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July 13, 2021

The Amazing Story of Alla Ilchun, the Kazakh Muse of Christian Dior

Alla Ilchun (1926 - March 8, 1989) was the first Euro-Asian model who has worked for twenty years at Dior. She was famous for her waist of 49 cm and eyeliner arrows.

Alla Ilchun as a model in the 1950s

Information about the family and the ancestors of Alla Ilchun is not very much preserved. Her father, Zhuanhal Ilchun, was allegedly a railway engineer. He was able to get a decent education thanks to his wealthy father, who lived in Kazakhstan. He participated in the construction of Turksib, and on the eve of the revolution was in Harbin. This city was founded as a station of the Chinese Eastern Railway; accordingly, many Russians lived in Harbin. Zhuanhal Ilchun met here the beautiful Tatyana, the opera singer. They started a family, soon their daughter Alla was born.

However, life in Harbin in the early of the twentieth century was very troubled. The Soviet, Chinese and Japanese governments tried to take the city under its influence. Harbin periodically passed from hand to hand, and the residents didn’t add peace of mind. The family decided to go in search of a better life. Russia, where the October revolution had already taken place, did not attract them, it was decided to go to France.

Tatiana arrived in Paris with her daughter. Zhuankhal Ilchun, according to Alla Ilchun’s son, was caught and sent to the GULAG. The capital of France was in no hurry to caress two foreign women who decided to find their happiness here. But they firmly decided to start life anew in Paris.

Growing up Alla began working as a dishwasher in a restaurant. She did not dream of a model career, and she was not accustomed to complaining about her fate. She just knew for sure that everything in her life would be fine.

And then the Second World War began. Alla Ilchun joined the ranks of the French resistance. She lost one of her friends, Ariadnu Scriabin, and she herself repeatedly risked her life. And only after the war, Alla finally pulled out her lucky lottery ticket.

Alla’s friend dreamed of becoming a model and was a regular participant in all sorts of castings. On that day, the girl felt unwell and asked Alla to replace her at the casting with Christian Dior, who at that time was just beginning his independent path in the fashion world. Coming to the casting, she found only a team of workers in the fashion house. The girl cheerfully chatted with them and left, deciding that her friend had clearly confused time or place.

A few days later, a phone call rang in Alla’s apartment, and the secretary of Mr. Dior informed Alla Ilchun about hiring a Christian Dior fashion house. To the girl’s remark about the failed participation in the casting, the secretary cheerfully noted: Mr. Dior was among the workers, and the oriental beauty and graceful figure of Alla conquered him at first sight.

A new and unfamiliar life has begun for Alla. Since that day she was waiting for daily fittings, numerous shows and shine spotlights. Christian Dior called Alla his personal talisman, because every show with her participation had an unprecedented success. The stars were ready to buy the dresses demonstrated by the beauty immediately after the model left behind the scene.

She was femininely fragile and possessed inimitable grace. High cheekbones and slanted eyes gave her a unique charm, women around the world began to imitate the model, trying to reproduce the long arrows that emphasize the eyes. The fashion for them remains today, just few people know that for the first time the world saw such an unusual make-up on Alla Ilchun’s face back in the 1950s. Working with a French fashion designer became happy for the model itself. At one of the many photo shoots Alla met Mike de Dülmen, Dior’s staff photographer. She subsequently married him and bore two sons.

10 years, until the death of the master, continued the cooperation of Alla and Christian Dior. However, after his departure she did not remain without work, for another decade she worked closely with Yves Saint Laurent.

Alla Ilchun decided to finish her modeling career when she began to notice signs of age on her face. She wanted to remain in the memory of the audience and fans as the young and beautiful. For twenty years of work in the fashion world, her waist has grown from 47 centimeters to only 49, but the stamp of maturity was already visible on her face and body. After retirement, she did not participate in photo shoots and led a closed lifestyle.

Here, a collection of 40 fabulous photos captured portrait of Alla Ilchun as a model in the late 1940s and 1950s:

Alla in finely pleated mousseline dress by Christian Dior, photo by Georges Saad, 1947

Alla in gorgeous green satin evening gown by Christian Dior, photo by Georges Saad, 1947

Alla in gray wool redingote with velvet lapels and pockets, by Vera Boréa, photo by Georges Saad, 1948

Alla is wearing a coat designed by Dior in Emba mink, the first perfectly white variety of mink, photo by Willy Maywald, 1948

Alla in a simple gray suit with a checked blouse featuring a huge bow at the throat, natural straw sailor hat tilts over one eye, by Christian Dior, 1949

Alla in dress and shawl by Battilocchi stands in front of scarves printed with designs by Giorgio de Chirico, photo by Pasquale de Antonis, 1949

Alla in wool suit, jacket is belted with double layered lapels, by Christian Dior, 1949

Alla is wearing a dress by the Fontana sisters, photo by Regina Relang, Rome, 1949

Alla is wearing Christian Dior's petaled evening gown called "Junon" named for the queen of the gods in Roman mythology, photo by Willy Maywald, Paris, 1949

Alla poses in a broadtail lamb pullover and skirt designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, photo by Genevieve Naylor, 1949

Alla posing in a dress by Fontana, photo by Regina Relang, Rome, 1949

Alla wearing sweater designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, 1949

Alla wears Dior's 'Carnavalet', a full black taffeta evening dress with an enormous collar, photo by Willy Maywald, 1949

Alla in Dior's pleated evening gown, photo by Willy Maywald, 1950

Alla in Christian Dior's loose-fitting jacket with mandarin-collar sits in a gondola, Venice, June 1951

Alla in dress by Christian Dior, Venice, 1951

Alla in elegant blue-violet suit with velvet lapels by Christian Dior, velvet Henry VIII beret completes the look, photo by Nicole Bukzin, 1951

Alla in suit by Christian Dior, photo by Regina Relang, Paris, 1951

Alla in summer print dress and belt by Italian designer Bellenghi, Italy, 1951

Alla wearing a Christian Dior dress is being filmed at a cafe on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, 3rd June 1951

Alla in pleated floral print evening dress by Christian Dior, 1952

Alla in Dior's dress called "Croque-mitaine" Autumn/Winter Collection Vivante line 1953, photo by Mark Shaw in the salon of Maison Dior, Paris

Alla in ensemble by Christian Dior, photo by Seeberger, L'Officiel, 1953

Alla, photo by Mark Shaw, Maison Dior, Paris, 1953

Alla delights British Red Cross nurses in a creation by Christian Dior during the presentation of his Winter Collection at Blenheim Palace in aid of the British Red Cross, November 3, 1954

Alla in blue wool version of Dior's cape-coat, Autumn/Winter Collection H-line 1954, photo by Mark Shaw, Maison Dior, Paris

Alla presents Dior's H-Line ensemble, photo by Mark Shaw, Maison Dior, Paris, 1954

Alla presents Dior's satin and mink ensemble called "Artamène", Autumn/Winter Collection H-Line, 1954, photo by Mark Shaw, Maison Dior, Paris

Alla presents Dior's velvet and mink ensemble called "Vermeer", Autumn/Winter Collection H-Line, 1954, photo by Mark Shaw, Maison Dior, Paris

Alla, decked out in Dior’s evening finery called 'Artamène' is being sketched by Carl Erickson, best known as Eric, for Vogue, photo by Mark Shaw, Maison Dior, Paris, 1954

Alla wearing the iconic evening gown designed by Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior, Paris, 1955

Alla being fitted in one of Dior's gowns, photo by Loomis Dean, 1957

    Alla in Dior's day-dress and matching hat, photo by Loomis Dean, Paris, 1957

Dior and his seamstress adjust gown on Alla, photo by Loomis Dean, Paris, 1957

Dior and his seamstress adjusting a gown on Alla, photo by Loomis Dean, Paris, 1957

Alla in fringed satin capelet tied in large bow worn over slim velvet dress by Yves Saint Laurent, photo by Willy Maywald, Paris, 1959

Alla is wearing (YSL) Dior's taffeta and lamè cocktail dress, photo by Georges Saad, L'Art et la Mode, 1959

Alla in Christian Dior's midnight blue taffeta dress with draped bodice worn with a small velvet cap tilted forward, Paris, circa 1950s

Alla models one of Christian Dior's cocktail dresses in his salon, Paris, circa 1950s

Alla outside Maison Dior in Paris, wearing YSL for Christian Dior (of the collection for the Autumn/Winter 1959/60), shoes by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior


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