Press Article

Creative Tornado

By Sveta Graudt

Special to The Moscow Times

Aliona was teaching Sir Paul Mcartney Russian Language

LONDON -- Aliona Muchinskaya, the founder of London-based Red Square PR, considers herself fortunate that she has never held a 9-5 job.

The stars are smiling on her: She's got charm, good looks, a quick wit and an inexhaustible pool of contacts acquired after more than a decade of living abroad.

When she threw herself, in her words,into a "two-girl adventure" with her friend Marina Starkova five years ago, Muchinskaya said that she did not know she would be employing six people by now. Nor did she have any idea that she would accompany Paul McCartney during his Moscow tour, promote teenage pop duo Tatu in Britain and advise Ewan McGregor on motorcycle travel in Russia.

She said chance has always played a big role in her life, and it was chance, coupled with a lot of hard work, that got her this far. She never sought out her biggest clients, they happened upon her. McCartney's aide stumbled across the company's web site and sent Muchinskaya an e-mail asking for travel advice for his boss. (She thought it was a joke at first.) Her company was recommended to McGregor and his travel companion, Charlie Boorman, by the Russian Embassy in London. The Louis Vuitton company saw her picture in Paris Match and got in touch.

Muchinskaya is often interviewed by the international press. Her face and statements appear in publications as varied as The Sunday Times Magazine, Newsweek and The New Statesman.

She is happy to do her bit of good PR for Russia, as the British have stereotypes of the country that are a little bit too broad.

"Ten years ago they used to ask me if we had refrigerators," she said. "Now they think Russians are all billionaires, all like Abramovich, and the women spend crazy amounts on clothes. That Russians are the new Arabs."

She admits to being a big spender herself -- lots of social and official functions to attend -- but that is only fair for a girl who grew up in the Soviet Union in an average Moscow family. Besides, as Muchinskaya has learned, the impression of glamour and luxury can be good for business.

She was born in Moscow in 1971, and studied Russian and literature at the Lenin Pedagogical Institute. The funny thing, she said, is that she got the poorest grades for English in her class.

Muchinskaya came to London in 1991, at age 19, to model clothes for British catalogues such as Dorothy Perkins. At the same time, she studied English.

In 1993, she became the London correspondent for the Moscow daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, later moving to Izvestia and the weekly Versia. Cutting her journalistic teeth amid the gray-haired former Soviet correspondents was challenging.

"In the beginning, it was difficult at times to write about serious topics," Muchinskaya said, but she caught on, securing an exclusive interview with Oleg Gordiyevsky, a retired KGB colonel who defected to Britain in 1985. Muchinskaya said he turned up wearing a wig for fear of being recognized.

There were other big-name interviews, with Barbara Cartland, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Ralph Fiennes, David Duchovny and McCartney.

Muchinskaya has very fond memories of meeting the ex-Beatle. "Being next to the legend was a revelation," she said. "I studied English from his songs. I played 'A Hard Day's Night' at music school."

McCartney asked Muchinskaya to accompany him to Moscow and give him Russian lessons on tour. "He asked naive questions, saying things like, 'I would like to cycle around Moscow' and 'Where can I find borshch?'"

Muchinskaya got married, had a child, and eventually stopped writing. In 2000, she set up Red Square PR, and for the first two years did little but stage concerts for visiting Russian comedians, bands and pop singers.

Gradually, the company's client list expanded, but Muchinskaya maintains she wants to keep her business small. "We offer a personalized service. We don't want to earn millions," she said. "To live an interesting and fired-up life is what we need."

"Aliona has a built-in motor inside of her. She is full of energy," said friend and company co-founder Starkova. "She is like a creative tornado; she sucks everyone into the funnel. The success of our company owes largely to Aliona. She comes up with non-conventional ideas, and this is what attracts clients."

Building up a business is not an easy task, especially in a foreign country, but Muchinskaya said her objective from the start has been to work: "I had to scramble to the top, so I scrambled. I had to break through. I had to work and study. You can't do it any other way."

Recently, Muchinskaya has found a new outlet for her creative energy. Collaborating with Irina Kudrina -- the wife of Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin -- she helped register the Severnaya Korona Foundation in Britain. The foundation, which Kudrina chairs, helps regional orphanages across Russia.

"It would be very difficult without Aliona, without her energy and her ability to work hard," Kudrina said. "She treats the project with an open heart. I think having a small child of her own helps her respond to the plight of orphans."

A fundraising ball for 600 guests is being planned in London in June to raise money for the charity A Heart for Russia, which works with teenagers in St. Petersburg.

"It is great that smart, talented young Russians want to help Russia," Muchinskaya said. She also spoke of a "feel-good factor" that comes from spending a lot of money knowing that it will go toward good causes.

Being a successful businesswoman in a foreign land can be a tough job, but in managing her famous clients and helping her native country, Muchinskaya has shown herself more than capable of handling it.