Irene Galitzine was a Russian princess and fashion designer. Her design of ‘Palazzo Pyjamas’, for which she was mostly famous, stunned fashionistas.
A famous model once told an interviewer that she was invited to an evening party but she felt very tired so she put on her evening coat over her silk pyjamas. When the model arrived everyone asked her where she bought her wonderful outfit.
Perhaps Irene Galitzine read this story before she designed her trademark pyjamas. Galitzine became famous by making evening pyjamas, nicknamed ‘Palazzo Pyjamas’ by Diana Vreeland, the editor of Vogue. Vreeland called them this because she first saw them at the collection at the Pizzi Palace in Florence.
The Russian princess designer had a fascinating background. Irene Galitzine’s mother was the Russian princess, Nina Lazareff, who was descended from a Lithuanian king. Her father was an officer in the Imperial Guard in Russia. The family escaped from the horrors of the Russian Revolution when Irene was only ten months old and moved to Italy.
Galitzine was educated in Paris and at Cambridge in England. She eventually studied art and design in Rome and got her start working for the Fontana sisters there. Fluent in many languages, she worked as a Public Relations representative for the Fontana sisters and as their house mannequin.
The princess married the Italian aristocrat, Silvio Medici De’ Menezes, in 1949. She could have chosen to stay home like most aristocratic wives did in those days. However, inspired by the very modern and independent Greta Garbo, Galitzine wanted to remain a ‘career woman’ and she opened her own fashion house. She won the Filene’s Talent Award for the best new talent in the United States for a black silk cocktail dress.
The designer said that: “I was one of Emilio Pucci’s best customers, but I got tired of seeing the same clothes I was wearing on other people, so I began making my own things,” she once said. “I put them in my first collection, and everybody went wild.”
The audience certainly went wild when the princess first featured her pyjamas designs at the Pizzi Palace in Florence in 1960. These were acclaimed by fashion critics and ‘fashionistas’. Galitzine had wanted to make beautiful trouser designs which would feel liberating for women and be suitable for evening wear. She started making them at home at first and her aristocratic friends loved them, insisting that she put them in her collection.
Galitzine’s designs became popular amongst the jet-set and were worn by such movie-stars as Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Jackie Onassis wrote to the designer in 1963 telling her that she loved her new collection and wanted to order some of her designs. Soon afterwards they became firm friends.
Galitzine also met her idol, Greta Garbo. According to the Garbo Stories website, Galitzine said that the star ‘did a very nice thing’ by visiting her shows in New York in 1963 and providing her with wonderful publicity. The Hollywood actor’s visit made headlines in magazines and newspapers.
Galitzine went cruising on Onassis’s yacht, Christina, with Jackie and Greta Garbo and made a collection for the sophisticated fashion icon, Garbo. Famous people found Galitzine’s ‘pyjamas’ perfect for travelling because they were so light in weight and comfortable. They could be worn on aeroplanes or for lounging around the pool drinking cocktails
Soon other designers followed suit. Galitzine’s friend, Emilio Pucci, created a range of palazzo pants in bold geometric prints. This was quite a change from Galitzine’s pyjama designs which usually just had a slight amount of beading or embroidery to make them prettier.
The most famous pair of the pyjamas were the pink ones worn by Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther. These are now in a museum and often included in exhibits of Galitzine’s clothes.
The designer said the silk pants suited the carefree way of life in those days. “You could dance easily in them, and all you needed to wear with them was a pretty jewel.”
Ready to Wear
Irene Gatlitzine realised early that the future was in attractive ready-to-wear garments so she started showing these in the sixties in Florence. She also became a partner with Angelo Ferreti, an Italian manufacturer in the seventies, and showed her ready-to-wear collections in America. She chose him because he could handle her luxury fabrics – soft silk and linen – in the ready-to-wear line.
These collections included silk and satin dresses and two-piece linen suits. They suited women who wanted luxury garments without having to pay couture prices. Galitzine’s decision to make ready-to-wear garments in those days was revolutionary.
Galitzine also began diverting into many other products, such as perfume, scarves and umbrellas. She told The Ledger that: “Everything began exploding.” When she launched one of her perfumes, Mon Homme, she even featured a concert by Juliette Greco.
The great designer eventually sold her business but she remained active in the fashion world until she died in 2006. She loved Russia but she credited Italian design training for her style and taste, saying that: “Fashion should be feminine and modern without exaggeration — like Italian women.”