Ms. Karan was not just being unusually kind to a Russian newcomer. She was picking up on a fall trend. From fashion to film, from art to sports, New York is having a Slavic moment. Fifty years ago such a notion might have elicited images of drab clothes and empty stores. But the Russia in the air today is of a more opulent post-Soviet world, peopled by entrepreneurial businessmen, ambitious socialites, emerging artists and exotic beauties.
The moment started in early September, when tennis fans at the U.S. Open became taken with a seeming horde of young female Russian players, nicknaming them the "ovas" for their similar sounding last names. Then came New York Fashion Week, with the catwalks dominated by models from Russia and Ukraine. Next the Guggenheim Museum opened "Russia!," billed as the largest collection of Slavic art to be shown outside Russia since the end of the cold war.
Meanwhile the fall clothes from Anna Sui, J. Mendel, Oscar de la Renta and other designers are heavy with Slavic accents like embroidered peasant blouses, Cossack boots and military greatcoats out of "War and Peace."
"A few years ago New York was all about Brazilian models, Brazilian music, Brazilian thong bikinis, and everyone was drinking caipirinhas," said Natalia Zimmer, a senior men's wear designer at Marc Jacobs who moved here from Ukraine in 1997. "But everybody's always looking for the next new thing, and maybe the next new thing is Russia."
THERE'S an explanation for this, at least among fashion-forward Manhattanites.
"New Yorkers love Russians because they're just like us," said Diane von Furstenberg, whose father was born in Czarist Russia. "They have so much energy and thirst and the desire to make things happen."
Russian immigrants have steeped themselves in New York's melting pot ever since the first major wave of them came to the city in the late 19th century. But never before have they seemed so visible, successful and media-savvy.
It has taken almost 15 years since the collapse of Communism for this new breed to light up New York's radar. A few are jet-set visitors who made their fortunes in Russia during the early 1990's, when the government privatized industries, making assets like oil refineries and steel mills available to a select few at fire sale prices. With their places now secure at home, they have turned to New York to buy apartments, do business, collect art and finance cultural institutions.
The visitors are cross-pollinating with the rising stars of a new generation of post-Soviet immigrants who grew up in New York, coming of age with "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons."
But whether they are American citizens or frequent fliers here, this new wave is a far cry from the cartoon figures many New Yorkers imagine when they hear the word "Russian." They are neither insular denizens of Brighton Beach swaddled in head scarves, bull-necked mobsters in track suits, nor overdressed New Russian nouveaux riches on wild spending sprees up and down Madison Avenue.
Maybe this sudden fashion shift has something to do with the price of oil reaching $70 a barrel? In any case, perhaps I'll visit New York City soon, to dine out on my Moscow teaching experience...