Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Natacha Rambova

"Why Change Your Wife?"   
Sofa with phonograph and bar in arm rests
 As a part of my continuing education, *ha!*, I recently watched the Cecil B. Demille silent film, “Why Change Your Wife?” (1920), starring Gloria Swanson.  The heavily adorned sets and costumes were beyond lavish; rich down to the smallest detail.  It was a visual smörgåsbord served on platinum trimmed porcelain dinnerware by the awe-inspiring costume designer Natacha Rambova. 

Add her to your heroine database.

Dancer, designer, actress, writer, producer and entrepreneur Natacha Rambova (1897-1966) was born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Early in life she displayed the creative, independent and industrious nature that would set the stage for her legacy, rejecting the constraints and conveniences of her wealthy upbringing. 

Though merely half of her films have survived and few were commercially successful, she is heralded as a style innovator and icon for her design contributions to ballet, Broadway, film and fashion between 1916 and 1933.  Known for her exotic and foreign effects, Natacha researched historical facts to ensure accuracy in her designs and played a major role in bringing the Art Deco style aesthetic to Hollywood from Europe in the 20s.  

 …and she was Mrs. Rudolph Valentino for a spell.  Their controversial relationship often, unfortunately, smothers her artistic contributions to culture and fashion so we'll move on...

A notorious shopper, her signature style, long hair in braided chignons and turbans gave her a mysterious sexiness that defied time and space.  As an advocate of self expression through fashion, Rambova opened a couture boutique on Fifth Avenue in 1927 and started a clothing line after her first year.

Natacha’s ensuing forays in business included real estate development and Egyptology.  A long time spiritualist and student of ancient religions, Rambova helped decipher ancient inscriptions and conducted classes on myths and symbolism until her death in the mid 60s.