I was born in Siberia. Many people meet me and say SIBERIA!? In a way it makes me laugh. I can see and hear their curiosity. But of course, to me, Siberia was normality. As a child wherever you are it’s your life. You go to school like anywhere else and make friends.
On the other hand, I can’t pretend that life in Siberia under communism was exactly exciting. The ethos was to conform. Like every other schoolgirl of my generation I had to wear uniform and the red scarf. First I was a Young Pioneer and later part of the youth party, Komsomol. So for me moving to America was an amazing experience: I was still at an age where the unfamiliar is exciting rather than overwhelming. In your early twenties, it’s easy to make new friends and absorb new influences. Everybody is exploring themselves and life itself. So I just went with the flow. It felt very liberating. Or that’s how I remember it anyway.
Of course, it would have been quite different coming here if I’d been my parents’age or the age I am now. Even relocating back to Russia, for instance, seems now quite a challenge. I’m thinking of doing that for a few months as I’d like my son to explore his Russian side. But, ironically, it’ll be me who’s feeling a little bit strange.
I have insight into two different types of education, because I did my undergraduate work in Russia and then finished my education in the USA. There’s a substantial difference. I don’t think I’m biased but I would say that the Eastern European and Russian approach force you to make more of an effort.
At the medical academy in Russia, the expectations were more exacting. First, in order to pass the exam, you absolutely have to attend the lectures. The professors present and explain the theory and then you have to synthesize it into essays. And when it comes to the examination, it’s essay-led. I found that fulfilling. You learn and then you answer and then you develop your own thoughts.
When I came to the USA I studied in New York. It was a real eye-opener. In the USA you get a lot of books. You then read them and then you get set multiple questions. I think that is more superficial.
Both my parents are doctors and so it was natural for me to follow in their footsteps.
While I was at medical school, I specialized in obstretics and gynaecology. These are wonderful areas to specialize in because you are dealing with the wonder of the female body and the wonder of birth.
However, after I graduated, I took a slightly different course from what maybe even I had expected. I was becoming more and more interested in natural beauty and aging and I therefore applied to a very famous clinic in the USA called Path Medical. It specializes in anti-aging treatments and is reputed to be one of the best clinics not just in the USA but the world.
The clinic is famed for its use of blood analysis and the emphasis it puts on rebalancing the body’s natural resources. I ended up working with natural estrogen, progesterone, HGH and parathyroid hormones. So I’m still using my medical background but in a slightly different way from what I envisaged.
The decision to branch out into anti-aging medicine turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Everything for me started to fall into place after that. Not only did I learn a lot, but it also introduced me to a new strata of society. It even ended up giving me my husband because he was thinking of investing in the clinic!
I’ve been extremely lucky in my life and of course I’m medically trained. So it’s only natural for me to be attracted to medical charities.
The one I’m most involved in is Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research. They hold two black tie events each year to raise money – one in New York and one in London. There’s always a very moving moment when a one minute silence is held for those who have died. The charity’s co-founder is Denise Rich whose daughter died of acute myeloid leukemia when she was very young. Denise has become a great friend of mine.
The charity engenders a huge amount of support. We do everything we can to make the event something people want to attend. For instance, we usually hold the events at Cipriani on Wall Street. I think it’s becoming a fixture on the New York calendar.
More recently I’ve set up a related charity called Angel Helpers. The idea behind this is to find people who will actually support those who have cancer.
As a girl my head was pumped full with Russian literature and poetry. I think that mental landscape gave me an abiding sense of the power of love. Like any bride, I wanted my marriage to be something my husband and I would remember for ever.
I was lucky because I was able to indulge my sense for the dramatic. We married in St Tropez – a place I absolutely adore. Everything about the day was special. I can’t really single out everyone who was there. But, naturally, we wanted to have a lot of our close friends there. They included Janna Bullock, Carol Asscher, Steven and Christine Schwartzman, Ivana Trump, Monica Bacardi, Nicolas Begruin, Len Blavatnik, Mark Rich, Denise Rich, Maria Buccelati, Martina Navratilova, Andrea Dibelius, Nathalie and Carl von Bismarck, Ranny Davidoff.
One of the two best men was Fawaz Gruosi. The name, Fawaz Gruosi, of course is special to many people in so far as they adore his jewellery designs. Artistically he’s got such a vivid imagination and a great sense of what women like.
But for me, he stands for something else altogether. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone more warm-hearted than he is. He’s taught me what friendship really means and been an excellent mentor to my son. He’s totally generous and sees the good in everyone.
The most magical moment for me was when 9 years ago there was a huge snow storm in NYC. My medical office closed early, so I went for a walk in the central park. Crowds of children were rushing about, hurling snowballs at each other and having fun. I love snow and I had one of those moments where you just feel supremely happy. That night, I discovered I was pregnant with my son. I’ll never forget that day.
Everyone says that children change you. In my case it’s been for the better. My son is mostly very mature for his age. The only thing is we’ve given him a taste for eating out at Cipriani. In a school essay, he recently wrote it was his favourite food. It’s not really surprising, we always go to their restaurants in other cities as well as New York.
Having a child has also made me much more aware about the underlying ingredients of our diet. There’s a huge debate about this rightly and I’m glad that at the Expo in Milan people are going to be looking at the meaning and importance of food in the twenty-first century. On a personal and professional level I worry about the overuse of pesticides. So I understand why Gwyneth Paltrow insists that her kids only eat organic food.
My social life has also turned into a profession – as I am now the Social Ambassador of Haute Living in New York. I have to say it’s probably one of the best jobs anyone could have. It means I get to go to the best parties in the world and then report back on them. It’s an extraordinary opportunity.
It’s not the sort of job you think you’re ever going to get. It’s yet one more benefit of having worked at such a famous clinic. My job led to me getting to know a range of people including Dee Hilfiger, Ivana Trump, Denise Rich. Really everything snowballed from there.
I started going to charity fund raisers and sitting on boards and, in the process, people who began as acquaintances became friends. Then, even better some of these friends, become close friends and even confidantes. I think to be surrounded by friends is the secret of happiness.
In the Party Spirit
Because I’m a social ambassador for Haute Living, a lot of people ask me what my favourite events have been.
Obviously you can throw small parties together very quickly but the larger the party,the more important planning becomes.
In certain seasons and on certain occasions, the degree of planning needs almost military precision. For instance, during the summer season at St Tropez, people book their schedules months in advance so as not to clash with one another.
I’m always impressed by the atmosphere in the Rivieria, Cannes and St Tropez. It may well be because I carry memories of The Great Gatsby in my head. Really no one celebrated the Côte d’Azur more tenderly than F. Scott Fitzgerald. From the glamorous summer season to the glittering guest list, it’s still his Riviera party that so many of us think about. I think that is particularly the case after last year film by Baz Luhrmann.
And, of course, the better the food, drink and décor, the more a party swings. But when all is said and done, it’s the guests who make a party come alive. They don’t have to be famous but they have to have a positive energy to them. I love it for instance when everyone makes the effort to dress up.
I always say that Andrea Dibelius has an amazing facility to throw memorable parties. Her 1000 people Love and Peace party is of organization. It’s super fun and she brings together the best DJs in Ibiza. It’s the kind of party where everyone dances till dawn. You just don’t want it to end.
Another consummate host is Tony Murray. The sit down dinner he gave for 400 people with fireworks afterwards was a spectacular event in so many ways. A very different affair – but one where every detail had been thought through – is Gihad Saad’s Arabian night party. He covers his whole property with Persian rugs and the food arrives as a procession with fireworks, belly dancers, and men carrying whole roasted lambs and pigs. When you first get to see it, it’s amazing.
In the end, however, if I had to single out one party, I’d probably select Carol Asscher’s unerring sense of style. She seems to get it right every time.
Health and Beauty
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more interested in what the Greeks already recognised: namely, that a healthy body makes for a healthy mind.
A positive outlook and healthy way really make you look and feel better. As someone who now works closely with cancer charities, I also believe that complementary therapies are an important weapon in the fight against cancer.
I do juicing every day and go to the gym whenever I can. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve also been a keen runner. I find it a wonderful way to calm down. Once you get into a rhythm you almost go into another spiritual dimension. I love to run in New York Central Park and along Maimi beach – any beach in fact.
Down Time and Down Town
Because of being a social ambassador, it is really hard for me to separate my private life from my working life. On the other hand, everybody needs to have time and space to be with those who are closest to them without the pressure of being “on exhibition”
Robert and I love to eat out. For all sorts of reasons we love the Given an option I will always plump for somewhere like Cipriani. The great thing is that there are outposts dotted around the world. My son has followed my example. Rather amusingly, when asked at school to describe his favourite food, he simply wrote Cipriani! I’d say that’s better than just liking burgers. Our attitudes towards food are probably more those of French parents than American parents.
I’m extraordinarily lucky in another way. My girlfriend, Tina Storper, is onthe board of the Metropolitan Opera. This means she receives weekly tickets that give her access to the best seats. In Russia, I studied music and that interest has carried over into adulthood. I am a big fan of Italian operas and particularly love the work of Donizetti and Puccini.
My Fashion Sense
I get to attend quite a lot of fashion shows and that, naturally enough, influences what I wear. I particularly love Dolce & Gabbana clothes for their colors, flowers and prints. I find it very happy and feminine.
As an aside, I have to say that the Alta Moda runway event held each year by Dolce & Gabbana over a period of three days are quite extraordinary affairs as well as being beautifully organized.
I’ve attended their events in Sicily, Venice and in Capri. The planning and attention to detail is exquisite: they look after you in so many ways from picking you up at the airport to delivering surprise gifts to your bedroom. In addition the scheduled parties are out of this world.