Lud looked, and was, solidly Russian. She had the cheekbones, the lips at once frankly sensual and playfully amused, the slightly upward slanted eyes that hinted at something distantly, fantastically oriental. Those eyes were her greatest feature, because they were different in every photo, from every angle the blue of ice one moment, the blue of warm bright gemstones the next, powerful proof of the Russian’s proverbial variety of moods..
Born Ludmila Feodoseyevna 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 studios (she got the wrong studio and ended up throwing it at the photographer in a temper, and became one of his favourite models) . 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 (Madame Grès) and posed like some lethally beautiful Medea between fluted columns, Lud was photographed by Horst in what Alexandre Vassiliev (writer of ‘Beauty in Exile’) 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.
Lud in more photographs by Horst
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”.
Life for Lud, and indeed, for most of the Russian exiles living in Europe or Great Britain, America northern or southern, was far more colorful and probably far more blessed with longevity than it would have been had they or their parents remained in Soviet Russia. Thanks to Alexandre Vassiliev’s study of just where these many-colored threads began and ended, we can know that there was, after all, a future for them.
Lud was once described as “a lethally beautiful Medea”.
It is said that she cut off parts of her breasts and thighs to make her figure the perfect silhouette for Horst photographs! Prove of this cannot be found…..
Beauty in Exile
The Artists, Models, and Nobility who Fled the Russian Revolution and Influenced the World of Fashion
by Alexander Vassiliev