No, they were not lovers. Really!! But there is a connection, albeit a long thin one. Grand Duke Dimitri was one of the handful, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, who murdered Rasputin in Saint Petersburg in December, 1916. Czar Nicholas II sent the conspirators far out of town and Dimitri was sent to a military unit in Persia. In the next year, 1917, it was all over for Czarist Russia and the Grand Duke never returned. Like many other fleeing Russians he ended up in Paris. And who do you think took notice of the aristocrat’s arrival? Coco Chanel. She was eleven years his senior but that didn’t stop either one.
The French perfume business was booming because the scents didn’t last past eleven in the evening. So they bathed in the stuff. (Can you imagine!) But, as I heard the story, Dimitri said to Coco that she should not sell big bottles of perfume for cheap prices, but small bottles for high prices. He introduced Coco to Ernest Beaux, a successful Russian-born perfumer from St. Petersburg, whose French employer, Coty, would not follow his suggestions. Beaux insisted that the addition of deer musk would make the perfume last the night. Coco hired Beaux, added dear musk to the eighty-some other ingredients and voilà- Chanel No. 5 was born—that was 1920. The Coco-Dimitri affair was in 1921 and while she moved on to others, the relationship in indeed historic. You may have seen the film “Igor and Coco” about her affair with Stravinsky. It seems she liked Russians – famous Russians.
In my next book, “The Lady with the Ostrich Feather Fan” you will learn more about Rasputin’s murder, but it is really about the “life” of two Rembrandts that were the pride of the Yusupov collection and now hang in the National Gallery of Art. More on that later. This perfume story is just one of the many side-stories that emerge when writing.
To read more about all this read “Chanel” by Edmonde Charles~Roux.