Georgian Mother and Daughter Who Were Exclusive Models for Coco Chanel
01 November, 2015
Georgian Mother and Daughter Who Were Exclusive Models for Coco Chanel
Few people know that Coco Chanel used to have two exclusive models working for her – Melita Cholokashvili and Lilia Zelenskaya, mother and daughter – and that both were Georgians. Melita’s portrait by Russian painter Savely Sorin is currently part of Tbilisi State Museum’s permanent exposition.

Georgian Journal cont
acted Melita Cholokashvili’s niece Nino to hear her aunt’s life story:

– Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze called her “divine Madonna.” All the Georgian intelligentsia gathered in Melita’s house. She was educated in a gymnasium in Tbilisi, and at the age of 20 she fell in love with Konstantin Zelinski, a brilliant lawyer famous for his outstanding appearance, who was 20 years older than her. Zelinski pampered her a lot, but their idyll didn’t last long. Despite being very successful in society, he very quickly grew too dull for the 20-year-old girl and after a child was born, their relations became tense. They divorced soon after their marriage but remained friends for the rest of their lives. It’s curious that after leaving her husband she fell in love with a poet named Sergei Rafalovich, who wasn’t notable for his appearance at all.

Portrait of Melita Cholokashvili by Savely Sorin
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Melita left Georgia in 1921 together with her daughter. At first they arrived in Constantinople and stayed for some time but found life there to be very hard. Having learnt about the hardships of his ex-wife and daughter, Zelinski arrived in Constantinople and took them to Paris, returning to Tbilisi alone afterward.

Before marrying Sergei Rafalovich who at that time lived in Paris, my aunt began to work for Coco Chanel as a model. Back then people wrote that she wasn’t photogenic at all and no photograph could capture her beauty properly. Hence it’s impossible to judge her solely by her photos. She had peculiar manners and a demeanor that charmed Coco Chanel and made even those who were objectively more beautiful pale before her. She was very charming, wore dresses perfectly and everything she was clad in attracted everyone so much that any clothes she demonstrated were sold instantly.

Sorin, who painted Melita’s portrait, also said that all her beauty and charm was best revealed in her movement. Her hands were especially beautiful. Melita’s daughter Lilia Zelinskaia soon became Coco Chanel’s model as well. The whole fashion society of Paris spoke about her magical beauty. She participated in several Coco Chanel’s shows, but after Coco moved to Switzerland, she had to find work with other model agencies.

My aunt became a model because it was the only source of income for her. She left the platform after marrying for the second time, since Rafalovich didn’t want her to be a model and created very good living conditions for her.

She visited Tbilisi twice. At first in 1958, by that time I was graduating from university and my aunt was 63 years old. Even at this age, Melita was so attractive that everybody stared when she walked down the street. Her daughter Lilia visited us as well, in 1961. My aunt died at the age of 93 and Lilia at the age of 82.

Melita Cholokashvili
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Melita’s daughter Lilia Zelinskaya
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