Our first party of the year took its cue from the recent 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution—but instead of focusing on the rise of Bolshevism, we looked at thousands of exotic, elegant, cultured, and frequently hard-up White Russians who fled with their furs and their tastes for luxury and decadence, making an impression everywhere they landed, from Paris to London, New York to Shanghai.
Those without funds took odd jobs—composers become music teachers, socialites work as taxi dancers. Princess Natalia Paley, a cousin of the Tsar, became a fashion model in Paris. A young Yul Brynner played guitar in Russian nightclubs in France. The better-off continued in their old careers, such as film actress Olga Baclanova, who was a hit in Hollywood. The scandalous Tamara de Lempicka painted the famous and wealthy in her "soft cubist" style from her studio in Paris. Vladimir Nabokov caught the last ship out of Sevastopol and Sergei Rachmaninoff fled to Helsinki by open sled—but within a year had been invited to the US where Steinway gave him a piano.
To honour the loss and triumph of these colourful émigrés, we had live music from Russian folk/jazz/klezmer band Atomek Soviet Swing—in what was only their second ever performance in the UK. Our host was the Commissar of Cabaret himself, Champagne Charlie, while spinning vintage vinyl was the Babushka of Beats, Auntie Maureen.
Fuelling the fun was Stolichnaya premium Russian vodka, and we had a number of special cocktails for the occasion—our variation on the Moscow Mule (in traditional copper mugs), the Tolstoy Tipple (vodka, Prosecco and cucumber syrup) and the Beetroot Babushka (vodka, beetroot juice, lemon juice and vanilla).
A special mention must go to the couple who came on Saturday night in full Russian 1917 get-up. It turns out that they are re-enactors, specialising in WWI-era Russia, so their compliments about the band and the evening in general carried particular weight!
The movies playing silently on the wall were Battleship Potemkin (well, you have to, don't you, but it is not a feel-good movie so I ran it first before many people arrived!), The Eagle (1925), starring Rudolph Valentino as a sort of Russian Zorro, Ninotchka (1939), starring Greta Garbo as a poe-faced Soviet on a mission to Paris, and the 1935 version of Anna Karenina.
See the full set of photos in our Flickr album.
Hear are some live recordings of Atomek Soviet Swing from the party: