Alexandre Vassiliev’s secrets

Alexandre Vassiliev interviewed by Evelina Khromtchenko. Paris © evelinakhromtchenko.com

The fashion historian Alexandre Vassiliev invited the fashion expert Evelina Khromtchenko to come to his Paris apartment and moved the curtains away.


E.K.: We are at Alexandre Vassiliev’s apartment in Paris, not far from one of those flea markets where Alexandre makes his weekly huntings. And as you see, there are lots of results behind me.

Sasha, everything that surrounds you is full of art de vivre. How do you manage to do it?

A.V.: You know, I love art, I’m a son of an artist, my life is an art. The apartment is a casket, where a lot of works of applied and decorative arts, embroidery, art of furniture and dishes are stored. I wish we would save this art, because in XXI century “Americanism” is everywhere: plastic plates, plastic forks, disposable tableware, life on the fly, in suspension, in a rush, we all live this way. Today I came from Washington and tomorrow I’m going to Moscow. But anyway we have to find some time to surround ourselves with good silver trays, beautiful wineglasses, good cups, plates and tasty food. You can see it by looking at me. I really love it. And, of course, the lighting, as much as music, flavors of home, flowers – to me all these components play a big role in home interior.

E.K.: But it is not all about your home interior. It is also about the way to travel the world, what thing to purchase at auctions, what exactly you collect and how you organize your life. Today in Russia many families have lost such knowledge and thirst. How would you suggest to gain such habits?

A.V.: I think, first of all you should go to museums and take a look at the existing interiors. For example, when I was in Portugal, at the palace of Portugal king called Sintra I saw his bedroom in the color of cochineal. And I chose this exact color for my walls. It is a shade of vermeil and orange, which we call Mexican bug. And I though – if this was so good for Portugal king, it would also be good for me. And I started from this color. I thought, that since the apartment is quite small, on the whole in art deco style, (though we don’t feel it here anymore, we are carried into another epoch), as you see, rooms don’t have right angles. Especially you can see it in the bedroom. It is almost a trapezium. So I chose blue Lanvin. I saw this color in other interiors. I saw such color at home of singer Isabella Yurieva, ballerina Nina Tihonova, baroness Gerngross. And I saw that if it suits them, it would also suit to my furniture.

So to all those families you were talking about I suggest to look at existing interiors, without inventing a bicycle, take a look what they exactly like. When I decorated interiors, I used to do it a lot in past time, at first I asked the client: “What do you want? Show me the picture.” You can’t describe it. Usually people say: “I love classic.” And by “classic” they mean everything – from gothic to rococo. They couldn’t define which exact classic do they love. Or “I love staid colors”. But these “staid colors” may be violet or bright green. We don’t know what is “staid” for them. That’s why the interior picture is the first lesson, from which we start to find our own things. I’m sure that my interior doesn’t copy anything. Why it was published in so many books, interior magazines… Because it doesn’t resemble any others. There is just no analogue. Though there were some points of repulsion. That was the way I created the interior.

E.K.: But again you’re not afraid of the things, not typical for today’s life. Vivid and dark colors for walls are the things that scare many clients as long as they don’t understand how it works.

A.V.: Dark colors really reflect on psyche and on day-to-day behavior. Often people, who live in intense colors, may feel themselves uncomfortable, uptight. But don’t be afraid of this. Maybe it will be a push to a different atmosphere. For example, my friend – Lithuanian designer Juozas Statkevicius has almost black walls.

J.S.: No, they are grey!

A.V.: Dark grey, but with lots of black furniture. So the atmosphere is like an inside of such casket. Like you are in a very limited space. And it seems that it should be very closed and enchain. But it is vice versa. It brings the feeling of luxury, lightness, elegance. So you should know what colors you could mix and how your mind is organized.

For example, I have several bedrooms, because I have 5 houses, and all the bedrooms are in different colors. I tried to sleep in a red bedroom, where I have different dreams. I slept in a blue bedroom, where I have a different morning. I slept in a green pistachio bedroom and have another morning. So of course the color influences on person’s mind very much and when you are is the interior with intense colors you should think about what is going to happen with you.

E.K.: You’ve touched an interesting point – the fact of psychological habits. People usually choose fashionable things, that are not usual for their mind. How can you know what is the right choice for you?

A.V.: I worked my long way up in my interiors. I lived in white walls, I had black IKEA furniture, I had simple Swedish things, I thought that minimalism is great, I had halogen lamps, such a nightmare. It was 80s. And in time I realized that I want to be surrounded by things you see now, because I’m not that rich to change the interior due to fashion. While it should change since the fashion is changing. I’ve lived for 22 years in this apartment already and I’m never sad, when I come here. I always feel very cozily. Though some people see plenty of portraits and say, “everybody is looking at me, I’m scared”. I’m not afraid of anything here. Some people who sleep here see ghosts. They say “there is somebody walking down the corridor, woman in white is dancing on this table”. Maybe they drank too much, maybe overate, things happen. But nobody disturbs me, these portraits inspire me. It is a habitat for me since I’m a fashion historian. I specially choose these ladies with their hairstyles, amazing laces, costumes; these men, these jewelry, bracelets. And I know most of the artists, who wrote these paintings, often I even know the name of the ladies and gentlemen on these pictures. I make restoration, edging, transportation, hanging, it is also a big work.

Going back to where we started, psychologically I’m not afraid of this. This inspires me. And there are people who really can’t take it. They need hotel interiors, straight stripes, lack of things, books, music, colors, smells. But I know that I was included into anthology of best Paris interiors, and others may be not. So there is no sense in arguing. To each his own. I don’t abuse people, who live in a different style, I don’t specially choose people who love antiquity, but all my friends have antique interiors. I don’t know a person who seats on a plastic chairs.

E.K.: Please tell me, which morning in which bedroom do you love most?

A.V.: In Moscow I have grassy green color. And despite of the plenty of grey and snow, I feel like I’m in a garden there. For some reason it is always very easy to breathe there for me. I want to philosophize and meditate in a blue bedroom. It is the only place where I want to make plans, I want to read, listen to poetry. In the red bedroom all I think about is sex. It is absolutely awful. I sleep and see erotic dreams. And in this room, covered by special printed cotton with the Chinese from Joui in Alsace, I only want to have sex.

E.K.: So where do you have a red bedroom?

A.V.: In Lithuania. I have pistachio, which more like my mother’s, lady’s bedroom. It is more delicate, there are vinaceous curtains, polka-dotted vases, it is a bit art nouveau, there are lots od beautiful flowers, luster of hay, very interesting. So each time it is a different experience. For example, I have a beautiful house in Auvergne, where I have a soft terracotta bedroom. I can’t say that I sleep well there, I don’t feel that the terracotta is made for sleep. Maybe it is for a day sleep, not night. It is different.

E.K.: As far as I know, one of your rooms in Moscow you’ve covered with polka-dotted chintz from Ivanovo.

A.V.: It is not polka-dotted, but with big bunches of flowers. I covered it with black waxen chintz with big tulips. It is very beautiful, but unfortunately this fabric is not produced any more, who knows why. I really enjoyed it. But I never going to sleep there, there is even no bed there, only sofa. Anyway there is always lack of walls for me. I wish to have more walls, because I have lots of paintings and furniture, I would decorate it instantly. I decorate really fast – paintings hanging usually take me about hour and a half. Some people think too long where and what to put. I immediately say where and what, I take hammer and drill, I hang everything very fast.

E.K.: Oh my God, by yourself?

A.V.: I’m very skilled in drilling. I do framing, many things here are edged by myself. I take ancient frames, put antique paintings in it. It is my passion. I find ribbons, on which paintings may be hanged, interesting details, that may decorate it, it is also an art. You have to love it. Usually men don’t like it, though there are lots of men-decorators. Usually woman like it more. Especially in Russia. Men say «I don’t care, I don’t need it, I better go to my gym». Why do they need this gym?

E.K.: Things we are talking about are very global. Let’s go back to smaller things. Admit that apartment decoration happen only several times in a lifetime. But there is also an everyday life. And this everyday life should also be filled not only with sense, but also taste.

A.V.: It is true.

E.K.: How people, who wish to do it but are not skilled yet could coach taste muscle. Is it possible?

A.V.: If you can’t visit museums, exhibitions and palaces, you should buy books. For example, I always use famous interior history books by Mario Praz. For me it is a divinity in the interior. He died long time ago, but I look at his taste and books and learn every day. For me his apartment in Rome is the best. It is great to study watercolors of XIX, XVIII centuries. Taste muscle should be trained. Yes, you really should go to flea markets.

For example, when I hold my school in Paris, I always take my ladies to the flea market. Always the group is separated into 2 categories. The first ran away in a 15 minutes saying, “Oh, everything is so old here, I better go to Gucci”, and we never see them again. Others charmed by things can’t leave it for 4 hours. They walk, see, try on, choose, saying “Oh God, what is that, what a miniature painting, what a beauty, how much? They make a huge mistake, because you never should look adoringly at the thing you are buying. It is the main mistake. Because you always have to look at it slightingly. Then the price will be lower. As soon as you show your happiness, the price is higher. You should slightingly say: “How much does this thing cost?” And not: “How much does this beauty cost?” It never works.

E.K.: It works, but the price is different.

J.S.: Sasha always says “for these holes?”

A.V.: Yes, I always say “for these holes? Such a high price?” I always find scratches, shears. And of course I recommend going on flea markets and antique shops, as I do. You should train your eyes. I have lots of students who really learned it. Lena Shibaeva, who used to be an actress and learned, Katia Pertseva, Juozas Statkevicius, people who devote their lifes to antique. Christophe Duboi, Christian Lvovsky, who learned everything. And they really understand, that this is such a joy. Life is short, so let yourself at home live for such a joy. My eyes always have rest at home. I see all these things and I think, “Oh God, how it is beautiful, these people had a great taste. It is not a collection of kitsch and flatness. You can always choose stupid things, and you can choose high-class things. Sometimes I like naivety, I like, when the artist tried too much, but it didn’t work a bit. I like when it bring some home feeling. Because I’m quite lonely person when it turns to family, firstly because I’m not married, I don’t have children. These are the examples of loneliness. All these portraits surround me and it is a family, I come and think “How many good persons around me”.

E.K.: Well, I think it is a great final to make a wonderful continuation. Alexandre Vassiliev has lots of beautiful spaces, they all are magnificently decorated, everywhere he meets very intelligence eyes, that’s why I think we should put suspension points here.

A.V.: Thank you very much.

Paris © evelinakhromtchenko.com


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Photo: Timur Artamonov for Elle-Russia

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