Dasha Zhukova – daughter of a Russian tycoon and reportedly the girlfriend of Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who owns the Chelsea soccer club in London.
Ksenia and Anastasia Virganskaya (the Gorbachev girls) – granddaughters of Mikhail Gorbachev
These and other well-connected beauties are the It Girls of Moscow, part of a transnational jet set that shows up from Monaco to Ascot.
Entertainment programmes on Russian television interview them. Local glossy magazines register their every heartbreak and hemline. And beginning next year, Tatler, the British society magazine, plans to start publishing its first foreign edition here, to focus on Russian socialites who, like Paris Hilton in the West, influence the handbags, the lap dogs and the taste in boyfriends to which other trend-conscious people aspire.
‘We don’t have our own Angelina Jolie or our Britney Spears with the resources to wear fancy clothes,’ said Ksenia Chilingarova, 25, a poet and magazine editor who is also an It Girl herself, the daughter of Artur Chilingarov, a deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament and a polar explorer.
At 11am on a recent Friday, she was dressed in evening attire – a common sight in Moscow because constant traffic jams prevent people from going home to change at the end of the day – for a party that night.
‘The reality is that the children of famous people are so popular because they have the money to dress up, wear jewellery, travel to Paris and London and be photographed doing it,’ she said.
Indeed, the party pages of Russian editions of Harper’s Bazaar, Hello, OK!, Viva! and GALA are so popular that readers flip to the back to read them first, and to check out what local socialites are wearing, said Shakri Amirkhanova, editor-in-chief of the forthcoming Russian-language Tatler.
Ten years ago, the wives of successful businessmen who spent a lot of time and money getting gussied up in flashy clothes, served as role models, she said.
‘Now it is a new generation – I call them ‘the children of’ – who have influential lifestyles,’ said Amirkhanova, 29.
Amirkhanova, who is the granddaughter of Rasul Gamzatov, a well-known poet, used to date Boris Yeltsin Jr, the grandson of the former Russian president, and has attended Paris fashion shows with Zhukova and other It Girls.
‘If they work in fashionable jobs, if they wear a mix of designer and high-street clothes, if they go on spiritual retreats in Tibet and drink green tea and do yoga and have iPhones, other people will follow,’ she said.
There is some historical precedent for this phenomenon. In czarist times, members of the nobility followed the doings of the ruler’s entourage. And in some ways, the new Moscow high society replicates the old Soviet caste system, in which children of the nomenklatura (the elite) attended the same elite schools and social events (although without blog coverage).
‘Russia has always been a monolith state and Russians have always been obsessed with people in power,’ said Nina Khrushcheva, an associate professor in the international affairs programme at New School University in New York.
Khrushcheva, a Nabokov scholar, is the great-granddaughter of premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted in 1964.
‘So now it is a monolith state with tall, blonde, leggy girls who promote themselves as the children of power,’ she said.
The Gorbachev granddaughters, both of whom work as editors at lifestyle magazine Grazia, came to international attention several years ago when they attended a Paris debutante ball at the Hotel Crillon.
But they aren’t entirely at ease in their public roles.
‘I feel uncomfortable in this dress,’ said Ksenia Virganskaya of the black tuxedo dress with white cuffs that she said Donatella Versace had chosen for her, at the Versace boutique late last month.
She turned to show the originally backless outfit which was now patched with a large oval of white cloth. ‘I made them close it up before I would wear it,’ she confided.
She was about to leave for St Petersburg to interview French film icon Catherine Deneuve for Grazia. Her younger sister, meanwhile, was preparing to fly off to an event at Versailles.
‘It was not my goal to become a trendsetter,’ said Anastasia. ‘But now people write, ‘Look at the Gorbachev girls, even their dog is a trendsetter.”
-Natasha Singer, NYTS
Hmmmm…. a certain Paris Hilton is more than enough. Really.