If you'd walked by the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue that day early in March,you might have wondered whether someone was holding a fashion show. Oneafter the next, beautiful young women filed in, sheathed in Versace, clutching Hermès bags, eyes hidden behind Dior dark glasses.
The deceased, Alexander "Sasha" Khazin, was the son of the head of production at Lenfilm, a Soviet movie studio. He'd worked here as a luxury-car salesman, a wannabe movie producer, and an entrepreneur whose last project before his untimely death at 51 was building a fertilizer plant in Turkmenistan. These enterprises bought him the trappings of American success: an apartment on Park Avenue and a place in the Hamptons, where he entertained lavishly -- and romanced as many beautiful young women as would have him.
Though he'd just gotten engaged, Khazin's funeral offered a tableau vivant of his playboy life. Most of the young women were émigrés from the former Soviet Union. "Everyone was there, because we all knew him," says one of their number, Russian-about-town Inna de Silva. That was also true in the biblical sense: Khazin had slept with many of them.
After the funeral, they went off together to the East 64th Street co-op apartment of Inës Misan, a Latvian-born beauty who'd recently gained fame of a sort when her lover, John Lattanzio, the head of a Wall Street hedge fund, sued her for the return of a $289,000 engagement ring and she announced her displeasure on the front page of the New York Post. Joining her at the informal wake in her red-tented feline lair (decorated with Versace pillows, gilt armchairs upholstered in leopard fabric, and a bed on a balcony stage up a winding stair) were, among others, De Silva; Evgenia Gvordetskaya, another ex-model and half of the defunct Russian-born design team Ev & El; and her best friend, Inga Banasewycz. "Everybody was drinking and having fun," Gvordetskaya recalls. But after a while, the talk turned to business.
Shortly before Khazin's funeral, just weeks after Misan's breach with Lattanzio, Banasewycz had broken up with her megabucks beau, Orhan Sadik-Khan of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, a married sixtysomething who was a managing director of PaineWebber and head of its Russia Fund. Now, Inga moaned to her sympathetic friends, she was running out of money. She could no longer afford the apartment he'd rented for her in the Galleria on East 57th Street -- let alone the status baubles that are a Russian girl's best friend. And to add insult to injury, Sadik-Khan hadn't even waited for the sheets to cool before hooking up with another Russian -- a girl they all knew!
It was then that Inës Misan made a modest proposal that caused the ever-so-Russian gloom to lift. If John Lattanzio could sue her, Misan said, why couldn't Banasewycz sue Sadik-Khan? And just as Misan had gone to the newspapers to force Lattanzio's hand, couldn't Inga do the same to Orhan?
Banasewycz brightened. "I can sue, too!" she announced. "Go to the newspaper! Put him in shame!"
And so it was only a matter of days before news of Banasewycz v. Sadik-Khan, a $3.5 million lawsuit that read like a porn novel, put the stunning ex-Soviets back in the tabloid glare.
In certain quarters of Manhattan these days, it's not unusual to encounter characters that seem to have come right out of a James Bond film: beautiful young Russian girls with revealing outfits and hidden agendas. They're the latest status accessory in New York's power game, the mistresses of the Masters of the Universe. The fact that they're dangerous -- wild, unpredictable, on the lookout for a bigger and better deal -- only seems to increase their appeal. So certain women on the East Side are not seeing their husbands as much as they used to. "How old is your Russian?" one just-abandoned uptown wife asked another not long ago.
What's happening here began ten years ago, quite a bit farther east. The unraveling of the Soviet Union created a host of new countries. And these places -- Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine -- were not exactly lands of opportunity, especially once the local cement plant closed. "After 80 years of Communism, morals were eradicated," says an Eastern Bloc-born American who trades in the former USSR. "Then the state disappeared and a vacuum was created." Into this vacuum came an influx of foreign men with nice suits and thick wallets, looking to do business and not averse to a little paid romance on the side. So becoming one of the dostupniye devochki -- accessible young ladies -- didn't seem so bad. A 1990 poll of Russian high-school girls, reported in the Soviet press, found that 60 percent aspired to work as valuta prostitutes -- foreign-currency hookers.
Jim Haynes, a Paris-based writer who's long had an interest in the Eastern Bloc and its women, has an explanation for this. "In the old days, there was not much one could do in Russia except make love, and that is what everyone did, often," he says. "Making love is a pleasure the state could not control, so Russians were -- are -- free to do it whenever they like."