Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Unconventional Beauty: Natacha Rambova in Fortuny

On June 7th 1916 there was notice in the New York Times about a missing girl, a Miss Winifred de Wolfe:   Miss de Wolfe was last seen in the costume shop E.S. Freisinger on West forty-first street trying on costume gowns.  Miss Wolfe, a niece of the interior decorator, Elsie de Wolfe, had recently informed her mother that she would be dancing on stage with the Russian Imperial Ballet and the dancer Kosloff.  Mrs. de Wolfe was not happy with this arrangement and tried to dissuade her daughter.    Miss de Wolfe is rumored to have met Kosloff at the costume shop to which he had brought a new traveling case.  That is the last trace those who have been searching for her have been able to unearth. 

The above is an extremely iconic image of a Fortuny Delphos gown worn by Natacha Rambova and photographed by James Abbé.  

I am thrilled to be able to offer a rare and iconic vintage print of this photograph at RARE vintage.  The photograph was acquired by the present owner from the gallery Hastings in New York.

"I loathe fashion.  I want to dress in a way that is becoming to me, whether it is the style of the hour or not.  So it should be with all women in my opinion." Natacha Rambova

Who was Natacha Rambova?  She was most famously the wife of Rudolph Valentino but Natacha Rambova was actually born Winifred Shaughnessy in Salt Lake City, Utah.  When her mother married Edgar de Wolfe, the brother of Elsie de Wolfe, she became the above mentioned missing Winifred de Wolfe.  She had a rebellious  nature, much to the dismay of her social climbing mother, and was thrown out of her boarding school for "conduct unbecoming to a lady".

When she was 17 she went to New York, where she changed her name to Natacha Rambova and began a love affair with the much older dancer Kosloff of the Imperial Russian Ballet Company.  Her mother was scandalized and brought statutory rape charges against Kosloff but later dropped the charges and even underwrote the costumes for the ballet company.

Kosloff was hired by Cecil B DeMille to act and to contribute costume designs to his films.  But the real talent was Natacha - although Kosloff did not give her any credit for her designs - eventually she was discovered as being the brains and the beauty behind the costume and set designs.

See how beautiful - and exotic - she was!

She married Rudolph Valentino in 1922 and they collaborated on many his films together amidst a lot of celebrity scandal: accusations of bigamy and gossip that she was controlling Valentino's career and over-bearing...

Valentino described her style: "At last we were ready to visit M. Poiret.  He is the one costumier in Paris best suited to Natacha's temperament.  She looks best in vivid colors, no one color over another, but all colors that are violent and definite.  Scarlets.  Vermillions. Strong blues.  Emphatic greens.  Loud voiced yellows.  Blazoning purples".  Fortuny was of course sold at Paul Poiret's shop in Paris.  I wonder what color her Fortuny was in the Abbé photo?

After she and Valentino divorced in 1925, Rambova moved to New York and in 1928 opened her own dress boutique on West 55th Street.  The New Yorker described her clothes as "intensely individualistic" and for women who were "very sure of their personalities".

"Rambova disclaims allegiance to the Paris designers and goes for inspiration to the arts of China, Persia, India, Egypt and to the costumes of the medieval and Renaissance ages."
The New Yorker 1928

Natacha Rambova dresses in the collection of Phoenix Art Museum

Natacha closed her studio in 1931 and went on to have a career as an expert in Egyptian, Tibetan and Nepalese artifacts.  She died in 1966.

The James Abbé photograph of Natacha Rambova in a Fortuny Dephos is available at RARE vintage.  The photograph is often used in books and exhixbitions on the work and designs Mariano Fortuny.  It measures 11 X 14" and was purchased at Hastings gallery in New York.

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