On September 27, 2022, the National Library of Kazakhstan hosted the presentation of the Chinese edition of a remarkable book by Berlin Irisheff. The author is one of the founding fathers of the banking system of Kazakhstan. But, he has also been known as an avid researcher of his homeland’s history. So, the book by Mr. Irisheff, A pearl of the Orient at Dior, translated from Russian into Chinese by Oksana Saimo, has once again proved the unswerving dedication of the veteran banker to arts and humanities.
Although a quarter of century ago the author migrated to France, he has kept close relations with his fatherland. Mr. Irisheff is the president of l’Association des Kazakhstanais en France (AKF). One day at a Paris art dealer’s, he had stumbled upon a portrait of an exceptionally beautiful Oriental lady, whose facial features distinctly resembled a Kazakh woman. At least, that was his first impression. Excitedly, Mr. Irisheff bought the portrait on the spot. Thus, he set out on a quest to establish the identity of the lady in question, and his hunch turned out to be right. A top model Alla Ilchun (1926-1989) of the Kazakh-Russian ethnic origin was a source of inspiration for such legends of the fashion world as Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.
So, Mr. Irisheff has rediscovered a fascinating, yet somewhat tragic, story of the beauty queen, who was born in China to the Kazakh father Kuantkhan Elshyn — a railway engineer — and the Russian mother Tamara Mikhailova — an opera singer. The top model’s father died under unknown circumstances at the end of the 1930s. By the way, her maternal grandfather, General Vyacheslav Mikhailov, was one of the bodyguards of the Russian Czar Nicholas the Second. Initially, Ms. Ilchun with her mother struggled as impoverished migrants to France. But, eventually, the exotic beauty made a sensation in the haute couture market in the 1940-1950s, effectively fighting racial prejudices, which once had barred African or Asian girls to become a catwalk star. The veteran banker has conducted a painstaking research, spanning across epochs and continents, to prove the Kazakh origins of the top model, who was generally recognized as a Chinese. It is a pity that the government of Kazakhstan don’t support his research activities. That is why, a Kazakh-language edition of the book has not been published yet. But, to tell the truth, the Kazakhs need such a book the most. Because, outstanding people, like Ms. Ilchun, have set a brilliant example for their compatriots as role models of success.
In his Kazakh-language interview, Mr. Irisheff says about similarities between French and Kazakh languages. For example, the two languages have common pronunciation rules. He also points out that celebrities, such as Ms. Ilchun, connect France and Kazakhstan as well. The veteran banker has once again glorified the beauty of Kazakh women, who have been adored by great men of world history. For instance, Börte of a Kazakh tribe of Qonyrat was the first wife of Genghis Khan. A gifted singer Roza Baglanova was one of the favorite artists of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on whose birthday party in 1949 Ms. Baglanova sang two songs, while other artists performed just once. An excellent set designer and film actress Gulfairus Ismailova was the wife of a brilliant Russian graphic designer Evgeny Sidorkin.
Among honorary guests of the event was Rudolf Hykl — the Czech Ambassador to Kazakhstan. And the presence of such important persons at the event once more demonstrates an undisputable ability of Mr. Irisheff to bring together bright personalities. For example, one of the leading film directors of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, Bolat Nussimbekov, whose documentaries about musicians, cinematographers and other creative people have gained success among general audience and experts alike, is also a member of the veteran banker’s small, but energetic team.