When Russians Took Paris
NY Times –  November 21, 2000

I was the main Russian star of children's TV," Alexandre Vassiliev exclaimed in his publisher's office the other day, wearing not one but two scarves and a cameo ring. "They call me the Russian Shirley Temple. Once, I was dressed as an alarm clock." Mr. Vassiliev, a native of Moscow, came to his second career as a figure in the world of European fashion - teaching fashion history at the Royal College of Art in London and designing costumes for prominent opera and ballet companies in Italy and Germany - the way few others have. He was trying to avoid serving in the military during the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan 21 years ago. To alter his fate, Mr. Vassiliev married a Frenchwoman and moved to Paris in 1982. "It wasn't purely a marriage of arrangement," he protested. "We had some fun."

He was soon introduced to a film director and started getting costume work. One evening when he was attending the theatre, he accidentally sat down in the seat belonging to an older woman, who would lead him to the next line on his résumé. She was also Russian but described herself as "imperial from St. Petersburg," Mr. Vassiliev said. The woman had fled the Russian Revolution and worked for years in Paris as a tailor. They became friends, and she suggested he might write a book about her circle, active at a time when many Russian exiles influenced Western fashion, including the illustrator Erté (whose Russian name was Roman Tyrtov), the photographer George Hoyningen-Huene and his sister, Baroness Hoyningen- Huene, who founded the Parisian couture house of Yteb in the 1920's.

Mr. Vassiliev also combed through every issue of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar from 1917 to 1945. The result is a 479-page book, "Beauty in Exile" (Harry N. Abrams, $60).

"In the old days you had to have glamour and glitter," Mr. Vassiliev observed. "I love fashion of today, but it's not very glamorous. Unisex has had a victory."