Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Unknown Style Icons: Natacha Rambova

What is a style icon? Believe it or not, after researching for almost an hour through the internet, I haven't found a single definition of it. Well, after years of working in fashion and having been influenced by more of them than I care to remember, I would say a style icon is someone who has developped and expressed his - or her - personality through his fashion sense more successfully than the rest of us mortals and who, subsequently, has inspired entire upcoming generations when it comes to defining their style.
But enough definitions; we all know what a style icon is and we all construct our own styles and fashion codes under the constant shadow of our personal flair gods and goddesses. Actually we probably share many of them: Audrey Hepburn, Edie Sedgwick, Brigitte Bardot... and all the rest of the style icons that fill every "Style Icons" list in the Western world. I confess sometimes I find it all a bit tiring. Don't get me wrong, I love Audrey and Edie as much as the next girl, but they are getting so "iconic" that sometimes they look more like marketing products than actual human beings. Kind of like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, who have reached such an epically iconic status due to their doomed lives and deaths that most people have forgotten what they were like when they were alive. You all know I adore Marilyn and yes, of course I have been inspired on more than one (OK, on more than 100) occasions by Audrey and Edie's style; but there are many more fabulous women who had incredibly personal and otherworldly styles and who, "mysteriously", are still relatively unknown.

While almost all "Style Icons" lists bear the name "Louise Brooks" in its "1920's" section, I can think of so many other women of that era that were truly inspiring in every sense. It's true that perhaps Miss Brooks embodies the 20's woman better than anyone else, but it seems to me that decade was fuller than average of one-of-a-kind eccentric personalities. One of them was Natacha Rambova.
With her beautiful Russian name, her Byzantine-inspired garments, her Lady Godiva-like hair and her superstar Italian husband (she married Rudolph Valentino at the top of his fame), Rambova seemed like the most exotic woman you could imagine. The truth is she was born Winifred Shaughnessy in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a fairly traditional family. She constructed her whole character when she started a career as a classical ballet dancer in New York. There she began designing costumes and scenography for her company, and Hollywood soon called her to work on films. She was the author, among other films, of the costumes in Salome (1923), a delirious film based in Oscar Wilde's play with a delightful atrezzo (including white wigs and lightbulb hair that prove Lady Gaga hasn't invented anything new) based in Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations. Rambova put as much energy into her own style as in her movie work, creating a signature look of elaborate braids, decorated turbans and visible jewellery never devoid of a Western Russia feel. A really sophisticated, striking style that, paradoxically, is incredibly inspiring and easy to achieve.


  1. I'm glad you've discovered her, but I wouldn't say she's unknown...http://www.fashionhistorian.net/page/history_rambova.htm

  2. She was certainly unknown to me; what a refined find. And, in the best tradition of many interesting extroverts, self created in the best possible ways

    All best,



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