Irfe brand owner Xenia Sphiris, of Russia, left, and
Belarus fashion designer Olga Sorokina hope to restore the
label to its former glory. Photo Dominique Maitre; Ifre/AP.
The history of Russian fashion label Irfe reads like a
rollicking bestseller, but for designer Olga Sorokina, it's a
fairytale come true.
Almost eight decades after the original house of Irfe
shuttered its doors, Sorokina presented her first collection
for the label during couture week in Paris, with the hope of
restoring it to its former glory.
Models paraded on the steps of the Palais de Tokyo
contemporary art museum in bias-cut silk gowns and rich
astrakhan fur jackets inspired by the sleek fashions of the
1920s and '30s.
"The story of this house is a part of Russia's history and
heritage," Sorokina, speaking through an interpreter, told
reporters at the presentation this week.
Founded in Paris in 1924 by Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife
Irina, the niece of the last Russian Czar Nicholas II, Irfe
rapidly conquered a following amid chic European and American
customers who were dazzled by its aristocratic founders.
The fact that Yusupov had played a part in the murder of the
self-declared holy man Rasputin at his family palace in St.
Petersburg added a frisson of excitement.
But the prince had little business sense, and two years after
the 1929 Wall Street crash ruined his most prosperous
clients, Yusupov was forced to shutter Irfe.
Only two of the house's original creations survive, as many
American clients used to clip the labels out of the dresses
they bought in Paris in the hope of evading customs duties.
Sorokina said she was drawn to the label after reading
"Beauty in Exile," fashion historian's Alexandre Vassiliev's
account of the artists, models and nobility who fled the
Russian revolution and influenced the world of fashion.
She contacted Xenia Sphiris, the granddaughter of the
founders, who agreed to relaunch the brand.
"We thought about it and we talked about it and the idea was
fantastic, and I know that my grandparents loved that house,"
Sphiris, who was born Sheremeteva, told The Associated Press.
She said the label was financially backed by Russian
businessman Andrei Strukov, but Strukov declined to comment
on his involvement or to detail the shareholder structure of
the new firm.
The relaunch of Irfe is testament to the growing purchasing
power of Russia's new rich, who have joined the exclusive
coterie of haute couture clients in recent years.
Sorokina, a 23-year-old former model from Belarus, is riding
on the coattails of this meteoric rise.
She confessed she was nervous presenting her creations in
Paris, where prestigious houses like Chanel and Christian
Dior are unveiling their latest made-to-measure creations to
wealthy clients this week. Nonetheless, she was confident of
making her mark.
"Paris is definitely still the capital of fashion, but in a
few years Russian designers will break out in the
international market," predicted Sorokina, who was dressed in
a close-fitting cream silk trouser suit of her own design.
Irfe has bold plans for a fledgling firm. It expects to open
its first store on Moscow's exclusive Stoleshnikov Lane this
winter, with further shops planned in Paris, Milan and New
Irfe also plans to introduce a perfume range and a line of
jewelry based on the legendary jewels of the Yusupov,
Sheremetev and Romanov families.