Natalia Pavlovna Paley - Later Life

Later Life

Once in exile, Princess Paley and her daughters moved to Sweden, where they stayed until the spring of 1920. They eventually settled in exile in France. They sold their townhouse at Boulogne-sur-Seine and bought another in one of the upper-class neighborhoods of Paris in the 16th district. With her few jewels left, Princess Olga bought a villa in Biarritz, on the Atlantic coast, where the family would often gather in the future. Later, she would sell her house and buy a smaller one in Neuilly. Princess Natalia and her sister were sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, but she was unable to mix with the others pupils. As she confessed later in a fashion magazine interview, she felt ". . . so different from the others. At twelve, French girls were still reading Robinson Crusoe and watching Douglas Fairbanks movies. At twelve, I was taking some bread to my father in jail. How could I have been like them? I was mute, I would not play. But I was reading a lot. I had faced death, so close. My father, my brother, my cousins, my uncles, executed, all Romanov's blood splashed on my adolescence. This gave me a taste for sad things, poetry, the icy and lightning antechamber of death. Soon, my classmates understood me. And respected the way I was, as strange as it have may seemed." The sisters came back to Paris, where Irene married Prince Feodor Alexandrovich of Russia, a nephew of Tsar Nicholas II, on May 31, 1923.

During one of the Charity Bazaars her mother gave every year, Princess Natalia, age 21, met Lucien Lelong, a prominent French couturier who offered her a job in his fashion house. She began to work initially in the perfume department moving soon to model the house's designs. Lelong had inherited his famous fashion house from his father. A hero of World War I, he was then married and the father of a little girl. With her aristocratic background and her delicate features, Natalia was an asset for Lelong's business. Shortly after he had divorced his wife, he asked her to marry him in 1927. Lelong was known for his homosexual affairs, but he offered her money and security. Against her family's opinion, who considered the union a misalliance, Princess Natalia and Lucien Lelong married in a civil ceremony on August 9, 1927. A religious ceremony took place the next day at the Orthodox church Saint Alexander Newsky. Theirs was a white marriage, a union without intimacy. Lelong's reputation grew with the help of his wife whose taste was exquisite. Ethereal and glamorous, Princess Natalia would not follow any fashion trend, but would dictate her own. Hats and gloves were her signature. She became a sought after model establishing an image for herself in the Parisian elite becoming a well known socialite. As a model, she appeared in many magazines including Vogue. She was a favorite model for the great photographer of her time: Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Andre Durst and George Hoyningen-Huene.

Though they shared the same infatuation for the arts and fashion, the marriage of Princess Paley and Lelong was not a success. Too involved with his work and in love with one of his famous models who was doomed to die of tuberculosis, Lelong never grew to understand his wife's languor, or her frequent outbursts of temper when she was out of the limelight. On her part, Natalia began a two year affair with dancer Serge Lifar. Their relationship ended when she began a passionate but platonic relationship with Jean Cocteau who like Lifar, and most men she was attracted to, was homosexual. Princess Natalia ended her affair with Cocteau in the fall of 1932. She bought an apartment on the Esplanade des Invalides where she entertained society and prominent artists. She continued to work as a photographic model in connection with Lelong's fashion house. In the spring of 1933 she began to pursue a film career. She studied acting with Belgian actress, Eve Francis, the former wife of director Louis Delluc.

He first film was, L'epervier (1933, directed by Marcel L'Herbier, her husband's cousin. It was the beginning of her career as a movie actress, taking parts in several European movies, including Sir Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Don Juan (1934). She eventually moved to the United States, where she had a small role in George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett (1935).

For many years, Paley worked in public relations for the fashion designer Mainbocher.

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