But turning a profit—something Snob isn’t likely to do anytime soon—seems far from Prokhorov’s mind (the money expended on Snob, as one New York club member acidly points out, is “just a rounding error” for him). But profit isn’t everything. Prokhorov’s endgame is to buy himself cultural and intellectual credibility on a massive scale and to will into existence, and lead, a group of the globalized world’s Russian-speaking elites.
My own involvement with Snob began in the summer of 2008. The phone rang at an ungodly hour, as it always seems to when Moscow is on the line. “We’re starting a club for distinguished Russians around the world,” said a chipper young woman, “and we immediately thought of contacting you.”
“Oh, wow,” I said, taken aback. “I am really flattered. Wow. No, really.”
The woman held a pause. “Because you seem to know a lot of them,” she concluded. “So we thought you’d make a good New York scout.”
I said something horribly snooty and hung up. Only this seems to have intrigued someone, not put them off, because two months later I was offered membership in the club. In another year, my wife was on the magazine’s staff. By then, Snob had become an inescapable conversation topic in my world. They seemed to have contacted everyone around me at once. Photographers, reporters, fashion designers, advertising people, poets. The weird thing was that they knew everyone. For the first time in who knows how long, Russian New York felt like a legitimate outpost of Moscow, not some sort of fun-house mirror of it. Before long, I had a column on snob.ru, waxing New York–y about things like the High Line and Woody Allen’s latest.
Have I sold out to Prokhorov? Sure I have. And not just by joining his club or working for his magazine. Simply by writing these lines, I’m helping him accomplish his trick by promoting the group he’s so bent on creating. But then I think of that picture of Prokhorov with Mayor Bloomberg and Jay-Z, and it brings to mind a similar photo, one that I apparently committed to memory. It’s a seventies shot of Baryshnikov lolling on a Studio 54 couch, sandwiched between Steve Rubell and Mick Jagger. In most respects, Prokhorov and Baryshnikov couldn’t be more different. But seeing the two Russians flanked by such iconic New York figures had the same effect on me. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit—maybe even a little snobby. But both pictures helped make me feel like I belong in New York, like my life, and those of my countrymen, is bigger somehow than it was back home. Isn’t that why we all seem to end up here?