Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Designing Duchess

Marie and Wilhelm's Wedding

Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, Dmitri's sister, became a famous fashion designer in France and America. She started an embroidery business called Kitmir in Paris and worked for Chanel. Chanel had a difficult rags-to-riches struggle and allegedly treated aristocrats, including Marie badly.

The Grand Duchess had a long and interesting journey from imperial splendour in Russia to attempting to make it on her own as a business woman.

She was the daughter of Grand Duke Paul and Alexandra of Greece. Her mother died when Marie was very young and her father married again some years later. The Tsar disapproved of Paul's new wife and sent the couple into exile. Marie and Dmitri were looked after by Grand Duke Sergei and his wife, the Tsaritsa's sister, Grand Duchess Ella. Marie found Ella very cold and difficult to get along with. Sergei was very much disliked by many Russians, but he was kind to the children. She did apparently find him very possessive, however.

Sergei was assassinated in 1905. Marie and Dmitri watched GD Ella as she knelt over his blood-stained body. This experience must have been incredibly traumatic for the children and they probably never got over it.

Ella became friendlier after this but she dragooned Marie into a marriage with the Swedish Prince Wilhelm when she was only 17. Marie's father, Paul, was against this but couldn't do much about it. Marie married Wilhelm in 1908. He was apparently rather cold and probably gay. Marie made many friends at the Swedish court but she didn't care for the excessive formality there. They had a son, Lennart, in 1909, but the marriage was eventually annulled. Prince Wilhelm raised Lennart.

Marie returned to Russia where she worked as a nurse in the First World War. (She strangely described this time as 'the happiest of her life'.) She married Prince Putiatin and had another son, Roman. She was lucky enough to flee the Revolution According to Grant Menzies's excellent article on the Grand Duchess, Marie fled old Russia 'in July on a "beautiful summer day" filled with daisies and grasshoppers and yellow butterflies.'1. She fled to Queen Marie in Romania but her son tragically died.

Her second marriage also broke up and Marie never married again.

Marie Works For Chanel

Marie joined her brother, Dmitri, in England and financed her exile by selling many of her gorgeous jewels and selling lovely clothes which she knitted. She and Dmitri went to Paris where Marie set up a textile and embroidery business called 'Kitmir'. Legend has it that she established the business to provide work for the many Russian exiles in Paris.

Chanel became one of her favoured clients but they fought because Chanel wanted to be Marie's only client. Chanel unfortunately won this battle.

Marie's Travels

Marie decided to go to America where she established a perfumery and worked as a vendeuse for department stores, such as Bergdorf Goodman.

She then lived in Buenos Aires for many years where she sold perfumes and worked for Elizabeth Arden.

Marie eventually went back to Europe where she lived near her son. She is buried with Dmitri in the grounds of Mainau, an inheritance of her son.

1. Marie Pavlovna


Lucy said...

Another informative and very lovely article Viola.

BTW, please direct me to your new blog..which one is it?

Viola said...

Thank you very much, Ms.Lucy. That's very sweet of you.

I meant a new blog post, I think. I do have a blog about the Edwardians, that you might like and I need more followers! :)

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