Irina and Anna

Mother and Daughter - Irina and Anna

Irina and Anna are mother and daughter. Their family moved to New Jersey from Russia just two years ago, turning their entire lives around, because since she was fifteen, Irina knew in her heart that “she didn’t want to grow old in Russia.” We sat down for a conversation and talked about their life in Russia, what life is like in today’s Russia, and both American and Russian style. I walked away smiling, knowing that I spent time with two extraordinary women, and learned a little about their world as well! Here are Irina and Anna:

Irina: When I stopped speed skating at 21, it was a very difficult time for me. I had always had my skating and only my skating; I was living in a bubble without having to step into the real world. Then the sports ended and I had to figure out what I would do next. I was also married at 21, so my life changed in that way, too. My husband and I first attempted to leave Russia when we were newly married, and we moved to Holland as aux pairs. That didn’t work out, but it led me to my next opportunity, because it’s the little details that are important ..

The woman with whom I had worked as an aux pair, had a friend who was just starting out in publishing; he would eventually become the owner of one of the largest publishing houses in Russia. Through that initial connection I ended up working for him and began a long career in publishing …

During that time, I collected beautiful, high-end clothing for my work wardrobe. At one time, I had 10-12 Louis Vuitton handbags! Today’s Russian style is sophisticated. Russian women spend time selecting clothes and are very aware of the details of dress. They appreciate beautiful things and will spend more money buying them. They love labels like Chanel (especially the older women) and Dolce & Gabbana.

(I asked Irina to compare today’s fashion with the old Soviet Union … )

Growing up, we didn’t have choices. Everyone was forced to wear the same things. I didn’t dress in color: my clothing was gray, brown or black. My girlfriend’s aunt had connections and she always wore bright, colorful clothing! I wanted to look like her!” ~ Irina

Anna:Some people here (in the United States) don’t want to make the effort with fashion. In Russia, everyone dresses carefully and with attention to the details. Even my friends who wear uniforms to school will take care in putting their outfits together: adding a  pencil skirt, a nice blouse, great shoes, special handbags, etc. Everyone in Russia has a good-sized handbag and men and women carry big wallets as well  … no one wears backpacks in Russia! They prefer to carry totes! When I first moved here, people couldn’t understand why I carried a tote and not a backpack. Friends still tell me that I dress with a European attitude but I don’t see it. ~ Anna

Much to say; I would love to have another conversation with Irina and Anna

Irina’s skates

Irina's skates

Irina’s skates

Irina grew up in The Soviet Union; she was a speed skater. Not just any speed skater – Irina was a champion for the USSR and participated in the Junior World Speed Skating Championship in Seoul, Korea. Irina skated for ten years, from the ages of 11-21. It was the privileged life of a Russian athlete, and one that offered income and travel for precious few during the Soviet regime. By the time Irina was fourteen, she was making money; when she was fifteen she left the country for the first time, and traveled to Northern Italy to skate. She was based near Milano, and the experience left her breathless and excited for adventure. Irina says that she “loved it so much,” that in that moment she knew she would eventually leave Russia, where “we didn’t really live, we merely existed.” Sadly, when Irina was nineteen, she suffered a very serious injury to her leg and muscles, and although she tried, she could no longer skate to her top-level performance and eventually quit because “I can’t be bad at something.”

Had that not happened, Irina feels certain that she would have continued skating professionally, and who knows where her life would have led? But it did happen and the course of her life led her to different adventures and an eventual move to The United States, making her the survivor that she is today. But she remained focused and fearless and like any athlete, kept her eyes on her goals – no matter what.

More to come from Irina