Princess Natalia Paley – fashion icon
She was a French fashion model and Hollywood actress from Russia.
Natalia Paley, granddaughter of Alexander II, daughter of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov and Countess Olga von Gogenfelzen, was born on December 5, 1905 in Paris. Before the revolution in Russia, Natalia and her parents lived in the palace in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg.
In 1917 the Bolsheviks arrested Natasha’s father and shot him down in Petropavlovskaya Fortress and in 1918 her brother Vladimir Paley was killed in Alapayevsk. Her mother, Olga Paley, grabbed her daughters Natasha and Irina and moved to France.
There Princess Olga Valerianovna organized charity events for refugees from Soviet Russia. By that time Maria Pavlovna (daughter of Prince from his first marriage) opened her embroidery home “Kitmir”, Irina and Felix Yusupov opened a fashion house IRFE. Natalia’s stepbrother Dmitri was in a relationship with Coco Chanel. The Paley family was closely connected with the fashionable world.
Natalia like many girls wanted to look luxurious, but the family didn’t have enough money for beautiful dresses and jewelry. So the young immigrant with the royal blood began her modeling career.
Natalia met Coco Chanel, who recommended her as a fashion model for Lucien Lelong’s prestigious modeling company. Lelong immediately fell in love with the Russian beauty, divorced his wife and a few months later married “real Romanova”. Their wedding took place in August 1927.
Natalia became the face of the Lucien Lelong house and its main decoration. He devoted best dresses, most exquisite perfume “Mon Image”, “Elle… Elle…”, “Indiscret” to Paley. Portraits of the beautiful princess appeared in Vogue.
Beautiful, noble, elegant, she became the queen of fashionable Paris, the main fashion-plate.
In the summer of 1930 in Venice Paley met Serge Lifar. Natalia was attracted by Serge for his charisma, talent and idealism. Serge was also enthralled by the beauty of the girl. Their relationship was much more sentimental than physical and lasted for two years. Serge always remembered Natalia as one of the three women he loved all his life.
In 1933, Natalia tried herself as an actress. She starred in two Hollywood films, where her partners were the rising stars of American cinema: Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. In France, Natalia appeared in the film “New Men” (1936) with Jean Marais. And later, in America, Paley tried her hand at Broadway.
Natalia and Lelong divorced in 1937. After that he created a perfume “N” dedicated to Natasha.
In 1932, Paley met Jean Cocteau. Their love affair lasted several months, but ended tragically: Natalia became pregnant and had an abortion. Sensitive Cocteau parted with Natalia and began to hate women.
Her second husband was an American film director and theater producer John Chapman Wilson, who turned out to be a homosexual.
On February 5, 1941 Paley became an American citizen. Marlene Dietrich, Erich Maria Remarque, famous actors, artists, musicians, prominent European aristocrats came to her salon.
In 1942, Natalia met famous French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In one of his letters, he confessed his love for her, adding that it was the third time in his life.
In the 1940s and early 1950s, Paley had a long love relationship with the writer Erich Maria Remarque. She became a heroine in his latest novel “Shadows in Paradise”. A love story between the main characters resembles real events – the love story of Natalie Paley and the writer.
These relations lasted eleven years. At first, too violent and passionate, with scenes of jealousy on both sides, then more and more calm. When Remarque went to Switzerland, Natalie went with him. In 1951 Remarque fell in love with the actress Paulette Goddard, his love affair with Natalia slowly faded away…
After parting with Remarque Natalia returned to America to the almost forgotten spouse John Wilson. In 1961, her husband died from cirrhosis of the liver, and Paley fell into a deep depression. She locked herself in the house and lived as a hermit for almost 20 years. In her last years she drank a lot and did not communicate with anybody. In late 1981, Paley broke her hip. Doctors said she would be motionless until her death!
On December 27, 1981 Natalia Paley took a large dose of sleeping pills. She was seventy-six.
“I want to die with honor”, she wrote. Paley was buried in Ewing, New Jersey.
Princess Paley became not only the first top model who conquered the world, she made the whole fashion industry admire Slavic beauty and was one of those who introduced the fashion for Russia.