Vion­net’s larger-than-life Goga Ashke­nazi opens a new chap­ter – tak­ing Mi­lan by storm. By J.J. Martin.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Beauty -

hen Goga Ashke­nazi picked up stakes in Lon­don in 2012 and headed for Mi­lan, Euro­pean high so­ci­ety waited with bated breath to see what would hap­pen next. The Ox­ford-ed­u­cated oil mogul – who now helms the ven­er­a­ble French fash­ion house Vion­net – had taken Eng­land by storm, stir­ring Lon­don’s staunch up­per ech­e­lons and giv­ing the tabloids a field day over her glitzy out­ings with Prince Andrew, her GBP28 mil­lion (RM153 mil­lion) Hol­land Park manse, and her glit­ter­ing ar­ray of for­mer flames – from Fiat heir Lapo Elkann to Kazakh bil­lion­aire Timur Kulibayev, the fa­ther of her two young sons.

“Now, I’m a Mi­lanese, dar­ling!” says Ashke­nazi, who moved into the first two sto­ries of a lilac-shut­tered 19th-Century palazzo in the city’s Cen­tro Storico neigh­bor­hood in au­tumn 2012. “It’s great, isn’t it?” she asks rhetor­i­cally, fling­ing open the French doors of her bed­room and step­ping onto an ivy-draped bal­cony. Be­low is a turquoise pool and a maze of mag­no­lia and wis­te­ria in the walled court­yard.

Ev­ery­thing ex­ists on an epic scale here: Her walk-in closet, for ex­am­ple, spans two floors – one for Vion­net, an­other for favourite de­sign­ers like Martin Margiela, Azze­dine Alaïa, and Proenza Schouler. Even Ashke­nazi’s hunt­ing out­fits have their own fur-packed room; an avid wolf hunter, she grew up fish­ing and hunt­ing with her fa­ther. (“I do it every­where: Spain for par­tridge, Ger­many for wild boar,” she says. “I’m al­ways in­vited.”) And then there’s the new un­der­ground gym and spa with mas­sage and man­i­cure sta­tions that ri­vals the one at the neigh­bour­ing Bul­gari Ho­tel “It was like a dun­geon be­fore”), and a guest wing that comes equipped with a kitch­enette, a sit­ting room, and two bath­rooms be­cause, as she ques­tions in her

Her lat­est life, of course, is Vion­net, the com­pany she bought the con­trol­ling shares in two years ago, even though her fash­ion ex­pe­ri­ence was limited to cus­tomis­ing her child­hood school uni­forms (“There is no Dior in Moscow, dar­ling”) and shad­ow­ing her friend Eva Cavalli. “I spent nearly a year with Eva in Florence, look­ing, watch­ing, learn­ing, do­ing all these cour­ses, Ital­ian lessons, his­tory of fash­ion, art,” she says. Ashke­nazi con­sid­ered other brands and did some bid­ding, but she didn’t dare in­quire about Vion­net. “Never in a mil­lion years would I have thought that any­one who pos­sessed such a jewel would be in­ter­ested in part­ing with it.” As soon as she learned the la­bel was look­ing for a part­ner, though, “I said, ‘Where do I sign?’” she re­calls. “I didn’t choose Vion­net; Vion­net chose me. The stars were aligned. I was in love with Vion­net my whole life.”

The fash­ion world, how­ever, was skep­ti­cal of her ap­point­ment. “Was I called vain? Too pre­sump­tu­ous? Of course!” she says. “But one of my big­gest at­tributes is that I know what my weak­ness is – my lack of ex­pe­ri­ence. So I’ve brought in a big team of people.” Also, Ashke­nazi says, she didn’t plan on be­com­ing its cre­ative di­rec­tor; it hap­pened by ac­ci­dent.

“I had de­sign­ers who ba­si­cally didn’t show up to work. I was left with half the collection done in July, and no cre­ative di­rec­tor. I was like, ‘Holy mother of Christ, what have I done?’” ex­plains Ashke­nazi, who or­ches­trated the 101-year-old house’s first full-on ready-to-wear show, for Spring 2013, af­ter sea­sons of cau­tious pre­sen­ta­tions. Though she ad­mits the stress of that de­but collection was enough to make her start smok­ing again. “I don’t know how I didn’t have a heart at­tack. But I took the bow at the first show. And the sec­ond.” typ­i­cally ex­pan­sive fash­ion, “How can you make your guests share?”

The in­te­rior boasts the same com­bi­na­tion of over-the-top op­u­lence and play­ful whimsy. Dur­ing last year’s In­ter­na­tional Fur­ni­ture Fair in Mi­lan, Ashke­nazi bought up much of the MidCentury in­ven­tory at Clau­dio Lo­rio’s Le­clet­tico, along with Na­cho Car­bonell’s sil­ver teardrop chan­de­lier, which she has mixed to­gether with var­i­ous Pi­cas­sos, Warhols, and Lu­cio Fon­tanas. (This is a woman, af­ter all, who once ac­ci­den­tally bid GBP240,000 [RM1,311,000] on a paint­ing while wav­ing to her friend Jennifer Lopez at a char­ity auc­tion.)

A neon-pink por­trait of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe is jux­ta­posed with her cher­ished collection of rock­ing horses. “The horses are be­cause I want to re­mind my­self al­ways that I’m a child,” Ashke­nazi ex­plains. An oil se­ries by the Rus­sian artist Se­myon Faibiso­vich dra­mat­i­cally frames a grand piano that Ashke­nazi – an ac­com­plished clas­si­cal pi­anist – plays daily.

In the mid­dle of all the enor­mity stands the preter­nat­u­rally pe­tite, Kaza­khstan-born, Moscow-raised lady of the house. At 34, Ashke­nazi is paper thin and so fine-boned that you won­der for a mo­ment ex­actly how she man­ages to pedal her per­son­alised Vion­net bi­cy­cle all over Mi­lan. But it’s clear as soon as she opens her mouth that she’s a force to be reck­oned with. “I’m liv­ing like a cat with nine lives!” She says, fizzing with youth­ful enthusiasm.

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