This weekend is always a weird one – with one foot still clinging on to the over-indulgence of the past month and the other desperate to move onto a new chapter – you generally don’t know what to do with yourself. But what better way to start the New Year than with an injection of culture? If you’re in London there is only one weekend left to see the Horst exhibition at the V&A and it’s absolutely beautiful – so much so that I’ve been twice!
If you do get the chance you will no doubt be rather intrigued by one of Horst’s favourite muses , the cat-like “Lud”.
It says under one of her portraits that she cut off parts of her breasts and thighs to make her figure the perfect silhouette! I managed to track down her life story in “Beauty in Exile’ by Alexandre Vassiliev – but sadly there’s no mention of how or where this occurred – it’s an interesting read though……….
“Born in St Petersburg in 1913 to a vice-governor of Vladimir province, Lud escaped with her family to the Crimea after the Bolshevik revolution, thence to Constantinople, Greece and France. In exile, Lud proved to be more than just a pretty face. While her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet, Lud took high grades at a French lycée and planned to enter university to study philology.
Fate determined a different course for Lud when the famed photographer Horst espied her delivering dresses to Vogue’s Paris studio. Thus at age eighteen, Lud began what was to be a fabulous modeling career, first with the house of Countess Vera Borea, then Patou, then Chanel. She married a French marquis, and knew the delicious experience of having rivals Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel vie graspingly for her services. In 1937, wearing a draped white gown from Alix and posed like some lethally beautiful Medea between fluted columns, Lud was photographed by Horst in what Vassiliev describes as “one of the immortal images of twentieth century fashion.”
We all know beauty and wealth do not guarantee happiness, but the gods sought to use Lud to press the point home. First her marriage to the marquis failed; she married again, to a naval engineer, and began to appear in films. She left France for a time, living first in Argentina and later in the United States, and her second marriage broke up. By the time she returned to France in the early 50’s and began working for Balenciaga, she sensed that somehow her sun had set. There were financial woes, brought on by her unflagging addiction to high living. She ended up taking a job at the Slenderella beauty institute, earning some cash on the side by singing in the chorus of the Paris Opéra. In 1959, the once glorious Lud was living in the resort town of Le Touquet, where the only work she could find was as an airport clerk. When that job ended, she found a new position, as head of curriculum at a private school, and when that job ended, Lud was hired as director of a home for aged Russians, where among the charges she oversaw was another faded Russian model, Princess Maria Eristova. Still, there was a little happiness for Lud at the end: in 1982, she married a childhood friend, Pierre de la Grandière, and lived with him in the French Alps until her death from cancer in 1990.
In describing her mother, Lud’s daughter also gives a fair account of most of the other artistic Russian émigrés. Lud feared nothing and no one, remembered her daughter, never hesitating to sail a boat out onto a stormy lake or take a stroll through a crime-ridden Paris purlieu. Lud was in love with living: “She was the daughter of Epicurus.”