Alla Ilchun: Life story and Glamorous Photos of a Kitchen Maid that became Christian Dior’s Favorite Model

Alla Ilchun was the first Euro-Asian model who was born in 1926. As a half-Kazakh, half-Russian, she established the Asian appearance trend. Dior’s muse and happy talisman, she was also fortunate to have been made a model by the famous couturier. Alla Ilchun was a kitchenmaid, but she might have become a waitress or a cook in a French restaurant. Her lucky break came when she attended a Christian Dior casting and was offered his top model role. During her lifetime, as well as later afterward, her origins remained secret. In Christian Dior’s memoirs, she was referred to as a Chinese or Manchurian fashion model.

Family background of Alla Ilchun

Ilchun and her mother arrived in France from Harbin, a Chinese city. The October Revolution drove them from their homes. Alla’s mother belonged to a noble family that lost all its money and had Chinese citizenship. She was the daughter of a Kazakh Bai. Alla was half-Russian and half-Kazakh. Nobody knew about her origin in Europe, and she didn’t discover it until two years before her death. They had a difficult time settling down in the French capital because it wasn’t friendly to immigrants. Her mother returned to her study of music, which she had studied in Russia, and sang in a lounge, while Alla got a job as a kitchen maid in a restaurant. Ilchun served as a nurse and signal-woman for the French partisan resistance in World War II.

Christian Dior’s Muse

At first sight, she won over Christian Dior. Designers were intrigued by her high waist (18.5″) and her womanly figure, as well as her exotic Asian face. Dior hired his first Asian model. Cristobal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy followed suit soon after. A non-Western-looking woman was the focus of haute couture for the first time. Even Dior admitted that inviting a model from Asia to showcase European clothing was risky.

Nevertheless, this risk brought him unprecedented success. Christian Dior described Alla as his talisman and muse. She embodied the new look style. During the war years, women’s dress was simple, rude, and unfeminine. But for fashion designers and society, she was everything they needed – graceful, feminine, and with a thin waist. When Alla showed off a dress, it was immediately popular and was quickly sold out. The British Princess Margaret and actress Elizabeth Taylor were among the customers who purchased the dresses worn by Alla. She worked at Dior for 20 years. At this time, Dior’s successor was Yves Saint Laurent, followed by Marc Bohan and Christian Dior himself.

Alla Ilchun was a role model for beauty. Models and fashionistas attempted to mimic her style in the 1950s. They even had surgeries to make their eyes look like hers. She hypnotized the audience with her unique moves on the runway, her unique turn, and her mysterious and impenetrable glance. Her feminine fragility and grace made her the epitome of grace. Due to her high cheekbones and slanted eyes, women around the world began to imitate her. They tried to replicate the long arrows that emphasize her eyes. They remain in fashion today, but few realize that in the 1950s, Alla Ilchun was the first person to wear such unusual make-up.

Personal life

During one of her numerous photoshoots, Alla met Mike de Dülmen, the photographer for Dior. She later married him and had two sons. After her husband’s death, Ilchun did not remain without work; she worked closely with Yves Saint Laurent for another decade. Her second husband was Igor Mukhin, an amateur photographer from Russia.

When Alla Ilchun began to notice signs of aging on her face, she decided to retire from modeling. She wanted to stand out among the audience and fans as someone young and beautiful. After twenty years of working in the fashion industry, her waist has grown from 47 centimeters to 49, but her face and body had already displayed signs of maturity. She led a closed lifestyle after retiring from photoshoots. Alla Ilchun’s life story would have remained unknown with her in 1989 if it were not for a curious coincidence. Kazakh economist and diplomat Berlin Irishev accidentally saw a painting of Alla by Leon Zeitlin in Paris. A bit of information about this woman had previously caught his attention, and he became intrigued by the story. Berlin Irishev published his book ‘The Dior Muse’ because of his diligent work, search for information, and cooperation with French archives. The film ‘Alla, the Oriental Pearl of Dior’, which featured the story of Alla Ilchun was released in early 2020.

#1 Alla in finely pleated mousseline dress by Christian Dior, 1947

#2 Alla in gorgeous green satin evening gown by Christian Dior, 1947

#3 Alla in gray wool redingote with velvet lapels and pockets, by Vera Boréa, 1948

#4 Alla is wearing a coat designed by Dior in Emba mink, the first perfectly white variety of mink, 1948

#5 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, 1949

#6 Alla in dress and shawl by Battilocchi stands in front of scarves printed with designs by Giorgio de Chirico, 1949

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

#8 Alla is wearing a dress by the Fontana sisters, 1949

#9 Alla is wearing Christian Dior’s petaled evening gown called “Junon” named for the queen of the gods in Roman mythology, p1949

#10 Alla poses in a broadtail lamb pullover and skirt designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, 1949

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

#12 Alla wearing sweater designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, 1949

#13 Alla wears Dior’s ‘Carnavalet’, a full black taffeta evening dress with an enormous collar, 1949

#14 Alla in Dior’s pleated evening gown, photo by Willy Maywald, 1950

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

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

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

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

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

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

#22 Alla in Dior’s dress called “Croque-mitaine” Autumn/Winter Collection Vivante line 1953, Paris

#23 Alla in ensemble by Christian Dior, L’Officiel, 1953

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

#25 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

#26 Alla in blue wool version of Dior’s cape-coat, Autumn/Winter Collection H-line 1954, Maison Dior, Paris

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

#28 Alla presents Dior’s satin and mink ensemble called “Artamène”, 1954

#29 Alla, decked out in Dior’s evening finery called ‘Artamène’ is being sketched by Carl Erickson, best known as Eric, for Vogue, 1954

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

#31 Alla being fitted in one of Dior’s gowns, photo by Loomis Dean, 1957

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

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

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

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

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

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

#38 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

#39 Alla presents Dior’s velvet and mink ensemble called “Vermeer”, 1954.

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

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Written by Aurora Hale

I am a blogger, entrepreneur and small business coach. I'm an introvert and cat lover. My favourite hobbies are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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