Empress Helga’s Fashion Emporium

CATWALK IN A CATHOUSE DRESS COLLECTION # 3  (Circa 942 AD)

Queen Helga’s Fashion Showings in Constantinople were becoming controversial for their designs and use of translucent silk that often left little to the imagination.  Scant flowing silks with silver and gold threads and trims were often counter to Roman trade practices and Helga’s use of colours were often counter to Byzantine laws and the politics of colour.  Helga’s first Fashion Showings in Constantinople were very successful for all the wrong reasons as determined by Imperial advisors so, it was decided that the Hraes’ Trading Company would no longer be invited to show at the Imperial Palace Fashion Showings.  Queen Helga took the news with her usual candor and decided to continue her summer fashion showings in Constantinople on her own by renting a famous cathouse, The Red House, in the Saint Mamas district of the city.  The establishment was recommended to her by a number of her Hraes’ Trading Company merchant captains and was on the defensive wall along the Sea of Marmara and was even purported to have underground tunnels leading to the beaches outside the Gate of Samathia.  There was even a boathouse outside the walls that had a tunnel going straight into the Red House.  When the owners refused to rent to her, she bought the place for two chests of gold.  Half the Red House clientele were Hraes’ anyway, and the Hraes’ sold them most of their concubine slave girls so, Helga saw it as an investment in her own company.


Queen Helga in Constantinople

In response to and because of the Roman complaints, Queen Helga decided to add even more colour to her collection and add a new line of transparent silks that General Wu had found in Cathay to their line of translucent silks.  She also recollected from her youth as a princess, during the great Hraes’ wars, the short dress designs that had evolved because of the huge ship building efforts required to provide for the war effort.  The ships’ sails were woven of wool and linen and it took a good weaver six months to make one sail so, there often was not enough cloth for new clothing.  Royal princesses set a good example for their people by wearing new short dress designs with sleeveless blouses.  Although there was now no shortages of fabrics, Helga envisioned some of the more revealing short styles as being appropriate for the present luxurious times as long as there was an effort put into improving the quality of the materials, such as gold threaded silk.

The Red House of Constantinople was a house of ill repute in the Saint Mamas quarter of the Roman capital and the Saint Mamas quarter was the district in which the Hraes’ (Rus’) Viking and Varangian merchants and traders were allowed to live and overwinter.  The Red House had purchased concubine slave girls for many years from the Hraes’ via Kiev and the house was noted for its Irish red haired beauties, its Anglish brunettes and its Scandinavian blondes as well as local Raven haired Roman beauties.  The girls of the Red House were expected to wear red dresses unless their hair was red, then they could wear any coloured dress they wished.  Many of the blonde girls dyed their hair red or streaked it to take advantage of this privilege, but hair dyes of the time only allowed going to darker shades so, the brunettes and black haired girls were stuck wearing red.

While hair dyes may have been of limited use, Constantinople was famous for the many lines of high end make-up and facial products that had been developed by Princess Zoe, grandmother of Empress Zoe, who, at sixty had looked thirty, or so it was said.  There was even a brand of make-up called Zoe’s Own that Queen Helga began providing all her girls with.  The weekly fashion showings at the Red House became synonymous with luxury and excess.  Many Roman princes and dukes took their wives to the fashion shows and would disappear into the upper reaches of the building until it was time to depart and many wives rode home alone in their sumptuous horse drawn carriages.  The fashion showings became so notorious that Queen Helga attracted the notice of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, an Emperor born of the purple blood of the ancient Caesars of Rome.  And when the Emperor finally met Queen Helga, after the death of King Ivar ‘the Boneless’, of course, Constantine was instantly smitten.  A few years later, she became Empress Helga.

While very few original documents remain extant from Eastern Roman times, there are numerous accounting documents of the lavish spending on fine dinners that Queen Helga engaged in while visiting the Roman city.  While the Hraes’ Trading Company bookkeepers considered her spending quite frivolous, she considered it an investment in herself.  She may very well have coined the feminine phrase, “I’m worth it!”

The Red House, just inside the Southern Seawall of Constantinople

The Varangians Series:

Book Three, “The Saga of Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Hraerikson,” reveals how Ivar the Boneless Ragnarson was actually Prince Eyfur/Ivar (Igor in Slavic) Hraerikson of Kiev and then King Harde Knute of Denmark. By comparing a twenty year lacuna in the reign of Prince Igor in the Russian Chronicles with a coinciding twenty year appearance of a King Harde Knute (Hard Knot) of Denmark in European Chronicles, Prince Ivar’s ‘death by sprung trees’, which reportedly tore his legs off, may have rather just left him a boneless and very angry young king. Loyal Danes claimed, “It was a hard knot indeed that sprung those trees,” but his conquered English subjects, not being quite as polite, just called him, “Ivar the Boneless”

Book Four, “The Saga of Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson,” demonstrates how Prince Svein ‘the Old’ (Slavic: Sviatoslav ‘the Brave’) of Kiev later moved to Norway and fought to become King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark.  But before being forced out of Russia, he sated his battle lust by crushing the Khazars and attacking the great great grandfather of Vlad the Impaler in a bloody campaign into the Heart of Darkness of Wallachia against the Army of the Impalers and their 666 salute.  The campaign was so mortifying that the fifteen thousand pounds of gold that the Emperor of Constantinople paid him to attack them seemed not nearly enough, so Prince Svein attacked the Eastern Roman Empire itself.  He came so close to defeating the greatest empire in the world, that later Danish Christian Kings would call his saga, and the sagas of his kin, “The Lying Sagas of Denmark” and set out to destroy them.

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