It is amazing how things “happen.” As a side event to the Russian Revolution, a deciding one in some people’s minds, was the murder of Gregori Rasputin by, it is popularly assumed, Prince Felix Yusupov. I have written a historical novel which I hope to publish in the near future. “The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan” is about two Rembrandts, part of the famous Yusupov art collection of St. Petersburg, said to have been the largest in Russia. But my story here is not about Prince Felix Yusupov or even Rasputin, both of whom figure largely in my book. This is about a happening that resulted from the Yusupov/Rasputin affair—an “unintended consequence” as they say. In researching and writing, many side stories surface, some new and some known. This is a truthful and fun one.
It involves Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, first cousin of Czar Nicolas II, and who was one of the handful of conspirators, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, who murdered Rasputin in the basement room of the Yusupov Palace on the Moika in St. Petersburg in December 1916. Czar Nicholas II sent the murdering conspirators far out of town and Dimitri was sent to a military unit in Persia. In the next year, 1917, it was all over for Czarist Russia and the Grand Duke never returned to his homeland. Like many other fleeing Russians, he ended up in Paris. And who do you think took notice of the aristocrat’s arrival? Coco Chanel. She was eleven years his senior but that didn’t stop either one.
The French perfume business was booming because the scents didn’t last past eleven in the evening. So they bathed in the stuff. (Can you imagine!) But, as I heard the story, Dimitri said to Coco that she should not sell big bottles of perfume for cheap prices, but small bottles for high prices. There is much written about this affair. Dimitri introduced Coco to Ernest Beaux, a successful Russian-born perfumier from St. Petersburg. Beaux’s grandfather was part of the Napoleon invasion of Russia in 1812, was captured by the Russians and upon release, decided to stay there. Ernest Beaux found himself in France after the war. His French employer, Rallet, would not follow his suggestions. From his Russian experience, Beaux insisted that the addition of deer musk would make the perfume last the night. Coco hired Beaux, added deer musk to the eighty-some other ingredients and voila: we have Chanel No. 5. That was 1920.
The Coco-Dimitri affaire lasted a year and while she moved on to others, the relationship is indeed historic. You may have seen the film “Igor and Coco” about her affair with Stravinsky. It seems she liked Russians – famous Russians. But as an unintended consequence of the murder of Rasputin, our lovely ladies have Chanel No. 5. Ce qui arrive, arrive.
To read more about all this read "Chanel" by Edmonde Charles~Roux.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City Committee. While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.