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 wasenrolled inprivate school,Englewood’sElisabeth Morrow, “but I was a bigloser,” she says.“My mom put me into thesecolorful dresseswith thesematchingscrunchies. Itwas 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.
“I remember soldiers walking around the streets. That’s all I remember when I was leaving Moscow,” said Anna. “I don’t remember much.” At a lunch near her house in Manhattan, it soon became clear that evasion was a survival technique Anna had honed over the years. Anna’s agent friend Jeff Goldstein insisted on being present, and her cousin Irene sat in, too, a quiet blonde on vacation from school somewhere in Switzerland. Anna’s wrist glistened with an oversize Franck Muller watch, but she looked teenagerly in jeans, a pair of Burberry-plaid Dr. Scholl’s, and a sequin-scattered cowl-neck.
Anna Anisimova—or Anya, as she was known in Russia—was 6 years old in 1991, when the Soviet Union spontaneously combusted, and criminal groups were making a frenzied grab for the formerly state-owned industries in the smoke. Grenades were being lobbed, cars exploded by remote control, and relatives were snatched and held for ransom. “If you had money, you got your family out,” says Andrei Ryabov, scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Anna, her teenage sister, her mother, Galina, and a grandmother settled upstate in Congers, a sleepy lakeside hamlet near where a commodities-broker associate of her father’s had parked his own clan. They had trouble getting into the States with their documents, said Anna. New York public records show that her mother married—then divorced—an American resident. Anna says her parents are currently married to each other. She, her sister, and her mother are all now American citizens.
An aunt and her father’s two brothers eventually joined them in these modest split-levels. Anna learned English in six months, but life in the States was especially hard on her mother: “She had to leave her husband. She had to leave all her friends and life as she knew it. She didn’t speak the language. She was here with two little kids and an elderly mother.” After four years, the Anisimova women pushed on to a top-floor duplex in Fort Lee, New Jersey, now something of a Moscow on the Hudson. Anna was enrolled in private school, Englewood’s Elisabeth Morrow, “but I was a big loser,” she said. “My mom put me into these colorful dresses with these matching scrunchies. It was the worst, and nobody liked me.”
As Anna’s father got richer back in Russia, he would come to see the girls once a month, and they would fly to him in the summers. In April, he was here house-hunting with Anna in the Hamptons, arriving by helicopter and using his cell phone to snap a picture of Rich’s ocean view that he then e-mailed off to somebody. On the evening of our lunch, Anna was boarding a plane for Moscow, where she said she would be seeing him and also checking out the city’s nightclub-and-restaurant circuit. “The women there really dress up,” said Anna. “It’s much more glamorous.”
In 1994, Anna’s mother became business partners with Alex Forkosh, a Mill Basin developer who was born in Ukraine. They called the firm Coral Realty, a name redolent of sunny climes, a better life never far from the water. “My dad went to visit Alex Forkosh in Mill Basin, and he fell in love with this one house,” Anna remembered. “When he likes something, he goes for it,” she said, laughing. Anisimov laid out almost $13 million for a white box at the juncture of two Jamaica Bay waterways. It looked something like an office building, but it was the biggest house in the neighborhood, partly because its owner, a car dealer considered the biggest moneymaker for the Colombo family, had destroyed protected wetlands to expand the property on pilings. An American flag was now snapping on the lawn at half-mast.
“Mill Basin is a place where rich doctors and lawyers from the Russian community buy houses,” says one Russian. “Owning a house there is a mark of distinction, like saying ‘I have a house in Beverly Hills.’ ”
Anna would vroom around the inlet on the back of a Jet Ski. “There are a lot of Italians there. The Capone family,” said Anna casually.
“She doesn’t know anything about the Capones,” Goldstein interjected, checking his watch.
Anna’s club-promoter friend Mike Heller helped her get together with Alex Von Furstenberg to buy his mother’s townhouse. For his services, Heller was awarded a $700,000 broker’s fee.
By 13, Anna was modeling for Elite, but hers were the edgy odd jobs “where they make you look really weird, like with mohawks,” she said. After three years she quit. “I grew up too fast.” The sisters were sharing an enormous apartment on Park Avenue South, and Anna had sleepovers with the likes of Victoria’s Secret model Bekah Jenkins. She very much wanted to be popular, she said, which is why she became a cheerleader at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep. But her friends were mainly older. She became an accomplished truant: “I would call the school and pretend I was the family secretary,” she said. The school’s headmaster allowed her to finish her senior year at home.
Heirs to wealth this significant often become proficient in concealing it. But occasionally, there were glimpses inside the vault. Anna could be a generous friend. Once, she took a roundup of fashion people with her to Hawaii, simply because she’d never been. And everyone remembers Anna’s sweet 16 at the Brooklyn club Rasputin, where the Top-40 pop star Amber sang, and Anna wore this pink-and-blue Christian Dior couture gown that “had come right off Gisele at the shows,” recalls her booker at Elite, Roman Young.
A car would sometimes roll through the Mill Basin gates from Jimmy’s on Kings Highway, bearing bales of Cavalli, Galliano, Chloé, Chanel. “Galina came to my son’s bar mitzvah,” says Dominick Lepore, who owns the label-obsessive shop. “She’s like Audrey Hepburn. Pure European. And the family has such beautiful manners. They are not showy. They are very low-key, very quiet.”
At the time, they had good reason: On April 13, 2000, Vassily Anisimov’s only child from a previous marriage and her husband were murdered in Yekaterinburg. A teacher noticed the couple’s 8-year-old hadn’t been picked up from school and called neighbors, who found the couple bound with duct tape, dead from multiple stab wounds. Audio and video equipment had been left untouched, but a cabinet full of documents had been overturned.
Anna’s half-sister and her husband were considered well-to-do and had a habit of lending friends money. The murderers eventually confessed that they had planned only to rob the couple, but—as Anna’s father recounted the tragic particulars to one source—his terrified daughter started screaming that she was his daughter. And then the intruders panicked. “He was one of the top three businessmen in the Urals, so everybody knew his name,” says the source. “It was like shouting ‘I’m the daughter of a Rockefeller!’ ”
Anna used to lie on her bedroom floor with her ankles crossed, imagining that she was a mermaid. She says she was obsessed with the movie Splash, the fish-out-of-water fantasy about a mermaid with great hair who comes to visit New York and learns English from a TV set in Bloomingdale’s. Her secrets prove hard to keep when she falls in love.
In New York, Anna had been dating Oliver Ripley, a jet-haired financial analyst working the Russia accounts at Louis Dubin’s real-estate company, the Athena Group. More recently, the gossip columns were linking Anna to Eamon Early, variously described as “the hard-living Irish rogue” and a “bad-boy Irish actor.” Anna had Googled herself with her best friend, Katya Lavrova, whose father is Russia’s foreign minister in the U.S. She insisted this liaison with Eamon Early was merely a figment of tabloids’ torrid imagination. “I’ve never even heard of him!” she shrieked. (“Eamon Early is a ‘Page Six’ discovery,” writer Richard Johnson admitted. “I’m not sure what’s going on, whether we’re being hoaxed. Has anyone ever seen this guy in the flesh?”) Instead, it’s a garment-industry executive who’s been squiring her around.
Her mom worries that Anna is losing her Russian, so this fall she is taking private lessons. She can’t envision moving back to Moscow, she said. “I belong here,” she insisted, even if her dad wished he could see more of her in Moscow.
“ ‘If you’re not happy with all the publicity,’ ” she said he told her, “ ‘you can always come back here, and they’ll forget all about you.’ ”
Born in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, Vassily Anisimov was a Soviet-era supply guy who started out in wholesale clothing and eventually found himself stocking a nuclear power plant outside Moscow. In 1989, he became a Russian agent for the New York commodities-trading firm IBE and a Spanish company importing brick-making machinery for aluminum factories. Soon, Anisimov was acquiring shares in aluminum plants, mines, and factories.
Promotional literature for his company, Coalco, boasts that Anisimov was exporting aluminum products with the help of Marc Rich AG—at a time when Rich, who was known as Aluminumfinger, was still in control there. Anisimov founded Coalco with one of Rich’s top men in Moscow.
Anna said she believed her father eventually came to own a factory where he once worked first as a machine operator (she lifted her arm and made a cranking motion), and then as a manager. “He is a self-made man,” she declared with obvious pride. “My dad says I always remind him of himself because in school he was basically the same as me,” she added. “He sometimes got into trouble, you know, but when it came to business and all that, he always knew what he was doing.”
Aluminum was the most criminal sphere of the Russian economy. Occasionally, executives were assassinated, and the bloodiest battle was fought for the second-largest smelter in the world: Krasnoyarsk.
Anisimov bought shares in Krasnoyarsk in 1997, which effectively meant he now had a considerable percentage of total world production. But it also meant he had to work with the other shareholders: Lev Chernoy, the Russian agent for London-based Trans World, denounced by Russia’s Interior Ministry for his criminal connections, and the local godfather Anatoly “The Bull” Bykov, who had won his power after a mob war that filled three alleys in the cemetery. In Russia, Anisimov is considered a businessman and not a gangster. When Anna’s half-sister was murdered, people initially speculated that Bykov might be involved, as he and Anisimov had recently feuded.
“The one thing my dad is concerned with about this whole press thing,” said Anna, “is that they wrote an article mentioning the death of his daughter. It is true, but to say he got out of his business because of that was inaccurate. It had nothing to do with him. They made it sound so shady!”
After his daughter’s death, Anna’s father suddenly announced he was getting out of aluminum entirely, citing the “colossal pressure.” He also found his Russian Orthodox faith, Anna told friends—who had wondered whether he was Russian mafia but seemed comforted by this notion.
Anna maintains she never met Denise Rich before this summer and had never even spent time with her father’s ex-partners Len Blavatnik (a longtime Park Avenue resident now moving to a $74 million house in London for tax reasons) or the bearded Victor Vekselberg, who has a $5 million home in Weston, Connecticut, and whose daughter is at Yale business school. “I don’t really have anything to do with them. My dad would love it if I did. But I think my mom would be against it.” She said her dad is always harping on Putin, but she tunes out. What about the guys her dad came up with, whom Putin had in his sights and who then had to leave the country? “Half of them are in jail now,” she said with a laugh, then clapped a hand over her mouth.
“Ow! I bit my tongue!” she murmured, those big blue eyes widening.
When she was born, her dad was expecting a son, said Anna. “He was always concerned about who was going to take over. He calls me at eight o’clock on the nose in the morning and wakes me up. He calls me several times a day. And now that I got involved in the business, he seems so proud.” She likes to sit in on her father’s business meetings. “He treats everybody equally.” All new employees receive a copy of the Russian folktale about a mouse who ultimately helps the peasant family yank a turnip out of the ground. But her father is a more intense guy than this would imply: “I worry that he only sleeps four hours a night,” Anna said. “He spends more time in his plane than he does on the ground. If you take his cell phone and throw it away, he grabs another one out of his pocket!”
Anisimov “was never a public kind of guy,” she said. “And he had that opportunity. When I started doing this, he did lecture me about it. ‘You have to be prepared to give up certain aspects of your private life,’ he said.”
But she thought she could tread in his footsteps the American way; she didn’t require the services of twenty bodyguards like he did. After Forbes Russia expressed interest in doing an article on him, using Anna as the entry point, she said, “It was funny because he called me and he was like, ‘Well, daughter, thanks a lot.’ ”
Already, she was seeing that the business world had little in common with the intrigues at Chandler Enterprises on All My Children, which she and her sister often taped. A Website had called Anna a “cheap bitch,” but she was amused by that. “My dad taught me one thing: Never take anything personally.”
Among other things, Vassily Anisimov has shifted his attention to real estate, and this has been a father-daughter bonding experience. Not long ago, he was here in New York with Russia’s powerful minister of Telecommunications, Leonid Reiman, talking to executives about skyscraper construction. Anisimov has an office building and a billion-dollar airport-cargo terminal under way in Moscow, but American real estate may be a safer destination for the family’s Tortola and Switzerland savings at this moment. Coral Realty has spent close to $50 million buying five buildings now leased to housing-hungry New York University as dormitories, and almost $28 million to develop the Tribeca-trendy Sugar Warehouse and the Electra, a luxury rental on First Avenue in the Nineties. The family is also converting Bal Harbour’s Beekman Hotel into condominiums and has just acquired 10.5 acres in Jersey City from Morgan Stanley to develop a $200 million residential project.
The well-publicized Diane Von Furstenberg townhouse deal was Anna’s first dip into development; other brokers considered the West Village property overpriced at the final $23 million, even if Anna plans to build a twelve-story condominium here. (A building going up catty-corner stands to steal away most of the view.) But her family very badly wanted a presence in the super-hot meatpacking district. Diane put her son, Alex, in charge of the transaction. “The great thing about it is that we knew each other and we were friendly, so it wasn’t businesslike,” Anna said. Deal terms were hashed out at Bar Pitti and Soho House. Now Anna was talking about opening a DVF store in Moscow and installing a cool-concept sushi-restaurant-slash-lounge and maybe a beauty salon at another building in the West Village. “I’m dying to get a BlackBerry,” she said. “Everyone has one.”
Anna’s club-promoter friend Mike Heller helped get her together with Alex Von Furstenberg; for his services, he was awarded an almost $700,000 broker’s fee he’s since used to buy himself a Murray Hill townhouse. Jeff Goldstein was now suggesting real-estate deals. The restless power-brokering could be traced to a neurosis peculiar to the city’s born-rich babies.
“Growing up in private school, you’re with the wealthiest people in the world,” said Heller. “Certain people want to just live off their inheritances, and others want to take their money and their genes to the next level. Anna’s been adopted into our group of friends who want to continue doing things. It’s a young group, and we’re going to be very successful, probably a lot sooner than our parents. In the big picture, I see Anna surrounding herself with peers who are definitely going to spring her into the right projects.”
Anna’s father joked that if he’d known she was going to buy Von Furstenberg’s house, he wouldn’t have slapped down $10 million for her new two-bedroom in the Time Warner Center. (Anna and her sister currently live in a $4 million apartment in the Chatham on East 65th Street.) Asked what attracted her to Columbus Circle, Anna replied, “Absolutely nothing! It was kind of a surprise for me!” She laughed. “I think my dad heard about the building. And like I said before, if my dad likes something, he goes right for it.” On the 75th floor of the south tower, Anna’s apartment looks down on Boris Berezovky’s $3.2 million pad next door at Trump International and the Vekselberg family’s $3 million pied-à-terre in Broadway’s Park Millennium.
This summer, Anna was reporting to Coalco command central, improbably located on the top floor of NYU’s Broome Street dormitory. “I’m totally involved in everything,” she said. “If I’m not, my dad would kick my butt. The thing he loves so much about me being part of the company is that I’m young and I have social skills and know people. Because it’s all about meeting people!” Hamptons magazine proclaimed that “knowing Anna” was in, but that “hustling her” was most definitely out. In Los Angeles two weeks ago with her father, where they went to look at some property, Anna said she also met with an agent to discuss her future—as an actress.
“We have something to tell you,” said Anna’s friend Candice Levy, slipping into a chaise next to Anna’s in Denise Rich’s backyard. She, too, was gliding about the clambake in an evening gown, a lagoon-blue Hervé Leger. “We’re starting a clothing company together.”
“It’s loungewear, lingerie—stuff you’d wear at home that’s comfortable and sexy,” Anna explained, stubbing out her cigarette on the slate pool deck and vanishing into the house, where a guard was now posted outside. Only when the sun was finally blotted from the sky did she come out again, a hot-pink glow stick pythoned around her neck. The D.J. cued “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” on the turntable, and Anna and Candice began to dance.