Oriental Pearl

A model of Asian appearance on the Paris catwalk was not only a rarity, but an exception to all the rules. Yet even this circumstance is not the most unusual in the fate of Alla Ilchun. We tell the story of the “Oriental Pearl” of the House of Dior: she was the first to break all stereotypes about models and introduce the fashion for makeup with arrows.

In the middle of the last century, Alla Ilchun, the first star of Kazakh-Russian origin, shone on the Parisian catwalks. She became the favorite model and the muse of Christian Dior and later of Yves Saint Laurent.

Alla was born in 1926 (according to other sources, in 1921) in Harbin—a Chinese city built by Russians, in the family of a Kazakh railway worker Kuantkhan Elshyn and Russian opera singer Tamara Mikhailova. When the northeast of China was occupied by the Japanese army, her family decided to flee to Paris, but only mother and daughter made it to the capital of France. It was in Paris, a thousand kilometers from her hometown, that Alla’s path to the podium began.

Her mother Tamara sang in a local cabaret, and Alla worked as a dishwasher in one of the Parisian restaurants. At the same time, she never lost heart, she was sure that success was ahead. During the Second World War, Alla joined the French partisan resistance as a nurse and a signalman.

She was waiting for luck, and finally luck smiled at her. Alla came to the casting at the House of aspiring couturier Christian Dior to support her friend. And so, standing in the corridor and waiting for that very friend, she heard, “Monsieur Dior wants to see you.” They changed Alla into a dress, painted her lips with red lipstick, took measurements and told her to wait for the response. And the call rang very soon—she was cast, though wasn’t even going to take part.

From that moment on, she and Dior were inseparable: they worked together for eleven whole years, until his death. The great couturier appreciated this oriental woman for not only her feline grace and wasp waist (only 47 centimeters in girth!)—he considered Alla to be his talisman and believed she brought him good luck.

The unusual oriental beauty of the girl really attracted attention, and the dresses she modelled on the podium immediately became bestsellers.

Moldir Adamzhan

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