Natacha Rambova : biography
Natacha Rambova (January 19, 1897 – June 5, 1966) was an American silent film costume and set designer, artistic director, screenwriter, producer and occasional actress. Later in life she worked as a mildly successful fashion designer and Egyptologist. She is best known as the second wife of film star Rudolph Valentino.
Rambova loathed the world of high society, and even though her mother had married well she refused to live off her stepfather’s money, insisting on making her own living.Leider, Emily. "Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino" page 183 Valentino was said to be shocked when he first viewed her parents’ lavish home, as Rambova had never spoken of their wealth. During Valentino’s strike from Famous Players, she still intended to make money herself, and never mentioned her parents as a source of income.
Both Rambova and Valentino were Spiritualists. She had been interested in ancient religions since her teen years. She believed in reincarnation and psychic powers. Later in life she became an Egyptologist, an author on astrology, and a follower of Madame Blavatsky and George Gurdjieff.Leider, Emily. "Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino" page 240-241 During her marriage to Valentino they both visited psychics, partook in séances, and automatic writing. Through these practices Valentino was eventually moved to write a book of poetry, Daydreams, with many poems about Rambova.Leider, Emily. "Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino" page 241-242 When Valentino died Rambova wrote a book about the time she had spent with him, and also her claims to be in contact with him in the afterlife via psychics.Leider, Emily. "Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino" page 407-408
Rambova was gifted at ballet, and trained with Rosita Mauri at the Paris Opéra during the summers. She traveled to London frequently to watch other performers including Pavlova, Nijinsky, and Theodore Kosloff. Right before World War I broke out, Rambova returned to San Francisco where she clashed with her mother once again and insisted she would pursue ballet as a career. Her family had trained her in ballet as a social grace and were appalled at the thought of it becoming a career. Aunt Teresa intervened, offering to move with Rambova to New York where she could study under Kosloff. Rambova, now 17, changed her name to Natacha Rambova at this time. At 5’8" she was too tall to be a classical ballerina, but Kosloff continually gave her leading parts. She performed with him in his Imperial Russian Ballet Company.Leider, Emily. "Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino" page 131
Around this time Rambova fell for the 32 year old Kosloff (who had a wife and an invalid daughter in Europe) and the pair began a tumultuous love affair. Muzzie was outraged when she found out, and brought charges of statutory rape and kidnapping against Kosloff hoping to have him deported. Rambova fled New York and hid in Canada, and later England, to hide from her mother. While in England she posed as a governess to Kosloff’s wife and child. Muzzie, wanting to bring her daughter home, relented by dropping the charges. She allowed Rambova to keep performing with the company and promised to underwrite the costumes.
Influence and style
Rambova’s designing career began in 1918 when she toured with Kosloff’s company. She favored designers such as Paul Poiret, Leon Bakst and the long dead Aubrey Beardsley. She specialized in "exotic" and "foreign" effects in both costume and stage design. For costumes she favored bright colors, baubles, bangles, shimmering draped fabrics, sparkles, and feathers. She also used the effect of sparkle on half nude bodies slathered in paint. When Rambova began work in film costume design she took to researching historical accuracy for her designs.
During her marriage to Valentino, Rambova was seen as a fashion icon. During a trip to Paris her shopping trips caused a sensation with the press reporting on her outfits.Leider, Emily. "Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino" page 269