09.01.10

Russian Babes Hit the Hamptons

Lynnley Browning investigates the summer’s social phenomenon of lovely, young, Russian-born women flocking to Southampton to find moneyed men.

Forget Anna Chapman, the Russian-born Manhattan socialite deported last month over charges of spying for Moscow: hordes of other gorgeous, smart Russian girls are on the prowl. Unlike the crimson-haired Chapman, their quarry is rich American men, not state secrets.

But their stalking grounds are the tony Hamptons, the Long Island mecca whose social scene Chapman both frequented and used as a codeword to identify another spy as she delivered a fake American passport.  As Long Island’s playground for the ultra-wealthy gears up for its final flings of the season, the prize this summer for the hundreds of young Slavic beauties who have invaded the village of Southampton, N.Y., is an American banker flush with cash.

“These Russian girls are floating around, looking for a rich gentleman looking to get married and take care of them,” said David Shapiro, a party planner in Manhattan whose company plans social events in the Hamptons. “They want the houseboat. The car. It’s not a short-term transaction; I see it all around the clubs.”

Up and down the flower-box lined Main Street, past Nello Summertimes and Sant Ambroeus (two trendy restaurants), Complements Lingerie, London Jewelers and Intermix (a boutique awash in slinky dresses), dozens of impossibly beautiful 20-somethings—sometimes in bikinis, sheer caftans, bling-y jewelry and heels—can be heard speaking Russian as they stroll by.

"They all have the watch” (typically Cartier), “the bags” (an Hermès Birkin), “and the shoes” (Louboutins), said Brad Boles, an interior designer in Manhattan who spends time in Southampton. “They’re a little rougher around the edges than the ones that came out of St. Tropez" eight years ago, he said. “But they're incredibly beautiful, and incredibly intelligent. Their target is to find young, hot, hedge funders and guys in loveless marriages.”

True, said Zhenya Garbunova, a waitress at 75 Main Street, a trendy new restaurant-cum-club. “I’m not going to deny that some girls do this. But American girls are doing this as well.”

Drawn by A-list celebrities, multi-million dollar “cottages” and pristine beaches, wealthy Russians have been coming to the Hamptons for nearly two decades. In 2004, the flamboyant Anna Anisimova, the billionaire daughter of a Russian metals oligarch, paid a then-record $550,000 to rent the Southampton mansion of songwriter Denise Rich, the ex-wife of disgraced commodities trader Marc Rich.

But the phenomenon of socially ambitious but unmoneyed Russians haunting Southampton has taken off this summer, with gaggles of college-age girls from Moscow and the regions taking seasonal jobs at local restaurants and clubs in hope of meeting that right man.

“They all work for me,” said Zach Erdem, the owner of 75 Main Street. Mr. Erdem said he was employing around 20 Russian girls this summer as waitresses, including 10 “imported” on work visas. “They are all hard workers, they never complain, they respect you,” he said, adding that most of them had stayed in his Southampton house before pooling their money to sleep cheek-by-jowl on mattresses in a tiny, $500-a-month apartment nearby.

Russian-born Inna deSilva, an editor at Social Life, a glossy magazine devoted to the Hamptons, said that groups of Russian girls were renting newly built cul-de-sac houses whose owners were in or near default.

Amid the economic downturn, deSilva said, “the places where you can find wealthy men has shrunk, and going to Europe is an extremely expensive proposition—you’ve got to have 20 to 30 grand in your pocket minimum,” she said.

Nello Balan, the owner of Nello Summertimes, where Erdem worked as general manager before striking out on his own, said he had employed around seven Russian girls this summer and put them up in a rental house within walking distance to town . “They’re all highly educated and very nice,” Balan said. “And yes, they’re beautiful.”

The fiery-tempered Balan, who claims to be a descendant of Vlad the Impaler and is frequently in the gossip pages for his legal spats, said he was dating a young Russian.

The Russian girls party at clubs like Dune, RdV East and Madame Tong’s and frequent pool parties thrown by Southampton resident Michael J. Lohan, father to Lindsay. Mr. Lohan could not be reached for comment.

But the girls are not out for one-night stands for money. Rather, Boles said, “they go in there, entice the guy, have him fall in love with them, disassemble his life, the guy proposes, they come in with a heavy duty Russian lawyer to negotiate the pre-nup, with very heavy benchmarks." The girls, Boles said, take jobs because doing so sets themselves up “to look humble." He said he knew of an older film producer who had left his wife for a young Russian girl, but declined to provide names.

A long-time Southampton resident who works as a personal trainer said that the girls “are landing them, that’s for sure. We see all the time on the street these Russian women with nannies and babies. They’re marrying these wealthy American men, and becoming trophy wives.”

But even then, some are still on the prowl. “My husband was sitting on a bench, and this Russian girl with a baby came up and started chatting him up,” the trainer said.

“This place used to feel so WASP-y, but now it’s like South Beach. I’ve never seen so many gorgeous Russian girls in my life. So decadent.”

Lynnley Browning is a frequent contributor to the business pages of The New York Times and is a former Moscow-based correspondent for Reuters, where she covered energy and commodities. She grew up in Tulsa, Okla., majored in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University, and is fluent in Russian. She lives in Hamden, Conn., with her son.