Maison IRFE

Elle Magazine Italy about IRFE

A front page of Elle magazine Italy from May 2012

Once upon a time in Paris of the early, crazy twenties, there was a very special couture house: Irfé, named after the initials of its two founders, Irina Alexandrovna Romanova – a woman with a profile as elegant as a cameo – granddaughter of Tsar Alexander III, and her handsome husband, Prince Felix Youssoupoff. Having fled to France after the upheavals of the October Revolution, they founded this legendary fashion house in 1924, whose creations even inspired the likes of Poiret and Coco Chanel at the time.

Accustomed to the lavish (and costly) lifestyle of pre-revolutionary Russia, the Youssoupoff princes were indeed generous and a bit naive, demonstrating a sophisticated, avant-garde taste ahead of their time (even creating a perfume in three variations: for blondes, redheads, or brunettes) but lacking adequate business acumen. Amid extravagant spending, constant travels across the globe, lawsuits (including one initiated by Rasputin’s daughter), and sensational jewelry heists, as Felix confides in his memoir, “Lost Splendor.” Published in Paris in 1953, it recounts his life before exile, when the young prince, deemed the most beautiful teenager of the Belle Époque, caused a stir by dressing himself and his little dog in his mother’s clothes and jewels (including the famous and gigantic ones like the Pelegrina pearl or the equally famous diamond earrings of Marie Antoinette.

A rich noblewoman in an exquisite IRFE evening gown and jewelry the 1920s - a screenshot from Elle Italy May2012

A rich noblewoman in an exquisite evening gown from Maison Irfé and jewelry in the 1920s

In those times Irfé was particularly appealing to the liberated and fashionable American women who arrived in Ville Lumière in droves, dressing up with a hint of transgression in the draped dresses and evening capes adorned with exquisite embellishments, who were making this brand a favorite of the era. They were seeking artists to discover, couture to acquire, and destitute nobles to support. Among them was Margaret Rockefeller, who married the flamboyant Marquis George de Cuevas, whom she met right at the Irfé atelier. And then there was Miss Vanderbilt or Mrs. Whoobee, an exceedingly wealthy and affectionate client who on more than one occasion nearly single-handedly saved the maison from bankruptcy.

A screenshot from the Elle Italy: The designer of the "new" Irfé, Olga Sorokina, poses in an elegant tuxedo and her own bijoux.

The designer of the “new” Irfé, Olga Sorokina, poses in an elegant tuxedo and her own bijoux.

Irfé is once again in the spotlight thanks to the creativity of Olga Sorokina, a young designer who, in just a few seasons, has breathed new life into this brand with a history deeply intertwined with the larger narrative of history itself. It’s worth remembering that it was the highly aristocratic Felix who orchestrated the conspiracy leading to the assassination of Rasputin. Amid a series of successes, dramatic turns (and coups), failures, honors, and scandalous loves. But that’s not all. In this autobiography, the prince unreservedly recounts the Bolshevik Revolution, the adventurous escape to France via Crimea, revisiting his memories up to World War II, particularly dwelling on the carefree years in Paris. In those years, the entire international high society frequented the elegant salons of the Maison at 19 rue Duphot: a treasure chest of yellow silk, gray velvet, and floral cretonne combined in a daringly modern way. Avant-garde then as it is today, the white offices and design of Irfé, still headquartered in Paris at 4 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré.

“I want Irfé to be synonymous with contemporaneity, as it was in its past,” declared Olga Sorokina, the designer responsible for the brand’s relaunch, met in Capri on the occasion of the opening of the first two Italian boutiques: one in the central Via Roma, the other by the sea at the jet set’s favorite spot of all times and nations, La Canzone del Mare. “Even though we have an illustrious tradition behind us, I like to think of Irfé as a brand of today, in tune with the times and not boring,” continues the designer. “I love fashion that’s a bit ‘mad’. I don’t like lines that are too classic. That’s why I’m always looking for something new, for example in the mix of materials like silk, crocodile, or python contrasted together. Especially for accessories, my passion. For me, in fact, a collection is not complete without a wide range of shoes, bags, or belts. And bijoux.” Like the necklaces with the bicep imperial eagle or the Youssoupoff crown brooches. The seal of a story projected into the near future.

Luca Lanzoni © Elle MAGAZINE MAY 2012 (Translated from Italian)