<![CDATA[ILIL ARBEL - Madame Koska]]>Wed, 06 Jan 2016 02:09:59 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[ The Frightening Changes in the World of Fashion ]]>Sat, 20 Jul 2013 17:53:01 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/-the-frightening-changes-in-the-world-of-fashionWhen we look at fashion, we expect change, innovation, and  creativity. But what I see goes beyond that – an entire paradigm shift has  occurred. During the twenties, fashion was about beauty. Rich women bought the  haute couture designs, middle class women tried to emulate it. The looks, while  truly gorgeous, were achievable; the models, while certainly extremely  beautiful, looked nevertheless like normal women, and the clothes, accessories,  even the evening gowns were something any woman would be proud to own and use. 
The other day, my good friend, the writer Nurit Henig from  Israel (see several of her wonderful stories right here on http://ililarbel.weebly.com/personal-histories.html) sent me a link to a fashion show video, telling me it was a  “gift to Madame Koska.” It is stunning, and I could see why she sent it – most  of the dresses are beaded, much like the clothes I described being made in the  atelier of Madame Koska, an art she brought from Paris and Russia. I have to say  I was so fascinated with the video that I had to view it more than once. 
The clothes are futuristic, but they borrow from the past, not  only because of the elaborate beading, but the designs as well. For example, one  of the creations is strongly Elizabethan, suggesting a farthingale. The models  who present the clothes look, to be quite honest, like snakes. Each model wears  a head covering which is a beaded cage that covers the face as well as the  skull, giving them the shape of a snake’s head. The models are extremely tall  and thin, and the beaded dresses skim their bodies like reptilian scales. They  are, to be honest, a bit scary and alien, even though they are of course very beautiful. 
During Madame Koska’s time, the venue was generally selected for  its airy, cheerful, and elegant appearance. Refreshments would be circulated or  served on tables covered with silver and crystal. Flowers would be everywhere.  Often, light classical music was played by a live band. The venue you will see  on the link below looks like a dark castle. People are dwarfed by it. The music is  not pleasing to the ear. The entire effect, if you ask my opinion, is menacing.  And most important, I was wondering what woman on earth would actually buy and  wear these strange creations… Enjoy!
<![CDATA[ The Russian Models in Paris of the 1920s ]]>Sat, 13 Jul 2013 01:33:14 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/-the-russian-models-in-paris-of-the-1920sPicture
Hopefully, you have already met some of these beautiful  ladies in Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch. However, we did not discuss  them in the detail they deserve.

What I must tell you first is what they were  not. Unlike today’s models, they were not children. You would never meet a girl  between the ages of fourteen to sixteen being forced to diet into anorexia and  stunt her development. They were young ladies who had come of age. They were  not over six feet tall and made of skin and bone; they had real women’s bodies.  Certainly they were tall and slim and had the necessary tiny waist and long  legs, but they did not resemble a giraffe. 

In the 1920s, there were about a hundred Russian young  women who worked as models. They were exiles from the Revolution, and came from  the aristocracy, had no money and needed employment – and the great couture  houses were only too happy to get them. The girls had excellent education and  perfect manners, and could converse with the clients with ease, not only because of their social habits and experience, but also because French was really the  first language of the Russian nobility. 
There was a strict hierarchy in the modeling profession.  The models were divided into several categories: Mannequins de cabine,  who were on payroll for the couture house; mannequins vedettes, or  “stars” who came for special shows, and mannequins volantes, or flying  models, who were hired to travel with shows abroad; and mannequins  mondaines, or society models, who were particularly beautiful or had  important titles. The last category did not appear in shows. They were given  dresses to wear in society.  
The house of Chanel, for example, had two “star”  mannequins. The first was Princess Mary Eristova. Mary was born in Georgia, but  her father, Prince Schervachidze, was a member of the State Duma of  Russia, raising his daughter and her siblings in Saint Petersburg, where she  became a lady-in-waiting for the Empress Alexandra. When she arrived in Paris  and was introduced to Coco Chanel, the couturier was impressed with her fragile,  dark, exotic beauty that truly suited Chanel’s style. The second was Gali  Bajenova, a tall blond with a full figure, and was the daughter of a famous general,  Konstantin Nikolayevich Hagondokov. She came to Paris as a married woman, and  was hired by Chanel to be a society model, showing the Chanel dresses at many  society events. Her pictures appeared in many of the more popular magazines. 
Many noble families would have objected to their  daughters doing any work at all – let alone showing themselves in public – but  often there was no choice. The Russian immigrants had absolutely nothing, and  many of them had no marketable skills for anywhere but Russia, where the fathers  served as officials and the mothers either did not need to do anything, or  served at court. And modeling paid extremely well – a model could earn at least four  times as much as a waitress or a shop girl. In addition, these young ladies had  the love of fashion that helped them settle into the new life with a level of  comfort. Many saw it as an adventure and enjoyed the trade and the social  opportunities it brought.

The pictures in this posting came from a site that declared them as copyright free. If anyone feels this is incorrect, please let me know and I'll remove it immediately.

<![CDATA[Russian Pearl Embroidery]]>Fri, 05 Jul 2013 12:27:20 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/russian-pearl-embroideryIn Madame Koska’s atelier, Natalya, the expert on Russian  Pearl Embroidery is highly valued, and plays an important part in the first  mystery, Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch. No wonder. It is a  difficult, intricate form of embroidery, demanding perfection in the execution. 

The level of opulence achieved by this style is unmatched  by any other bead or sequin embroidery, no matter how valuable. The pearls  themselves do not have to be very expensive, though beautifully rounded ones  are preferred. But the combination of laying down gold couching thread, pearls,  and sometimes other gems on brilliantly colored, heavy cloth, certainly is fit  for royalty, nobility, the church, and the fabulously wealthy. 
Pearl embroidery is no longer in high demand for fashion, but some  great craft persons still make it, so the art is not lost. Many elegant, vintage  patterns still exist and can be bought online. Here are a couple of links showing examples and techniques  that would take the breath away from any embroidery lover, craft historian, or  anyone who love the history of fashion. 
This link leads to the site of a modern artisan who works  with this medium. 
This link will show you a historic image of a Russian  princess wearing a priceless pearl-embroidered dress and a headdress to match. 
This link takes you to a place that could have been  Madame Koska’s…
I hope the history and images help bring more of Madame  Koska’s creativity to life, and that you will enjoy these lovely crafts! If any  of you mean to try making it, please send me a picture!

<![CDATA[Fascinating Secrets – Vaslav and Bronislava Nijinsky!]]>Fri, 28 Jun 2013 17:15:33 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/fascinating-secrets-vaslav-and-bronislava-nijinskyPicture
A statue of Vaslav and Bronislava Nijinsky by Giennadij Jerszow

 Did Nijinsky possess supernatural powers?

Vaslav Nijinsky was a legend even during his own time. There were several occasions where people were wondering if his performance was not helped by supernatural powers. His leaps, in particular, seemed to be so incredibly high, and lasted so long, that people felt he was flying, or floating, defying gravity. 

It is most unfortunate that we cannot see any old films in which he appears – apparently Diaghilev did not allow anyone to film during Nijinsky’s performances – so the only evidence we have is word of mouth and memoirs. However, Nijinsky’s sister, a great dancer and choreographer in her own right, left some clues.

For example, his level of energy and his ability to focus were extraordinary. Here is how Bronislava described his practice habits:

“While Vaslav, apart from the others, practiced his dance exercises alone, I observed him from a distance. He executed all his exercises at an accelerated tempo, and for never more than forty-five to fifty minutes; that would be his total practice time. But during that time he expended the strength and energy equivalent in other dancers to three hours of assiduous exercises… Vaslav seemed more intent on improving the energy of the muscular drive, strength, and speed than observing the five positions… He worked on the elasticity of the whole body in the execution of his own movements. Even when holding a pose, Vaslav’s body never stopped dancing. “

Another point is, why couldn’t the greatest dancer of his time, perhaps even the entire twentieth century, lift his legs very high? Here is a paragraph by Bronislava that explains the one flaw he had exhibited:

“In his adagio exercises, in the développé front , he could not raise his leg higher than ninety degrees; the build of his leg, his overdeveloped thigh muscles, as solid as a rock, did not permit him to attain the angle possible for an average dancer.“

And the most important, here is the explanation for his supernatural leaps. Perhaps people should have taken a clue from the strange fact that he was one of the few male dancers, ever, who could dance en pointe, but no one connected the two facts.

“In the allegro pas he did not come down completely on the balls of his feet, but barely touched the floor with the tips of his toes and not the customary preparation with both feet firmly on the floor, taking the force from a deep plié. Nijinsky’s toes were unusually strong and enabled him to take this short preparation so quickly as to be imperceptible, creating the impression n that he remained at all times suspended in the air. “

Source: Nijinska, 1982, pp. 293-4

<![CDATA[A sample: Chapter One from the first Madame Koska]]>Sat, 22 Jun 2013 00:14:15 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/a-sample-chapter-one-from-the-first-madame-koska                                Chapter One

“Anyone here? Where are you?” The lady stood in the middle  of the large, empty room, her chocolate-colored eyes flashing with anger as she  stared at the incomplete renovations. Buckets of creamy white paint, brushes,  and other painting paraphernalia were scattered around the cloth covering the  floor. “Where is everyone?” she cried again. There was no answer. With a  sweeping motion she flung her embroidered, elegant black shawl around her  shoulders, and without removing her black fur hat, which added considerable  height to her already slim and tall figure, strode up the stairs, negotiating  her high heels with ease. “The pigs,” she murmured, quickly correcting herself  and saying “Les cochons.” One must  keep one’s style even when alone, as she was always trying to  remember.

On the upper story’s little hall  she burst into one of the rooms, then stopped suddenly and gazed at its  perfection. The walls glowed with their fresh coat of paint; the parquet was  polished to a deep shine. She sighed with relief and went downstairs again,  reaching the empty room just as the two workmen returned from their  lunch.

“Why have you not finished the  house?” she asked, her voice shrill and accusing. “You absolutely promised to  finish by tomorrow! I fully relied on you! The furniture is arriving on Friday,  and where shall I put it? I will not pay! I will complain! You will be  instantly dismissed!” She almost stamped her foot but must have remembered the  danger it could present to her high heel, and stopped herself in time. Instead  she decided to wring her hands, a most impressive gesture since it allowed the  many rings she wore on top of the white gloves to flash and sparkle in the  sun-drenched room.  
“But Maidum Koska, she is going  to be finished tomorrow. There is only one wall left, and then we polish the  floor, easy,” said the older man, smiling at her. “And look at the windows,  them too is done so beautifully.”

Madame Koska, somewhat  mollified, went to the window. She had to admit that the windows were very well  repaired, the terrible drafts that came from the loosened glass all gone. And  not a single drop of paint landed on the glass! She smiled at the workers with  utmost good nature that no one would have believed could be achieved so quickly  after the tempest, and stepped over to the door as another lady entered the  apartment. 

“Annushka, dorogaya,”  exclaimed Madame Koska, hugging the lady and speaking with a deep, velvety  voice. “Vill yu see the lovely vork these good men did? Ve are almost ready to  start!”

The younger painter’s mouth  opened. He looked at Madame Koska as if she started foaming at the mouth and  speaking in tongues. “Vat is this, young man?” she said sternly. 

Too bashful to talk to her  directly, and perhaps a bit scared, he turned and spoke to the older man. “The  lady has two voices,” he said timidly. The one referred to as Annushka burst  out laughing. “I keep telling you, Vera, you must remember to stick to the  right speech…”

“Vat is he talking about, I do  not know,” said Madame Koska complacently. “This class of people, I vill never  understand them… not at all like the serfs we had in St. Petersburg… Come,  Annushka, ve go and have some tea and talk about the  reception.”

Seated comfortably at the little  tea room around the corner with a spread of tiny sandwiches and petit fours to  accompany their tea, the ladies were drinking, eating, and taking notes at the  same time.

“Yes, it is exactly right,” said  Madame Koska. “You really are a caterer in a million,  Annushka.”

“Thank you, Vera. I am glad you  like my suggestions. This is going to be a grand party,” said Annushka, or  rather, Countess Anna Petrovna Golitsyn, a scion of one of the noblest families  of old Russia. She was, unfortunately, booted out of her elegant mansion and  expensive lifestyle after the Revolution into what she liked to call ignominious  exile.

“I will never understand how  easily you managed to get used to the working life,” said Madame Koska. “You  were born with not just a silver spoon, but a platinum one in your mouth, and
here you are, working for a living and making a success of it.”

“Every one of us had only two  choices after we escaped,” said Madame Golitsyn. “I could have starved in a  tiny Paris apartment like so many of the other exiles, maintaining the dignity  of my royal blood and waiting for the Tsar’s resurrection. You know my older  brother, Vasily, is still driving a taxi? And his daughter Natalya is selling  needlework? I keep sending them money, poor things. Yes, I could starve with  dignity, dreaming about past glories, or I could acknowledge, albeit with great  sorrow, that the royal family is not going to return, learn to adjust to the  new life and be comfortable and successful. I chose the latter and never looked  back. And cooking was always one of my favourite pastimes, even when we had all  the money and servants and the huge pantries and kitchens… I used to cook quite  often, for amusement. Once I realized that having a business was an option, I  knew I was not locked in a gilded cage. It gave me such a sense of  freedom.”

“But you could have stayed in  Paris, at least be surrounded by your people.”

“Not really. They accepted the  need to work, and forgave those who struggled as waiters, piece-work seamstress,  dance masters, or singers… but a successful business woman was another matter.  They would have never forgiven me that. Besides, so many great cooks and  caterers live and work in Paris, the competition was daunting. So once I  completed the culinary course and got my certificate, London seemed ideal. Not  enough French cooking for all those who wanted it, so I was assured of  success.”

 “Indeed. And now, with my new  business, if all goes well I’ll be able to send many great ladies your way, and  you can send yours to me.”

“Paris brought luck to both of  us, Vera.”

“Except for the pig I married,” said Madame Koska without any show of anger. She sipped her tea. 
Le cochon,” corrected Madame Golitsyn automatically.

“Yes, sorry,” said Madame Koska.  “Le cochon.”

 “If you prefer, you can use the  Russian word for pig, sveenya.”

“I like that, but I think most  people would recognize the French term more easily,” said Madame Koska. “Still,  once in a while, sveenya does sound, well, piggish… nice word.”

 “Ah,  well… le cochon is gone now, and the  dressmaking skill you learned in Paris did you much

“This is true. If I had not married le cochon, I would know  nothing of haute couture. He was very good at it.”

 “Do you have an idea where he is now?” 

“No, I have not heard from him  since he left, after the terrible scandal at the atelier. He was probably  killed in the War, or maybe emigrated somewhere... what does it  matter?”

 “If you ever decide to marry  again it would help to know if you need a death certificate or a divorce…” said  Madame Golitsyn. 

Madame Koska burst out laughing. “Marry again? Whatever for? Would you?”

Baw  zhe moi, no, no no! I am making a good living. What do I need a husband for?  And anyway, just look at me, who would be interested in a short, fat,  middle-aged woman? You look like a noble Russian more than I do,

“I think you are lovely,
Annushka, just the way you are, and plenty of men would agree. But yes, my good
looks helped when I was young… and now it would help in the haute couture
business. Yes, it’s the business world for us, Annushka, and I am enjoying every
minute of it. We leave the romance to the girls.”

<![CDATA[Anna Pavlova]]>Sat, 15 Jun 2013 00:11:59 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/anna-pavlovaPicture
She seemed to be a fairy, a creature made of light and  air, not of this earth. When she appeared at the Maryinsky Theater, at the age  of eighteen, the great ballet master, Marius Pepita, could not believe his own  eyes. In his entire long career, he had never seen a ballerina perform quite like  Anna Pavlova. 

An overnight success, she went with the ballet to many  countries in Europe, and then, in 1909, joined Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes  and went to Paris with him. She was as great a sensation there as Vaslav  Nijinsky. How could the two greatest ballet dancers of all time be at the same  place and the same time? How could such a coincidence happen? It seems  impossible – and yet it did. 
She did not return to Russia, particularly since the war  prevented everyone from going back and forth. But she did not stay with  Diaghilev, either. This ethereal creature had a mind of her own and she would  not have anyone manage her career and dictate to her where and when she would  dance. She became a true nomad, and traveled all over the world, appearing  before royalty and modest dance halls with the same dedication to her art; she  always danced as if possessed by a power higher than herself. Royalty saluted  her. At the dance halls and second rate theaters, in company of jugglers and  animal trainers, the audience gasped at the dark, exotic, delicate creature who seemed to make time stop as she danced. Her name was recognized  internationally, in every continent. She made the dance look so easy, as if it  cost no effort at all. The audience did not know that her muscles hurt so much  that she had herself wrapped with tight bandages when she was not dancing. She  never stopped hurting, but she would not stop dancing, either.
In 1931, at almost fifty, Pavlova was rather old for a  ballerina; most dancers at that time stopped performing in their forties. But  her power and magic did not diminish by age. She was expected in Brussels, at a  royal performance the Queen was planning to attend. A few days before the  performance, the theater manager received the shocking news that Pavlova died  suddenly on her way, at The Hague. 
The performance was not cancelled, and the Queen  attended. When the time for Pavlova’s solo came, the orchestra played the music  of her famous “Dying Swan” and a single, pure white ray of spotlight moved over  the dark stage, following where Pavlova would have been moving as she danced.  The Queen rose to her feet, and so did the rest of the audience, and their eyes  followed the white light until the end of the piece. An other-worldly, eerie  tribute, most fitting for the magical dancer. 

These links connect to two dances by  Anna Pavlova. We  are so lucky they have survived.


<![CDATA[The Fashion Shows]]>Sat, 08 Jun 2013 22:01:24 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/the-fashion-showsFashion changed greatly during the 1920’s, as we all  know, and Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch had the fashion scene as  the background to the story. I did not have a proper fashion show in the book,  since the action took place while Madame Koska’s establishment was preparing  for its first London show, and  was rudely interrupted by crime! 

In the next book, on which I am working now, the fashion  show will definitely occur. As I was researching for it, I found wonderful, authentic old  films, showing elegant fashion shows, and I thought the readers might be interested in seeing them.

The venue was most  important. It was essential for the fashion house to have the shows in large,  beautiful, airy and brilliantly lit rooms. They had to be in a central  and respectable area, so the great ladies would not hesitate to come,  refreshments were served, and music might be unobtrusively played in the  background. Often the flower arrangements, silverware, and decorations were stunning.

What I find extremely interesting is that the “mannequins,” as the  models were called, were not always professionals. Often, young society ladies  volunteered for the job, particularly if there was a charity involved, but even  for regular shows, if the fashion house was sufficiently famous. It was  considered a fun thing to do for a modern, emancipated young  woman!
These links are only a few of the wonderful films  available – there are plenty more if you are interested!   

<![CDATA[The Great Scandal]]>Mon, 03 Jun 2013 01:29:41 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/the-great-scandalL’Après-midi d’un Faune : http://tinyurl.com/n4kceov

The first performance of L’Après-midi  d’un Faune created a huge scandal. Nijinsky had caused scandals for  what audiences perceived as indecency before, but nothing like this one. It was  premiered in Paris, and one would expect sophistication from the Parisian  audiences and critics, but it seems this ballet was just too much. 
To begin with, this was no classical ballet. It was done  in the style of a Greek bas-relief, as if it was coming to life. The  choreography, by Nijinsky but with Diaghilev complete approval, was entirely  innovative. The dancers were barefoot, moving heel to toe. Most of the dance was  done in profile, like a Greek frieze, so the classical “positions” were  eliminated.

The scenery and costumes, by Leon Bakst, were gorgeous.  The Faun wore tights that were patterned after a dappled horse, and had vine  clusters attached to it. He had a wig with short horns. The Nymphs who  surrounded the Faun floated about in delicate fabrics for the dresses and veils.  There were no white tutus and no pink shoes. 

The story was based on Greek myths, but extremely simple.  The Nymphs appear, dancing together and playing. The Faun observes them,  proceeds to chase them, and finally tries to seize one of them. The Nymph  manages to evade him, and runs away, leaving her veil. The disappointed Faun  climbs a cliff in the background, lies down on the veil, and becomes immobile.
That is the end, and the curtain falls.
Except that on the first performance in Paris, Nijinsky  did not remain immobile. As he lay down on the veil, he started moving in a  sexual and suggestive way, and the audience began screaming, hissing, and  protesting, while others were whistling and applauding. It was  pandemonium.
As always, Diaghilev knew exactly what to do.  Immediately, he gave the order to repeat the ballet, from beginning to end. The  audience calmed down and watched for the second time – and ended with a huge,  unanimous applause. 
This did not end the story, though. The next day, the  great critic, Calmette, wrote a scathing article in the Le Figaro  newspaper. He was answered by the famous sculptor, Rodin, who not only loved the  ballet but was also a personal friend of Diaghilev. The controversy spread, and  Paris was divided into two camps regarding the scandal. The newspapers went on  with many articles – and the result was a huge success of L’Après-midi  d’un Faune. 
When I first saw that there was a film that showed  Nijinsky dancing L’Après-midi  d’un Faune, I did not believe my eyes. What???? It is well known that  Diaghilev did not permit filming Nijinsky, ever, under no circumstances. But  here was this strange old video, and I watched with baited breath… all the while  I was hoping that perhaps another video might exist, one that would show  Nijinsky’s wild, almost unnatural leaps. No such luck – this was not real. It  was nice to see Nijinsky moving, but the video is a modern work of combining  still photographs, and making them move to the glorious sound of the Debussy  piece. Nevertheless, even though you know it’s not real, the imagery is  wonderful and enjoyable. The link, again, is http://tinyurl.com/n4kceov.


<![CDATA[Who is the Elusive Madame Koska?]]>Sat, 25 May 2013 01:51:47 GMThttp://ililarbel.weebly.com/madame-koska/who-is-the-elusive-madame-koskaPicture
Here she is, the elusive, enigmatic, undefeatable Madame Koska, who can solve a   crime and run an establishment of magnificent haute couture with equal success.   Who is she? What is her first name? Who was M. Koska? Where did she learn her   trade? It must be Paris but she has a Russian name… where does she get her   lovely mannequins? Does she smoke a cigarette stuck in a long ebony cigarette   holder?

The cover and you see here is for the first book in the series I am writing about Madame Koska's adventures. The printed book is a special edition, published by the Angela Thirkell Society of North America, and it will not be available unless I prepare a second edition. Currently, the book is available only as an e-book on:  http://tinyurl.com/pa4y8b5

In a future segment I plan to add the introduction to the  book right here, so you can get an idea, if you wish, as to the content and to  how it all started. But the blog is going to be about much more. If you are  interested (not necessarily in the order mentioned) in London in the 1920's,  Russian émigrés, Parisian haute couture, opium dens, sophisticated and  attractive gentlemen who are not quite what they seem, fascinating ladies with  a past, flappers and Mannequins, jewel  thieves and cat burglars, the Russian Revolution, Catherine the Great, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and the  Ballets Russes, among other things, please come back! I would appreciate  comments, of course, and if you notice that I missed a subject that belongs here  and is close to your heart, send me a note, preferably on scented light green  paper with a gilded edge.

And just to start us on the right track, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZsn6R4qiLo