How a Russian Emigré Became the "Irresistible" Milliner to New York Society

Olivia Hosken
·2 mins read
Photo credit: Courtesy Tiina Smith
Photo credit: Courtesy Tiina Smith

From Town & Country

In the 1940s and 50s, stepping out to certain events without a hat would be akin to leaving the house, well, topless. Hats were a crucial aspect of a woman's wardrobe, so when Tatiana du Plessix began studying art and sculpture in Paris—after escaping the Bolshevik Revolution in St. Petersburg—she wisely added millinery to her coursework. As the vivacious young wife to French diplomat Bertrand de Plessix, she was the toast of the town and began fashioning artful hats for her Parisian socialite friends. She reveled in her new Parisian life from the 1920s through 40s, when she was forced to flee yet again—the Germans invaded France, and her husband was killed. She arrived in New York in 1941, with her daughter in tow, and quickly began making hats as a means to survive.

Photo credit: Horst P. Horst - Getty Images
Photo credit: Horst P. Horst - Getty Images

Henri Bendel was the first to carry her designs, followed by Saks, where she became the head of its custom hat salon, making her signature designs. The fashion set adored the hats, the New York Times's fashion reporter called them "irresistible," praising du Plessix's talents for her original ideas as well as flattering shapes and colors. She soon re-married Alexander Liberman, an artist and editorial director of Conde Nast Publications, who had been a long-time friend in Russia and in France and together they led the fashion trends for the crème de la crème of New York Society.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Tiina Smith Jewelry
Photo credit: Courtesy of Tiina Smith Jewelry

Currently, some of du Plessix's hats are on display as part of jewelry designer Tiina Smith's Jewelry exhibition in Boston. Jewelry As Fashion As Jewelry explores the boundary-pushing works of designers like du Plessix and how their bejeweled creations were an integral part of fashion from Art Deco to today. Curator Michelle Finamore was inspired by the historic vintage pieces from Smith's jewelry collection, pairing them off with contemporary pieces to create a time-traveling connection.

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