Kaspia, a Russian novel
The premises of a great adventure
The history that links France and Russia is, as we know, eminently romantic. And it is at the dawn of the 18th century that it begins, when Pierre Le Grand, back from Versailles, marvelling at its splendour, gives his people the impetus they need for a light east wind to start blowing in our country. For if the adventurous tsar will be able to draw inspiration from what he observed during his visit, France will have gained in return, in addition to the friendship of a people, the progressive arrival of a first Russian diaspora, a beautiful ambassador of the Slavic soul. Artistic and elegant, spiritual – in every sense of the word – and beautifully whimsical, joyful and melancholic all at once. The translator and author Denis Fonvizine will find a poetic formula for his compatriots in voluntary exile at the time. “They change night into day,” he wrote in his Lettres de France in 1777. A promise kept throughout the following decades, during which, at the whim (and in spite of) the political ups and downs, the interest of Russian intellectuals and aristocrats in our country – the capital and the Riviera in the lead – never wavered. “The Russians then go to Paris as young people used to go to New York yesterday and today to Barcelona or Shanghai. “This is how author Alexander Jevakhoff explains it. At the beginning of the 20th century, a mixture of luxury, cultural exchanges and celebrations, the idyll has an air of ideal. In the wake of the “charming invasion” – in the words of Marcel Proust – of Diaghilev’s mythical Ballets Russes, which began to inflame the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1909 and revealed the Polish angel Nijinski, the poets’ muses like the iconic Petersburg poet Misia were already Slavic, and Paris found a new lease of life in this fascinating creative ferment.
Once upon a time …
In 1917, however, the Revolution changed the situation, gradually causing the flight of nearly one and a half million “White Russians” who opposed Bolshevism, now in power. Among them, hundreds of thousands of them, of diverse origins, chose France as their host country. Their lives of yesteryear left behind them, they now work in the Renault factories of Boulogne-Billancourt or in the haute-couture workshops for well-born young girls who know how to handle needles, and it is more than frequent, in the capital too, to borrow a taxi driven by a fallen prince. Coming with in their luggage, in addition to their nostalgia, the most beautiful vestiges of their past, they all invent a new existence here, often with success, like Prince Yusupov and his wife, niece of Nicholas II, with their fashion house Irfé, which packs the whole of Paris. Many, however, if they adapt to the circumstances with mastery, many maintain the hope of returning home one day. Having arrived a few years earlier, Arcady Fixon is not one of them. For him, the future is now here, and he intends to forge his own destiny in France, but not without having settled there a small piece of the Great Russia: to have been in Paris and remain Russian, as Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace. Quite naturally, he had the idea of inaugurating a warm and authentic place, where the bitterness of painful moments would give way to the most prized flavours of yesteryear, the delicacy of caviar, which appeared at the court of the tsars in the 17th century, iconic dishes such as potatoes garnished with caviar and then, of course, to break the ice, the pure strength of vodka. All that remained was to set the scene, wood panelling to magnify the rare and splendid objects each brought back from Moscow or Saint Petersburg by some aristocrat and then as a backdrop, the blue of the Caspian Sea. In 1927, the house Caviar Kaspia was born. Two years later, it was established on the right bank of the Seine, since it was there that nobles and artists from the East used to settle, with a first address not far from the Opera. A must for the elegant and whimsical diaspora of the time, descendants of the imperial family, artists, fashion designers, young models and ravishing muses, as well as for all those who were attracted and electrified by its aura.
The odyssey continues its course
Today, on Place de la Madeleine, where it has shone in a Haussmann-style building since 1953, time seems to have had no hold on the Kaspia setting, which has since conformed to what its founder imagined almost a hundred years earlier. The house has remained a family business and its current owner, Ramon Mac Crohon, intends that it should lose none of its charm. After the ground floor shop, which is full of delicious dishes (caviar, smoked fish…), the restaurant on the first floor still has its emblematic “Troika” on the wall, a precious painting by Nicolas Swertschkoff, painter of the Imperial Court, better known for having immortalized battle scenes than such charming shows. In the display cases too, the antique porcelain and even the seal of Nicolas II hold their place. The place, renovated almost imperceptibly every year, stands out as the guarantor of an incredible tradition and the memory of fabulous stories. Here seems to float the soul of the Ballets Russes, princesses, painters and poets, as well as the greatest names in couture, whose label will always remain as mythical as the Parisian institution to which they were accustomed. Today, moreover, tradition obliges, Caviar Kaspia, which regularly welcomes the greatest stars of the time, is also recognized worldwide as THE “French fashion canteen”, particularly in times of “fashion week”. To its credit, its delicacies, its unique setting, its atmosphere as muffled as it is festive, and – an important quality – its discretion, even beyond its private rooms. Even if the place is a must when it comes to sublimating the party, no pictures are taken here and nothing filters out the incredible evenings that bring together a chic and heterogeneous assembly that would have something to panic Instagram. But there’s no question of cutting ourselves off from modernity for all that. Installed since 2018 under the dome of the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the Caviar Kaspia house has thus multiplied the number of one-off events, from the opening of restaurants and pop-up boutiques (New York, Monaco…) to the launch of new references and limited editions created with renowned artists, creators and designers such as Giambastista Valli, Carine Roitfeld or Olympia Le Tan. Not to mention the recent collaboration with Jacquemus for Lemon and Sea Urchin, where on the most beautiful avenue in the world, the Slavic institution looks out over the Mediterranean. In the light of black gold, a perfect alchemy between yesterday, today and tomorrow.