MOSCOW—The hostess emerged through the haze of a smoke machine, wearing huge fake claws and what appeared to be a transparent nun’s habit held together by a belt adorned with a large, arguably sacrilegious, cross.
Russian Vogue declared Anastasia Ivleyeva’s 30th birthday bash to be the “biggest party of the year.” She was certainly firing the starting gun on another party season for Moscow’s super-rich—the coronavirus and President Putin’s escalating political repression be damned.
Ivleyeva, who is known as the First Lady of Runet (the Russian internet), predicted that her costume party would be Moscow’s answer to the Met Gala, and the guests didn’t disappoint, turning up decked in couture, jewels, crowns, antlers and dozens of elaborate items of headgear and designer costumes. Some zoomed around the restaurant on motorbikes.
The only thing missing were face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 among the carefree revellers.
Since Ivleyeva’s party last week, Moscow’s filthy rich have been going wild—all of it documented on social media. Anna Mongait, a star at Russia’s independent television channel TV Rain, told The Daily Beast that it is hard to pick which glamorous event to go to each night.
After an intense two months of pro-Alexei Navalny demonstrations which gripped the entire country, people are ready to turn their attention to partying.
“There was a high period of political protests, a fashion for political talks,” Mongait said. “And now it is like after sex, everybody feels a bit overwhelmed and needs to have fun.”
Traditional celebrities and newly risen stars of the internet drink from dusk to dawn, mock the pandemic, dress up in crazy outfits and celebrate the newly opened bars.
Ivleyeva has emerged as a leader of the new generation of influencers, who are proudly apolitical. In spite of escalating Cold War rhetoric between Washington and Moscow, the new breed of Russian celebs want to show that they are creative and free, like they imagine their counterparts in Los Angeles or New York City.
But many U.S. cultural figures also embrace charity projects or political campaigns. Just last week, a group of high-profile Hollywood stars signed a letter in support of arrested Pussy Riot members, Maria Alyokhina and Ludmila Stein, who are on trial.
You won’t hear that from the participants of the “Russian Met Gala.” Were they to sign a similar letter, Russian artists would lose favor with the Kremlin, which would cost them contracts for state-sponsored events. Russian cultural figures face some of the worst political pressure of Putin’s regime. If celebs do dare to engage, they do it quietly, behind the scenes.
Popular author and documentarian Mikhail Zygar says the current situation in Russia looks like Josef Stalin’s era. Just before the great purge—when tens of thousands of Russian intellectuals were arrested and sent to Gulag—there was a great blossoming of cultural life. “Moscow’s social life today reminds me of the social life of 1934,” he explained at an Art Newspaper Russia event.
Some Russian cultural figures are braver than others. Last week, the Guild of Film critics and Cinematographers gave an award to Navalny for a series of investigative documentaries. Putin loyalist Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning film director, was scandalized. “Navalny has nothing to do with cinematography,” he said.
There was certainly no party politics at Ivleyeva’s big bash, even though she has donated more than $15,000 to the independent Doctors’ Alliance—a Navalny linked project—in the past.
Instead, Ivleyeva’s guests focused on mocking the pandemic. They cheered at a bar lined up with medical stands for holding intravenous tubes. The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted angry Russians condemning the “freaks” and comparing their behavior to the book Vanity Fair, which satirized the 19th century British aristocracy. Russians, also recalled Alexander Pushkin’s tragedy The Feast at the Time of the Plague.
Ivleyeva—who has more than 20 million social media followers—was not backing down. “I showed Mother Russia how to hang out,” she said.
Moscow’s ultra-rich party animals agree.