Anastasia Vorontcova: Tales from the history of Cartier and Dior
There is a ‘sold-out’ notice in the VICTORIA & ALBERT museum in London, everyone wants to see the exhibition ‘DIOR: DESIGNER OF DREAMS’.
However as ‘RUSSIAN ROULETTE’ is not used to queuing up we took ourselves directly to the owner of‘ THAT’ jacket by CHRISTIAN DIOR, which in 1947 laid the foundation for the “NEW LOOK” revolution, rocking and turning over the boat of post-war fashion.
“This well-known jacket, immortalised in the photo of the famous fashion-photographer Willy Maywald and which so often illustrates the signature style of the classical New Look in the various encyclopaedias of fashion, has two variants Anastasia adds; The original one, with six buttons and the shawl collar (lapel), was the one that brought to life the famous review by Carmel Snow, the editor of the American Harper’s Bazaar, referring to it as a totally “New” image, or New Look. There is also another variant of the jacket, recreated by the House of Dior for the photographer Maywald at around 1957. It has five buttons and a rectangular collar (lapel) instead. It is this one that we see in the photo that circled the globe and is the one I ordered at Dior’s Haute Couture Atelier. It is interesting that according to the rules of the House, they make only one replica of this historical item for each country. So, as I live in London, this means that there is no other in the whole of Great Britain.”
And how did the guests react at the opening of the exhibition ‘Dior: Designer of Dreams’, when you appeared at the party in the jacket that they came to see to see only on a mannequin?
“I ordered this outfit (a jacket and skirt) six months before the exhibition simply because I love the House of Dior very much and wanted to make a start making my own collection of historically important clothes. As luck would have it, my order was ready and delivered to London just two days prior to the exhibition which I did not know about when I ordered it or whilst it was being made. When I appeared in it at the exhibition, I did not expect such a reaction. People were photographing me, making compliments and even asked to touch the sleeve to check that it was real!”
Apart from her love of historical clothes Anastasia works as an Ambassador for High Jewellery at the Maison Cartier, pilots a plane (in which Prince Harry learnt to fly) and is an expert shot. However, as we started the conversation from the House of Dior, we shall continue, after that we will plunge into the swirling cocktail made of High jewellery and Extreme Sports!
Anastasia, so that there is no confusion, do you have the original New Look as in the photo, or do you have your own copy?
“This was an Haute Couture order but is not a vintage item. The set was made for me based on the vintage one and as per the design for the original made in 1947. It was made in Paris at the Dior Haute Couture Atelier. It is true that it is made from new fabrics but they are produced by the same methods as they were in 1947. So that the outfit is a close as possible to the original the production technology is absolutely the same. During the completion of the order, all the couturiers at the House of Dior who were working with me, were excited that they could put into practice the traditional techniques and work in the classical genre of high couture art, as they could rarely recreate something to show their skills to the maximum. Their personal enthusiasm is worth the highest admiration. It is important to note that it is not the ensemble that is called the New Look – this is the name of the trend, the jacket itself is called the Bar Jacket. According to the philosophy of Christian Dior, one should attend a cocktail party in such an outfit. It was how he imagined a modern woman to himself, who was on her way to drink a glass of champagne to the elegant bar of Plaza Athenee. I like such things, it is very harmonious for me: one can simply go to a bar, and one can also make an aesthetic experiment out of it, to go dressed like this and enjoy the moment and atmosphere, as well as the feeling of belonging to the history and heritage. I enjoy such moments. It was this unique ensemble that started my collection of Haute Couture pieces.”
And you yourself, do you go dressed like this to a bar? And if so, do you combine it with the modern items or vintage ones?
“The experts in the high fashion, and particularly fans of the House of Dior recognise this legendary look immediately! I think that is why my outfit is timeless. If I was wearing a dress from the 18thcentury, as we were doing during the carnival in Venice, people would look strangely at me. But it is such an image – classical and womanly – that people always like. So far, I like wearing the outfit as a whole; however, I am not opposed at all to mix it with modern items in the future, there is also a certain chic in this.”
If we are to talk about chic, you act as a brand ambassador for the Cartier in the field of High Jewellery. Could you tell how it all started?
I started working for Cartier a fairly long time ago now, nine years. It was, as they say, “A hard offer to refuse”. Having graduated from the law faculty in St Petersburg, I was studying in Toronto, at the program of International Business Management. However, I was invited back to St Petersburg to develop the newly opened Cartier boutique. It sounded very interesting so I went and since that moment, my life has changed drastically. I fell in love with the heritage, quality, beauty and Paris, which I started to visit frequently, and with everything that is related to Cartier. I studied the aesthetics of the Maison, its long traditions, the history of the stones, but the most important thing – I wanted myself to become aware of the value of all this, how it is related to the modernity and understand what this Maison and its history gives us today.
It goes without saying that in the history of the Maison Cartier, there is more than one volume of stories that leaves one weak at the knees, however which story impressed you most of all? When did you not at all believe that such things might happen?
“To be honest, it is difficult to respond to this question with only one story, there are many of them for Cartier. I would identify for myself two of them in particular. The first story is the one of the numerous stories of creation and development of the company itself. This is the story of how the iconic boutique appeared at the corner of 5th Avenue and 52nd Street in New York, which is also called the Cartier Mansion. This six-storied building was erected from granite in 1905 in the style of neo-Renaissance. In 1914, the owner of the mansion, the businessman Morton F. Plant (his father built many of the US railways) married Mae Caldwell Manwaring. They settled in the mansion, and the young woman started to equip it with all possible luxury, however at the same time, in their street, there started to appear various shops, offices and boutiques, and many rich families, who lived in the neighborhood with the Plants, moved to other, quieter areas of the city. Cartier arrived in the city in 1909, and by 1917, Morton fell in love again – however this time with Cartier’s Pearl necklace exhibited in the shop-window of the boutique which at that time was at 712 5th Avenue. More correctly, it was his wife who fell in love and who passionately desired to wear that necklace. From the aesthetic point of view, it was an exquisite necklace from pearl with a diamond fastener, colossally valuable by virtue of its unique and rare natural pearls. The long rope consisted of 73 large pearls, the shorter one, 55.
I cannot promise MONOGAMY when the conversation drifts to the possibility to POSSESS endlessly beautiful and different GEMS!
The value of the necklace was $1 million. At those times, there was no cultured pearls yet and a necklace of similar sized large pearls was few and far between. The stars were aligned and Plant decided to present his beloved wife with the necklace that she fell for and to move closer to the old neighbors. At the same time, the Cartier brothers wanted to acquire the mansion for their boutique.
So, in July 1917, the mansion passed into the ownership of Cartier for a symbolical sum of
$100 and ‘Maisie’ Plant (as Morton affectionately called his wife) received her exquisite necklace. By the way, this necklace is imprinted in the portrait of Maisie Plant by Alphonse Jungers, which is displayed at Maisie Plant Salon in the Cartier Mansion still today and in the painting by the artist Claudia Munro Kerr, who interpreted Jungers’ original.
An excellent story of love and a lucrative deal, when the husband wanted to favour with his wife and present her with a necklace, which he exchanged for a mansion! It’s not without reason they say ‘to kill two birds with one stone’… What is this about another story?
The second story is about the Mexican singer Maria Felix. She was a star; a diva, a feminist and had a bright extravagant style which attracted attention. In the 1940-50s, she was the most famous actress in Latin America. In 1975, she came to the boutique in Rue de la Paix with her pet – a small reptile. Having put the aquarium on the table, she said that she wanted to commission her necklace in the image and semblance of her pet. Upon departure, she added: “Try to do it as soon as possible, because he is growing very fast!” The crocodile necklace was made soon, and it became one of the icons of the Maison as when Cartier’s master craftsmen create they draw upon their dynamics and flexibility from real life. The body of the reptile moving like it is real, the claws identical to the real ones. This principle can also be seen in the collection of famous items with a panther. There was even a client who said: “Girls, if at some point a man wants to give you flowers, tell him that your florist is Cartier!”
There is no doubt that Cartier is splendid, however what accessories are you wearing yourself?
“My collection is primarily from the Maison Cartier. I thoroughly and carefully choose the pieces. By selecting a work of art, it is important for me to feel emotions, which it bestows. When this bond appears, I take note that the item is bearing the ‘signature’ and code of the Maison, irreproachable savoir-fair and timeless continuity. As an example, I dreamt of possessing one of my first pair of earrings from Cartier named Pelage since the moment of ‘diving’ into the history of the Maison.
That was due to two reasons, the first one is that a fairly simple design is part of the ethos of the art deco style. The second reason is that – the eternally timeless collection ‘Panther’ started to originate in the combination of onyx and diamonds, which later became an illustration of the coat pattern of a panther. Such creations are eternal; over the years, they acquire value and show luxury; however, this luxury is not gaudy, which I also like. As far as the stones are concerned, for me this is a real journey of love or even a love story. It is very personal. I like to feel every stone, by holding it in my hands; its energy, character and uniqueness. My most favorite stone now are sapphires however needless to say that I cannot promise monogamy when the conversation drifts to the possibility to possess endlessly beautiful and different gems! It is also important for me that the stone was natural. Today there are many methods to make the color more beautiful however these are not according to my principle. The stone should be the same as when it ‘was born’, and only in this way it conveys the energy of the nature, which was creating the stone for millennia.”
Anastasia, please accept this as a compliment, but you yourself are so energetic and inspiring! Could you tell us about hunting, which you refer to when describing your passions…
“I have a favorite phrase: “If you expect something, expect anything unexpected”. Therefore, it is not always that I try to foresee and plan my life, I often leave to chance. When I moved to London I was impressed by the variety of the English high-life society, to which hunting is an integral part. However I was totally unprepared for the effect. I thought that it would be a one day affair but would at least be able to say that I tried it. However, from the first moments I was wrapped up in it. You meet entirely different people, who can be truly described as ladies and gentlemen, they observe rules, respect each other, have manners, focused on what they are doing and have their own fashion and etiquette. So, after the first time, I fell in love with this life style, especially the social dimension.”
What have you come across what you would never expect of hunting?
“I did not expect that the men would be dressed so elegantly, consistently, traditionally and beautifully. The dress-code in the world of exclusive hunting is even more demanding than at the dinner parties! This is an excellent aesthetic experiment.”
Do you like extreme in general?
“Everything that is safe in some measure – yes! Recently, I went to try flying and piloted the same machine as Prince Harry. It is amazing what kind of emotions you feel when the earth becomes the skies. I now understand why after such an experience you can reappraise your values.“
Where such a craving for a mixture of beauty and extreme comes from?
Probably, from my understanding of life as a big and interesting journey! My goal is to constantly gain new experience, meet new people, learn from them, and far as feasible, to preserve heritage.