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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aid Program Trimmed With Lace

There are different kinds of hunger, explains Tatiana Prudnikova, who has taken on the task of helping Moscow's orphans. There is simple hunger, which can be satisfied simply. Then, there is hunger of the soul -- the basic human need for a little grandeur. With a keen eye on that need, Prudnikova is supplying her own unusual brand of humanitarian aid to needy children: tulle, hoopskirts and a good traditional d?but.


The philanthropic couturier has focused her efforts where she knows she can help, outfitting weddings and coming-out balls for young people whose rites of passage might otherwise go unnoticed. As founder of the Orphan Assistance Center, she hopes to build a broad program of social welfare for young families, but she is beginning with what is at hand -- off-the-shoulder, turn-of-the-century ballgowns.


In a publicity video for her company, Salon Petrovna, young women glide through high grass in white dresses and picture hats.


"Especially now, during such complex, difficult times, it is simply crucial that we look backward sometimes," says Prudnikova, 47, as her models nuzzle puppies on the screen. "To tell the truth, we are living as if we were on the threshold of war. This kind of beauty is absolutely necessary."


Furthermore, she said, these traditions are patriotic. "This is close to the real Russia," she says.


Along with five teenagers whom she has brought from Children's Home No. 62, Prudnikova holds court in her north Moscow apartment. Biscuits are piled on the tea table, the orphans are lined up on the couch, and three filmy ballgowns hang from the ceiling.


Orphans, Prudnikova thinks, are likely to match up with other orphans, and in the long-term future, she envisions a regular six-day parenting workshop for such young couples from all over Russia. Sexologists, gynecologists, pediatricians and counselors would advise the young people on child-rearing and family planning.


Yelena Chmelyova, a social worker, has joined Prudnikova as psychological consultant for issues of marriage and family. Their particular mission is to create a private network for social problems that the Soviets have denied for generations, she said.


"There are problems in society, and no one will solve them if we don't," Khmelyova said. "We would like to catch up with America without making the same mistakes that the Americans have" -- mistakes that have led, she said, to a chronically unemployed black population in America. Another Western mistake to be avoided, she said, is welfare dependence among single mothers.


But when Prudnikova wrote to the American charity organization Foster Parent Plan International last year, hoping to receive funding for Russian children, the organization responded that they "work only in lesser developed countries of the Third World" and could not devote their resources to a Russian branch.


She disagrees. Considering the economy and crumbling youth programs, "Russia these days is worse than the Third World," she said.


She will press forward with her plan to construct a support system for orphans and the children of orphans, starting from the day of the wedding. Prudnikova herself would oversee the wardrobe.


"I can help them to be beautiful," Prudnikova says. "I could say -- what's your name, dear?" She turns to the orphan to her right.


"Lena," says the girl, warily.


"I could say, Lena, you would look very nice in a shorter skirt, with your hair this way," says Prudnikova, suspending the girl's ponytail in the air above her head. She turns to a thin girl at the end of the table, who says her name is Oksana. "I could say, Oksana would look better in blue."