closely. If the girls were late, smoked, drank coffee or flirted with customers’ husbands, they paid a fine. Each fashion house, Chanel and Vogue among others, hired two or three Russian women. The House of Chanel, for example, just loved Russian models (“real Russian princesses”), and had from 15 to 20 of them in each period of the its history.
The USSR was not dragging behind as well; the fashion of that time was controlled by the light industry. The models’ salary was just average, as of teachers or engineers, or sometimes even smaller. For some unknown reason models were not allowed to buy clothes, which were made on the basis of their measurements.
Still, they had an access to western fashion magazines and could sometimes go abroad, but they couldn’t even dream of staying there forever. The first Russian model who managed to emigrate was Mila Romanoskaya – she was called berezka (birch-tree) and snegurochka (snow-girl) and the western fashioners were just losing their heads when saw her.
The regime became milder in late 70-ies, but the models were still suspected of just everything if they dared to head for the west. The discipline, maintained during short business trips, was harsh.
In the 90-ies Russian girls rushed to France and Italy and were (and still are) really welcomed there. The Russian wave overwhelmed Europe and the USA in a blink of an eye, they won different competitions and reached the very top of the fashion models list. The names of the pioneers are Natalia Semanova, Ludmila Isaeva, Tatiana Sorokko, Irina Bondarenko, Olga Pantushenkova and others. They were followed by numbers of other gorgeous ladies with Natalia Vodianova, one of today’s top-models and fruit-seller in the past, among them.
Photo credit – all photos