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As oligarchs flood into London, it’s no wonder the wintry ambience of Russia is shaping up to be 2008’s coolest Christmas party trend
Think Russia: vodka, decadence, caviar and excess. Since the fall of the Tsars, Western Europe has been captivated by the extremes of imperial Russia’s extravagance. And although all eyes are on the nation following its recent military incursion into Georgia, the many Russians expats adopting residence in the UK are promoting the country’s more attractive face as the Christmas party season dawns.
Affluent visitors have been creating waves recently with a series of lavish events held at some of this country’s most glamorous venues. Ex-president Mikhail Gorbachev’s June charity auction at Hampton Court, for instance, was a suitably indulgent affair with a 19th-century Russian theatre theme and a performance by U2 frontman Bono.
Grosvenor House meanwhile, hosted April’s charitable Russian Rhapsody Gala in association with Veuve Clicquot and Hennessy which saw Russia’s movers and shakers descend on The Great Room for a night of imperial Russian cuisine (think Beluga caviar) and music (from The London Philharmonic Orchestra, no less), all set against a backdrop of Russian masterpieces from film and visual art. Cue beautiful women dripping in diamonds, sumptuous red furnishings and free-flowing Champagne.
This all might sound out of your annual Christmas party league, but with several venues offering Russian-themed party packages, you don’t need to be an oligarch to get a taste of the same decadence. For instance, the Chartered Accountants’ Hall is holding an opulent Russian Ambassador’s Ball, complete with costumed staff and elaborate period decorations.
The venue’s event manager Ed Bollings explains the appeal of the trend: ‘There’s a lot of money in new Russia and with that comes plenty of glitz and glamour. New good quality vodkas are regularly being released too, so there’s a lot of interest.
‘People associate Russia with snow and ice, so it works very well at Christmas. It’s an attractive, striking and simple theme with lots of rich reds, silvers and whites, giving the ladies an opportunity to dress up.’
Battersea Evolution and Quantum Leap Events are hosting Nostrovia, a spectacular extravaganza mixing traditional Russian elements such as Cossack dancers and Siberian balalaika folk songs, fire eaters and aerial artists. The entertainment will be accompanied by vodkatinis at a casino bar complete with ice shot glasses, sculptures and vodka luges.
Alternatively, you could go it alone and develop the theme yourself. A great source of inspiration worth checking out in October and November is the fifth incarnation of the sell-out Russian ACT arts festival, celebrating art, music and cinema from across Russia and providing a fascinating insight into the country’s cultural history.
The trend will be going strong well into the New Year with the Russian Winter Festival, which returns to London early in 2009 for the fifth time around, showcasing an eclectic mix of traditional festivities and contemporary entertainment. The free day-long event in Trafalgar Square attracted more than 75,000 people in 2007, indicating that Londoners are enthusiastically embracing all things Russian.
So, for something a bit different this Christmas, tap into your inner oligarch (trading the diamonds for Swarovski crystals, of course) and celebrate the festive period Russian-style. Nostrovia
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2008.