Boris Needs Bill Like Russia Needs Vogue

Anne Beatts is a writer who lives in Hollywood

It's been a big couple of weeks for Russia. First off, the ruble was devalued, which, given that it was worth about as much as a used bubble gum wrapper to begin with, makes it now worth only half a used bubble gum wrapper.

It seems like it used to be a good thing when other people's money was worth less and our money was worth more, but now everything is so scrambled up together that the stock market reacted to the news from Russia by taking a long walk off a short pier. (I guess that's what they mean by the global economy that everyone was so excited about a while back, before Japan's big ol' nose dive.)

President Clinton reacted by not canceling his trip to Russia, to the great joy of Democrats running for reelection, who would rather see him in Minsk than on their campaign trail. Of course, Hillary, plucky little woman that she is, accompanied him. For those wondering why she hasn't told him to go to hell, the answer is clear: If he went for longer than one night, presidential handlers would insist that she go along to hold his hand.

News footage showed the First Couple chugging vino with Boris Yeltsin, who looked as though he wished he had a vodka chaser. If this were one of those games where you fill in the thought bubble, the one over Clinton's head would read "And I thought I had problems!" All in all, the presidential trip had the air of an obligatory hospital visit by someone with a head cold to the bedside of a friend whose diagnosis is terminal.

But the really big news in Russia this past week is something unimaginable back in the days of the Evil Empire: On Tuesday, Vogue brought out its first Russian-language issue.


To some, this might seem like the most colossal case of bad campaign timing since Napoleon tried to hold onto Moscow in the winter. But British Vogue editorial director Anna Harvey, who has been helping with the launch, chirps perkily: "We've won a lot of battles. . . . We've gotten so far down the line we might as well go bravely on." Sounds eerily reminiscent of the little Corsican.

Her Russian counterpart, editor Yelena Doletskaya, has this to offer about her future subscribers: "Russian women are soft on the outside . . . but on the inside they have this fist, a strong fist. That is what makes them so attractive." Some might add that on the outside they also have a strong mustache, but whether this adds to their allure in Doletskaya's eyes is unclear.

Since I can't read Russian, I'm not sure if any of the ads are for depilatories, but Estee Lauder, Clinique, Revlon, Chanel, Gucci, Cartier and other running-dog lackeys of the bourgeois fashion world all chipped in for ad pages. Editorial content includes a fashion spread photographed in Russia by Mario Testino, featuring Amber Valletta and Kate Moss in Red Square wearing (what else?) red. Red is the new black, you know.

Kate Moss . . . Hmmm . . . wasn't she the same supermodel who traveled to Cuba for Harper's Bazaar in May? Does the State Department know about this? Things sure have loosened up since they threatened to deport John Lennon. Or maybe she's a double agent.

Hard to know what Russian women will make of our Kate, whose inside could barely camouflage a finger, let alone a fist. But maybe she's coming along just in time to accord with those belt-tightening measures that will surely be necessitated by the collapsing Russian economy, not that it's easy to maintain a sylphlike appearance on a diet of homemade vodka, dried herring and boiled potatoes.

No doubt munching on imported delicacies during Russian Vogue's gala black-tie launch party at One Red Square on Thursday will be Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Domenico Dolce and Stephen Gabbana, John Galliano, Anna Wintour and S.I. Newhouse Jr. Unless a sudden Communist coup cancels their visas. I imagine Boris Yeltsin also was invited, although by that time, I could be premier of Russia. (I'm considering it, but I'm worried about the food, not to mention the effect on my liver of all those obligatory vodka shooters.)


Sadly, by then potential invitees Bill and Hillary will have returned to face the music (and I don't mean "Hail to the Chief") in Washington. That's too bad, because Bill Clinton really should go down in history as the "Fashion President." (I can't believe I just typed that sentence. OK, correction: "be remembered by history as.") Anyone who uses clothing to communicate as imaginatively as he does is certainly on Vogue's wavelength.

And take his speech to Russian young people: "Every choice Russia makes today may have consequences for years and years to come." This is exactly the kind of message that Vogue over the years has devoted gadzillions of woman-hours and simply tons of wood pulp to putting across.

For example, if you don't rush right out and get that must-have pair of dull pewter flats to go with your new-for-fall greige long skirt and off-the-shoulder cashmere shrug twin set, you're bound to regret it for the rest of your life, or at least until next season.

Clinton also said that there are no painless solutions. Well! What woman hasn't known that since she squeezed her little foot into her very first pair of ankle-strap Mary Janes? Maybe Bill was trying to send a coded message to Kate Moss. But he might as well have come right out and recited the fashionista's mantra: "You have to suffer to be beautiful."

Russian women, judging by the look of them, have no problem with the first half of that sentence. But what can their very own Vogue do for them? Well, at only 110 ad pages, the Russian edition can't compare to the 678-page fall fashion issue of American Vogue that just caused my mailbox post to sag.

But the high-quality paper stock that Conde Nast prefers surely has its uses. I hear it's going to be a long cold winter in Moscow. Back copies of Vogue easily could double as firewood. And paper is an excellent insulating material as a lining for shoes or overcoats. So, women of Russia! Unclench that fist within and shell out the requisite 25 rubles (approximately a month's salary for a Russian nuclear physicist) for your copy of Russian Vogue. You have nothing to lose but your chains (definitely out this year, except on those darling alligator bags in off-shades of mushroom and celadon)!

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