For a while there, when it looked like Hurricane Charley was going to crash her big charity bash in Southampton, Anna Anisimova said she could feel the butterflies doing backflips in her stomach. The ex-model and New York University sophomore emerged onto her back porch, that shampoo-commercial hair loosely secured at the nape. In her scarlet flamenco evening gown and news-anchor makeup, she looked years older than she had at the beginning of the summer, when she was just another demure girl with an elegant carriage and a pretty laugh who had rented a house in the Hamptons.
But this wasn’t just any house. It was owned by Denise Rich, the ex-wife of fugitive metals trader Marc Rich. Anna’s father is himself a reclusive aluminum-business alumnus, No. 67 on Forbes’s “Richest Russians” list, with an estimated net worth of $350 million. For the season, Anna had paid some $550,000, which is a lot of money, even in the Hamptons. Everyone who was now lining up to be introduced to the Russian heiress of the East End found themselves gazing into her mermaid-blue eyes and wondering how this mysterious creature had surfaced in their midst.
A friend handed Anna a pack of Parliaments to settle her nerves. Swishing around the clambake in her own Ungaro dress, Anna’s older sister Angelina, 27, was smoking a fancy blue cigarette from Nat Sherman, on Fifth Avenue. The swimming pool glowed with a pale fire. Anna Anisimova was now traveling in what passes in this age bracket for New York society: Danny Baker Jr., the son of the Park Avenue plastic surgeon and lemony-blonde lifestyle expert Nina Griscom; his Juno-esque model girlfriend Sophie Dahl; Carlyle Hotel art dealer Helly Nahmad; and the lovely Candice Levy, a 22-year-old Bergdorf brunette who was usually available for lunch on Madison in the Sixties.
A duo of well-liked club promoters were also rarely out of earshot: Mike Heller, 27, a cuddly beanbag of a lawyer who worked at his family’s celebrity law firm, and Jeff Goldstein, 28, a former real-estate investment banker with a sticky flattop, now acting as Anna’s agent, according to Heller. Goldstein in particular had made a summer project of the 19-year-old, escorting her to Maxim magazine’s “Fantasy Island Weekend” at Atlantic City’s Borgata hotel, where they rode in a limo with Keith Richards’s daughter Theodora. When Anna suddenly threw tens of millions down on some gold-plated real estate here in town, Goldstein called the press.
In these circles, people compare Goldstein and Anna’s relationship to how party promoter Noah Tepperberg “made” Paris Hilton a few years ago, taking her around, making sure she was photographed at his clubs. “There’s no waaay Anna’s going to turn into Paris Hilton,” Goldstein said, even if he and Heller were attached to the Star Room (where Anna was now a regular), a Hamptons lounge ravenous for celebrities and those who can spring for big tables.
The charity foray, the Park Avenue packaging, the very public swan dive into a serious business like real estate all pointed to a yearning for recognition—respectability.
“The aluminum princess wants to become a queen, and she does not hide it,” marveled the Moscow tabloid Moskovskaya Pravda.
Known as “The Oligarchs,” men like Anna’s father who made their fortunes in the sweat-beading era of post-Soviet gangster capitalism had been dispatching their families to live abroad for more than a decade. In Russia, these situations are known as zapasnoiye aerodromi, or backup airfields. “If you’re flying high and President Putin suddenly decides to confiscate your property, you know you’ve got somewhere to land,” says one Russian businessman.
Many oligarch families had pitched their airfields in London: Britain was generous with visas, closer to the motherland, and more forgiving tax-wise. Boris Berezovsky is now shacked up in a mock-Tudor mansion in Surrey. Roman Abramovich—his erstwhile partner—has an $80 million house in Eaton Square, an estate in West Sussex, and owns the Chelsea football club. Three days a week, Abramovich flies in from Moscow to see his wife, a onetime Aeroflot stewardess, and their five children.
Anna was enrolled in private school, Englewood’s Elisabeth Morrow, “but I was a big loser,” she says. “My mom put me into these colorful dresses with these matching scrunchies. It was the worst, and nobody liked me.”
But Vassily Anisimov chose to stow his family in New York, at a many-time-zones remove from the rampaging bronco of a business he was riding back home, where the rich were moving targets and it was always a good idea to have somebody else start your car for you. In Russia, his eldest daughter had been brutally murdered. In America, his youngest would have her own tennis pro, browse boutiques for fluttery blue party dresses, and chatter with Jets owner Woody Johnson, without a burly bodyguard in a bad suit nearby.
That Anna was in the papers at all was unusual; the families of Russia’s superrich have ample reason to avoid the media. “I don’t understand what this chick is doing, sticking her head out of the sand,” says one smart-set Russian. “Anytime there’s publicity for any of these people, Putin ends up either throwing you out of the country or taking half your money away.”
“Traditionally, wherever they would go—Saint-Tropez, Marbella, Courchevel, Gstaad—the Russians didn’t mix. It was very, very insular. You’d see a table of them at Le Cave, and they’d be on their own,” says nightlife impresario Mark Baker, who only recently met Anna in the Hamptons. “But there’s a whole new generation of Russians who are stylish, beautiful, wealthy, and fun. And I’m sensing they want to interact. Moscow clubs are now doing events in Saint-Tropez. You’re not used to seeing Russians out, and I would say, ‘Get used to it.’ ”
The Novii Russkii, or New Russians, are among us, a distinct group not to be confused with the buccaneering babes still swinging their thousand-dollar handbags through the city’s modeling agencies and the go-go clubs of New Jersey. These are the sons and daughters and wives of those men who managed to enrich themselves enormously during Boris Yeltsin’s reign. Mainly Muscovites and ethnic Russians, they may be observed shopping for the right designer outfits on Madison Avenue and Brooklyn’s Kings Highway, or crowding into Au Bar on weekends for $15 Long Island iced teas.
“Some of them have a sense of superiority over Americans,” says one Russian-about-town. “They think Americans are too democratic in everyday life and are bewildered by the way that clothing doesn’t distinguish rank the way it does in Western Europe. Back home in Moscow, they think they live better than the Americans, and it can be so exaggerated as to be comic.”
The product of a culture where materialism was once the cardinal sin, they are itching to wag their status both at home and abroad. “In Moscow, they have their Mercedes and BMWs, their Versace and Armani, watch collections, armies of bodyguards, and estates on the outskirts of the city,” the Russian continues, “but it’s like having a fantastic party atop a minefield: Sometimes, there’s an accident, and somebody gets killed.”
Russians have been quietly buying up property in Manhattan, upstate New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey towns like Fairlawn, Marlboro, and Old Bridge. “They spend a lot of money on real estate because they have a lot of cash,” says one Russian. “In Russia, there is no such thing as a mortgage, and nobody trusts anybody, so people are paid up front.” Anna’s family has been quietly playing Monopoly with New York and Florida real estate for years.
The New Russians tend to look down on the “sausage immigrants” of the seventies and eighties, who were said to have come here in search of better food—eventually bum-rushing the Puerto Ricans out of Brighton Beach. These were mainly Jews from provincial cities in Moldova and Belarus and Ukraine. But every wave yielded a young, assimilation-minded generation that dreaded being labeled OTB: Off the Boat.
Anna was no exception. As for the publicity she was now getting, “her father could care less,” says Anna’s friend Candice Levy. “He just wants to do what makes her happy.” And she did seem happy. But like a matrioshka doll, Anna Anisimova has many secret compartments.