Already I dream of summer in Saint Petersburg.
Feeling thoroughly un-glamorous and making promises to myself to wear more red lipstick, garter belts and velvet, I returned with Katie to the bar. We grabbed some champagne and explored where the plebeians (see: non-VIP) were forced to loiter in-between shows. At this point we had become painfully aware of how important FLAB was to Sergei and pretty much every person working at Fashion Week. Intrigue was fast hitting critical mass. Should we go talk to him? He’s American. I’m American. We have that in common. I’ve been to LA before. I speak English. He has to want to be friends, right? Who only wants to be surrounded by Russian models? Oh, right. Every hot-blooded male ever. So once again I find myself stealing furtive looks at this stranger with the leggy blonde who looks suspiciously like she was hired to “entertain” him during his stay in St. Petersburg. Ugh. Quick do something chic. To the Bentleys! Standing next to a Bentley always makes me feel better about myself. I call it luxury-good association. I may not own it, but damn do I look good standing next to/with it/in it. So Katie and I headed to the Bentley stand. See below:
Beside the Bentley stand there were several fashion exhibits, one that included real models standing incredibly still.
I am clearly not meant to be a photographer….
Soon the bell rang for the last show of the night, a Swedish designer whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. During intermission I had noticed a group of people who I became insanely envious of. It was a group of beautiful, unnaturally hygenic, insouciant teenagers. I referred to them in my mind as the cast of the Russian Vampire Diaries (this show does not yet exist. Hint hint channel 1 …) They laughed when everyone else was quiet, acted as if they grew up at fashion shows, saddled the benches during shows, and had more inside jokes than an Andy Kaufman skit. When an important looking Japanese-American designer showed up with posse en tow, he greeted them by name. Who were they? And how do I make friends with them. During the show, Katie and I sat nearby and I found myself watching them more than the models.
Here are some photos from the show I did not watch. It was very Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This could be true. Or there could be the chance that as an American, I instantly associate anything Swedish with Lisabeth Salander.
After the show, Katie and I decided to grab some food. Should we go to the after party we were invited to by Sergei’s assistant? Or grab some sushi to continue our cosmopolitan night? Or should we go to the walk-thru McDonald’s window that is open 24/7? McDonald’s it is. We made the short walk to Nevskii Prospekt where I ordered a Royal with Cheese and Katie got some nuggets. As we were waiting for the verrrry slow woman behind the window to arrange our food, we spotted a very fancy Lamborghini parked in the middle of the road surrounded by two black Escalades (it could also have been a Ferrari and two Explorers, a Porsche and two Range Rovers….). What in tarnation? Who parks their car in the middle of the road? Wait, I’m in Russia. Naturally, we were curious so we waited to see who got out of the Lamborghini. Lo and behold out pops Sergei. And out of one of the black SUVs pops FLAB and his entertainment for the night. Oh good lord for all the people to be on the same 100 meter stretch of road as us at 2am, it is Sergei, FLAB and his honey boo. What to do? If they see us, any gains I made in my X factor immediately get wiped out. Where to hide? How to hide? Should we hide? Or should we run away triumphantly, mouths full of corn-fed beef in a 1976 Lada we flagged down on the corner. We’ll take the latter.
As a rusted-out Lada (not pictured above because that is one cool Lada) rounded the corner, we hailed it down gypsy style and climbed in. To the mansion! We declared to our Uzbeki driver and as we rolled by FLAB and his entourage, we giggled into our value meals, thinking of the absurdity of coincidence and the night we had just had.
I’ll leave you with this:
Student X: Russia has two problems. Bad roads and idiots.*
*There is currently no major highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. That is the equivalent of there being no 94 between Detroit and Chicago. Just two-lane highways. Additionally, I have been told that it is impossible to drive all the way from the western edge of Russia to the eastern edge on a paved road.
I have talked at great length with friends and fellow ex-pats about the “cool factor” of living in a foreign country. And I don’t mean the interest people take in your experience once you are back stateside, but rather the “cool factor” that gets undeservedly placed on you in foreign countries. It’s a simple algebraic expression. You are person A when at home. While abroad, depending upon the historical relationship of the two countries, the level of development, and location on the map of the country you are in, a certain “cool factor” X is applied. Thus you become person B. A*X=B. Or something like that.
While studying in Ecuador, my X factor was a big integer. I was cruising into fun upon a giant, exported, American-made cultural surfboard. Russia, however, was a different story. The X integer just wasn’t as big. In Russia, it was more like, “Oh you’re American? Ok. Can you please step to the side. You’re standing in my way.” This wasn’t always true, but there were many occasions of “Sorry no foreigners” at club entrances and suspicious looks at our loud, public, English-speaking ways.
This was the case for awhile until my friend Katie got VIP tickets to Aurora Fashion Week in Saint Petersburg. Bentleys! Models! Free Champagne! My X factor would skyrocket. Or so I thought.
Our awesome VIP badge that let us into the red velvet-roped lounge.
How many Bentley’s do you see? I see six.
And just in case you are in the market for a Bentley, the best deal is to go to Belarus, buy one there and then drive it into Russia. Way fewer taxes.
Models. There were lots of them.
The man who gave tickets to Katie, who we will call Sergei for both my safety and yours, was a very imposing man. After introducing ourselves, Sergei avoided Katie and I like the plague. It was actually quite comical at times. We would sidle up near him or try to make eye contact, and he would immediately move in the opposite direction. We thought we were looking pretty sharp, had our VIP badges securely fastened to the lapels of our trendy blazers, and had his assistant helping us out at every turn. I guess even with a VIP badge, you’re a nobody until Sergei thinks you’re a somebody.
So we did what any young woman at a party filled with models, rich oil tycoons, their plastic filled
wives mistresses and fashion icons would do. We made an immediate beeline for the bar.
We managed to down half a bottle champagne, which was pretty impressive given the time constraints we were under and the witty repartee we imparted on any and all who approached us, before the bell for the first show began. As we were making our way up the stairs we noticed Fancy LA Businessman, henceforth known as FLAB, for the first time. Remember FLAB, he will come into important play as our night progresses. Keeping an eye on our new adversary, aka one the other three people there who spoke English, we sat down to watch the first show.
And it was FABULOUS. Only in Russia can a Joan Crawford meets Cruella DeVille inspired fur show make me pine for a floor-length mink coat and a reason to wear sable fur hand muffs. Impractical? Yes. Necessary. Hell Yes.
This was by far my favorite look.
I could rock this on 5th Avenue.
This is a bad photo but the model pictured is the designer, Igor Gulyaev,’s wife. He and his child walked out in the end in fur vests. It was pretty amazing.
Think I can make it into the next show?
Part II to come…. two girls, a McDonalds value meal and a quick getaway from FLAB.
News alert: Visa restrictions have been loosened for business, tourist and humanitarian travelers to Russia. This has been a necessary change a long time coming, especially with the 2014 Sochi winter olympics fast approaching. The visas are now issued for longer periods of time (six months), allow for more entries, and are valid for three years. And best of all, you no longer need a formal invitation, which can sometimes be confused for the visa itself. No seriously, it can. I’ve done it before….
Check out the NYTimes piece to get the full dl. —–> Russia Eases Limits on Visas for Americans
The bad news? Work and student visas still need an HIV test. The good news? You can still get one at your local Walmart.
It’s been over a month now since I’ve returned from my time abroad and much has happened; I spent time in suburban Chicago, visited Ann Arbor, had a weeklong stint in D.C. and recently moved back to the love of my life, New York City. And of course, the most frequent question asked since my arrival has been, “So what was Russia like?” I try to answer the question the best that I can, changing emphasis and anecdotes each time so that I can both keep those memories sharp and not poke my eyeballs out from the tedium of repeating the same stories over and over and over again, but there is still much about my time that I have yet to reveal. I have pictures and stories that I haven’t shared. I have thoughts I may not know I have yet. I stopped recording my experiences on this blog because a. I got busy. real busy. and b. my millennial, narcissistic tendencies that lead me to blogging in the first place began to fade. Being back in the US, however, has fully restored my self-love and validated the existence of a blog where only my voice is heard. Huzzah!
Therefore, I will be backdating some entries, returning to where I stopped, and hopefully filling in some blanks. Here are just a few of the great pictures from the last six months I spent in the Motherland. (note: many of the pictures I post from here on out were taken by my friend Andrew who came to visit with his fancy iPhone 4.)