Chapter 2

Czarina By The Sea

Black-Sea-mapIt was reminiscent of an interview with rock stars of decades past – the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles or Duran Duran.  In a superfluous effort to promote their two-night sold out shows at Madison Square Garden, the band sat patiently at a nondescript table, littered with microphones, half empty pints of ale, water and wine, as national and local New York press crammed into the Four Season’s small conference room to question, accuse and critique Robbie Johns and his Dirty Herberts.  Johns, seated in the center, amusingly addressed most questions, accusations and critiques. In response to their question about whether or not this would be the band’s last tour, he turned to his mates and put the question to them. Alex, the drummer, smirked that it would depend on what a down payment for a New York City townhouse would cost. While, Thomas, the bass player added, that with his third child on the way, he highly doubted it, which caused Robbie to accuse his bass player of being a sex maniac and that didn’t he have enough children. Amused, the press gobbled it all up to be spit right back to the fans.

In a decade, Dirty Herberts had managed to abandon their teen pop status and prove that they were a band with long lasting appeal. While they themselves seemed aloof to their stardom, Robbie Johns’, thanks to his prolific songwriting, had catapulted them, forcing the world to take them seriously. Millions watched the band on television, computers, iPads, Smart phones, laptops, etc., while the Twitter feed averaged, 5,000 tweets per hour and thousands of questions from Facebook poured in every second. The Four Seasons Hotel lobby swelled with ecstatic Herbies, as the fans were referred. Young girls and boys, women and men, black, white and brown and everyone in between, wanted to be near them, or at least try to catch a glimpse.

“In all the success that you have achieved, Mr. Johns, is there anything that you feel that you still must conquer?” asked the pretty young reporter from the New Yorker.

Although he had been asked this mundane question at least one million times before, he acknowledged that it was his fans that appreciated these mundanities and in his obligation to them, he feigned to ponder it seriously and answered,

“I’m very grateful for our success and feel an immense abundance of luck but I’ve worked hard as well and feel that I…I mean…we as a band deserve to be where we are. We are richer beyond belief and thanks to the fans, more popular than any band in the world, ever. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it’s good to be the king,” the room erupted with laughter, “but what, you ask, must I still conquer, I guess that would be to find my queen. And then my royal subjects, yes, then, I would have it all.”

Floating high among the exposed wood beams, floating in time with the rolling bass, light-as-a-feather vocals begged her hips to move. Stubbornly, Nora slightly swayed to the music, sipped on her third vodka and revealed to Paulie that she and Jackson had finally called it quits. She poured out to him how Jacks had seemed to have only concern for the press’ reaction to the couple’s split. And although she knew she had been a miserable fiancé or girlfriend to him, she was still miffed about his seemingly aloof response. In the loud room, directly into her ear, Paulie admitted that Jackson was very cute but that was about it. Nora threw her head back and laughed. She grabbed his hand and they joined the others dancing on the loft hardwood floors.

Paulie had somehow managed to convince his brooding friend to be his number two at a photography industry party. His project manager, Bryn Harris, an old London friend, adored Paulie and had insisted that he be the principle photographer on an international project she and a colleague had created. Bryn, once a fashion model in the 1980’s, still fancied herself to being on the cutting edge of fashion. She wanted to travel the world and explore its myriad examples of cutting edge fashion. The project would allow Paulie the chance to visit the romantic countryside of Italy or the dark and mysterious regions of Iceland to the perilous and exciting regions of Africa. Having put his photography on hold since moving to New York City, Paulie, although feeling very rusty, jumped at the chance to reunite with his first true love. In hopes that her love for her craft too might be invigorated, in his unselfish manner, to accompany him, he had invited Nora.

At the same time she had been fired from the St. Clair fashion house, Nora’s contract with H&M had also lapsed with no plans for the company to renew. Paulie hoped that by the end of the evening this ultra trendy soirée would not only take her mind off of Jackson and Ian, but also remind Nora what it was that she was born to do. So far, his plan seemed to be working. They danced merrily, were drinking too much and flirting with everybody and anybody. Under the 20-foot high ceilings, in Bryn’s 700 square foot modern flat, the partygoers hardly even seemed to mind bumping and slamming into one another. Through the thicket of drunken artists, models, designers, and photographers, caterers had the audacity but adept success with carrying on trays, stemmed glasses of champagne and various small nibbles. Nora picked a glass of champagne off the daring caterer’s tray and observed the ostentatious fashion show that gathered.  She turned her nose up at the done to death empire waistline trend that didn’t seem to want to die. One woman’s swirling orange and red chiffon dress with its daring low cut back had caught her eye. A shoestring of rhinestones held the dress together from the nape of the neck then cascaded down her back and attached right above her curvy hips. A stunning design clearly of the woman’s own making but very reminiscent, at least to Nora, of Versace. The woman and her locked eyes. She looked familiar but Nora could not place her. Letting it go, she finished her champagne and grabbed from another tray a glass of vodka.

“This is fantastic, yes?” Bryn sang into Paulie’s ear.

He turned to her and smiled broadly. They wrapped their arms around each other and danced. Bryn reached her hand then for Nora and they all danced as one drunken clump. Returning, the woman, with the shoestring rhinestones falling down her back, approached Nora and tapped her shoulder.

“Nora?” she shouted titling her head.

Nora turned to face the woman and in an instant she was reminded of the woman’s identity. She was Rada Belov, Russia’s brightest rising star designer. She had invited Nora, several months back, to collaborate on a transcontinental couture project. The women hoped that in their collection, they might capture the upheaval of Russia, a nation in rocky transition and America, a powerful and rich nation that too was experiencing its own transition as it battled one of its worse economic downfalls in decades. Bringing the two nations together, the designers imagined what those collaborated worlds might look like and learn from one another. They hoped their ambitious collection could socially bring the nations together.

Nora reached for Rada’s hand and attempted to absorb the green-eyed beauty into the dancing clump. Rada, resisted at first but was soon seduced by Nora’s dancing ebony eyes and Kaskade’s, Back On You. In a unison trance, the thick crowd bounced and swung to the carefree rhythm. The two designers eventually freed themselves from the dance floor and finding a secluded wee balcony overlooking an unkempt courtyard, they talked. Nora beamed with joy and excitement, a feeling she had not known for months. Surprising herself, she had an overwhelming need to want to share her joy with Rada. Rada was a radiant Russian beauty. Her light green eyes glowed amongst her soft olive skin. The flowing chiffon draped and fluttered seductively about her tall thick but shapely frame. Nora was in awe of her new colleague. Rada spoke to her American friend of the small village along the Black Sea where she had spent sewing and crafting her haute couture styles for her first grand fashion show. Becoming wildly famous for her bespoke precision, Rada was capturing the attention of designers throughout the world. According to a New York Times article, Rada’s talents and abundant family wealth were being compared to other successful designers like Ulyana Sergeenko or Vika Gazinskaya. The Belovs were well known throughout Russia for their agricultural empire in the wealthy province of the southern region of Krasnodar.

Nora hung on to every heavy accented word. A tinge of jealousy surged in her body but was quickly usurped with admiration and inspiration. Ms. Belov’s gentle and kind spirit filled Nora with memories of her own dreams and desires. Why had she let these men try and ruin her, nearly crushing her and leaving her for dead? Rada took out her cell phone and revealed from her collection a few stunning images. Nora praised her for her special attention to details and craftsmanship. In the small village, Rada continued, she had purposefully secluded herself from the outside world. She lived and wanted only from what the village had offered. For a year, she shut out the fashion world trends, it girls and boys and industry gossip. In her seclusion, she explained that with nothing but the village and her own creativity to move her, organically her design skills had become impeccable. With great pride she spoke of the sea’s natural beauty and the cold frigid winter’s ability to warm her heart and produce original and innovative ideas. Rada’s words had moved Nora to tears. Rada, touching Nora’s cheek asked why she was so sad. Shaking her head, Nora raised her vodka glass to indicate that she may have had too much but also confessed that she had not felt close to her work in months. That listening to her, Nora realized that she had lost sight of what was most important to her – creativity. Laughing heartily, Rada hugged her new friend and with Nora’s coaxing, continued on about the village along the sea.

Realizing the time, Rada interrupted herself and asked, “What do you do on the next Friday?”

Nora, shrugging, thought to impress her by making up something fabulous but instead, staying true to the pure moment, admittedly shook her head. Rada reached into her rhinestone bag, another of her own designs, and pulled out a white card. She handed it to Nora and insisted that Nora attend her show. Rada’s eyes were lively as she apologized for not having invited her sooner but with moving to New York, she explained, in trying to keep everything straight, she had nearly lost her mind. Feeling as if she had to convince Nora, she guaranteed her and a plus one, seats at the edge of the runway and to introduce her to all of those whom she knew. But most importantly, Rada wanted Nora to size up her new boyfriend, a man she had met at a small London fashion show for local designers. Feeling able to speak very freely with Nora, Rada confessed that she never had felt so much emotion for someone that was not related to her. She was in love and wasn’t quite sure if he shared her same sentiments. Empathizing, Nora promised that she and Paulie wouldn’t miss it and she added that if this man did not love her as she loved him, then he was indeed a fool.  The two women hugged one another, and Nora watched the orange and red chiffon, whisk away gracefully.

Image: Nasa’s Earth Observatory website

Resources: PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 191 September 2011; “Violence, Politics, and Ethnicity in the “Russian Riviera”, Nona Shahnazarian, Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University (Sapporo) and Kuban Social and Economic Institute (Krasnodar)