Felix Yousoupoff grew up in one of the most respectable families in Russia and its sumptuous palaces. Therefore, he possessed an immaculate taste formed by his family history and the beauty around him. Since early childhood he had admired his mother’s beauty and her perfect outfits, her legendary huge diamonds and rare pearls. Such a rarefied atmosphere would later on be his inspiration for the interiors he designed and the exotic Oriental furnishings that were characteristic of the Maison IRFE.
Among the European Fashion Houses you will hardly find a Fashion House with such Imperial credentials as the Maison IRFE, which was founded in 1924 in Paris by Yousoupoff the princely couple, who gave their initials to form the name of the House.
She was Princess Irina Romanova, a young dazzling beauty, niece of Imperor Nicolas and the favourite granddaughter of Tsar Alexander III.
He — Prince Felix Yousoupoff, Count Sumarokov-Elston was the descendant of an ancient tribe, one of the most handsome men of Russia. The heir of a fabulous fortune (the Yousoupoff were deemed to be wealthier than the Tsar himself), he was closely related to Russian and European aristocracy.
The wedding of this legendary couple came down in history. It was the last wedding in the Emperor’s family before the beginning of the First World War, which reached the young couple during their honeymoon journey in Germany.
After the Revolution the Yousoupoff’s family immigrated to Europe. In Italy, they had a large villa on Corsica — an estate, and Paris, a city they knew well, appeared as a romantic refuge to them. They bought a house near le Parc des Princes in Boulogne-sur-Seine. There, the Prince set up a charming little theatre where the Maison IRFE subsequently started.
The idea of opening their own Fashion House came to the Prince after a trip to the United States (according to rumour, in order to open the Maison IRFE, he had to sell the unique diamond “Polar Star” to Cartier jewellers). The inauguration of the Maison IRFE took place in 1924 in the Ritz hotel — Place Vendome and culminated with a spectacular ball. The appearance of the models after midnight, among them was Irina Yousoupoff, who made a lasting impression even on the blazes Parisians. Irina was famous in the French capital for her beauty. Her Aristocratic allure and flawless features attracted the most famous photographers who took countless pictures Irina wearing IRFE. However, she did not consider herself to be a fashion model.
Friends and relatives of the Yousoupoff: Irina’s brother, Prince Nikita Romanov with his wife Princess Maria Vorontsova-Dashkova, Mikhail and Nonna Kalashnikovs formed a team in the creation of the collection. IRFE models were very modern — androgynous with the hairstyle “à la garcon”. Here are the impressions of a French journalist about the models of Maison IRFE, 1925: ˮOriginal and refined taste, minute work and artistic vision of the colour have immediately placed this atelier among the ranks of large Fashion Houses”.
French Vogue about IRFE collection of 1926: “The collection that you see is a selection at the same time, since it has no unsuccessful models”. The magazine has presented a “Batdress” with original cut and “The Water Lilies” dress. Sports models deserve special attention.
The success of the Maison IRFE relied heavily on its founder Irina Romanova. She was famous for her beauty in Paris of the 1920’s. The models — beautiful princesses and countesses, were able to talk about the outfits in several languages, and contributed to the success of the House. Soon IRFE opened three new branches in Normandy, London and Berlin. The success of the House allowed Yousoupoff to develop new lines of activities. They opened the store of Yousoupoff’s porcelain and the Prince himself took part in the decoration of three Parisian restaurants.
In 1926 the Maison IRFE presented its own fragrance line. Following Chanel’s example, Felix and Irina Yousoupoff called their perfume IRFE. The range of IRFE perfumes, produced in limited editions, was conceived to create four categories of women — blondes, brunettes, redheads and graceful greys. Unlike other Houses, IRFE expressly named the colour of the hair and paid attention to elderly women, having dedicated them to Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Felix and Irina were the authors of the fragrances. The design of the advertising poster featuring a rectangular bottle with a faceted black cap was created by Princess Margaret of Greece.
Only two dresses made by the Maison IRFE have been discovered so far. One of them, made of black silk, is part of the collection of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan museum in New York, and another dress is owned by a French collector, who preferred to remain unknown. The original look of the building on rue Duphot — home to the Maison IRFE in the 1920s has been preserved. In 1931,the Maison IRFE and its branches closed, and only its legendary perfumes remained until the 1960s.
Prince Felix Youssoupoff died September 27, 1967 at the age of eighty, followed by his wife Irina, aged 74, on February 26, 1970: both in Paris.
The daughter of Felix and Irina, Irina married Count Nicolas Sheremetieff in Rome in June, 1938. The only child from this marriage, Xenia Nikolaevna Sphiri, nee Countess Sheremetieff, pre- sently lives between Paris and Athens, she has a daughter and two granddaughters.
The introduction to the grand- daughter of the Yousoupoff Xenia Sheremetieff Sphiri became the turning point in Olga Sorokina’s life. This life- changing meeting occurred in 2006 and served as a new beginning in the history of the legendary House. Olga offered Xenia to revive the Maison IRFE, and became its new owner.
To create a new chapter in the history of IRFE, I shouldn’t look back, but only go forward”, says Olga Sorokina. “When I started to work on the first collection after almost 80 years of oblivion, I made the decision to work like the house of IRFE had never stopped operating. By proceeding to create the first collection after almost 80 years of oblivion I set the task before myself and my team to do it so as if it had never stopped operating”. Clothes created by Olga Sorokina make an essential wardrobe for a modern day woman, allowing her to freely express herself. IRFE clothes are easily combined and compliment each other. The woman who wears IRFE creates her own unique style.
The retrospective of the creative oeuvre of the great Maison IRFE which marked its revival took place in June, 2008 in Palais de Tokyo in Paris, having thus laid foundations for the new creative path of Olga Sorokina.