Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Trumps: They're Just Like Us!

In a recent interview published on everyone's favourite invite-only mag, Ivanka Trump sits down for an interview in which she's dubbed "a post-feminist icon," amongst other high-praising remarks.

In an attempt to gain an insight into the heiress real life, we learn how Ivanka defines herself as "pretty mellow" and as a fan of "cheesy 80s movies and mozzarella sticks" (who knew!? Who cares?!--We do.)

Full story, including the "sexy" Harper's Bazaar spread that put Ivanka in teenage boys' wet dreams across the continental US, follows below.

Ivanka Trump: The Ace of Diamonds


Ivanka Trump

"The first fashion show I attended was Valentino in Paris when I was six or seven," says the exceptionally poised Ivanka Trump, who sits across from me in her spacious Trump Tower corner office with a mega view, wearing Prada culottes, Asprey loafers, and a casual knit top. Her office walls are adorned with articles about herself and her family. "As long as I can remember I've always appreciated the finer things—whether they be jewelry or architecture." It is evident that if anyone has a keen eye for aesthetics it should be Ivanka, who undoubtedly learned about fashion and jewelry from her mother Ivana Trump. She says, "from a young age, I was exposed to a really amazing collection of fine jewelry, and I took my love of that from her."

Now 26 and very much a confident woman in her own right, Ivanka has just launched a diamond jewelry line that bears her name and is housed in a feminine, boudoir-inspired shop on Madison Avenue in New York. The line, which seeks to reinvent older Hollywood glamour by offering modern day interpretations of collections from the 1920s to the 1960s, includes engagement rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. A delicate diamond oval, accented with coral detail, is the signifying emblem of the collection and is discreetly designed into each style. Her favourite piece from the collection is a pair of diamond briolette tassel earrings.

Already bullish about the success of her line, the Wharton grad has high hopes for the future, with plans to open shops in Las Vegas and Japan. All the while, she continues her rapid ascension in her father Donald Trump's empire: She was recently named director of the Trump Gaming Company, serves as the vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, and is a boardroom advisor on The Apprentice.

I can't help but wonder how she does it all, and what her average day entails. "There is no typical day. I don't think I'd be as excited about what I do in life if there were." She does, however, admit that she doesn't sleep much and works long hours, often with periods of lengthy travel. On weekends, she comes into the office to attend to "non time-sensitive initiatives."

It's clear that Ivanka is a hard worker. About those who have judged for her being spoiled, she says, "I think that I used the prejudgment or condescension of others to motivate me to push myself harder to do more. It made me more defiantly ambitious, if you will. I expect a lot from myself but there is something extremely motivating about knowing that people are underestimating you."

On the flip side, being born a Trump does have its privileges. "I never really wanted for much growing up. I didn't have to worry if I could afford to attend the college I was accepted to, or if I had a roof over my head. These are things we should not take lightly."


Harper's Bazaar; photo by Alexei Hay

Ivanka is not just beautiful; she is decidedly sexy—and not shy about it. Case in point, her recent story in Harper's Bazaar in which she appears on a construction site as a "Drill Sergeant" in Dior by Galliano heels, and a low cut Eres bathing suit. What's more—in the photo, she's pumping a drill. "I think you walk a thin line," says Ivanka. "The Harper's Bazaar [piece] was certainly the furthest I've ever crossed it in terms of what I would consider appropriate but I have to think about the fact that I'm 26 years old. There is a time and a place to do that type of stuff and have a little fun and laugh about the duality of the young girl/business individual. I'm much more self confident in my abilities and skills now so I don't think that stuff undermines me."

To me, Ivanka demonstrates the qualities a post-feminist icon—feminine and powerful while visibly dominating a man's world. Not scared by the F word, she takes my observation as a compliment and remembers how hard it was for her mother's generation to break into "the club." She also laments how "80s powersuits with big shoulder pads" made women appear masculine. Today, Ivanka tells me that she would have no qualms about showing up to the office in a pink suit.

When she's not busy being a Trump, I see glimmers of the softer, private Ivanka. In recalling a time when she felt true embarrassment, she shares an amusing story of her first day at boarding school when her wrap skirt fell off. "I walked half way across campus before realizing my skirt was half a mile back – that was awkward." Describing herself as "pretty mellow," she enjoys spending time with school pals she's known her whole life, watching cheesy 80s movies and eating mozzarella sticks. Of her personal convictions she's passionate, and speaks freely of her disdain for the Iraq war. "A great social injustice is that we are in Iraq – I spend a lot of my time thinking about that."

When asked what Ivanka would change about herself, she confesses, "I'd probably take more time to reflect—it's easy to get consumed with everything that's going on." And then, without missing a beat, she was off to a board meeting.

-- Sabine Heller

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sasha Barrese


Sasha Barrese

The stunning and down-to-earth model and actress, Sasha Barrese, recently graced our TV screens as a guest on the CW Network’s ‘Supernatural’. She’s a rising star with a passion for theatre. Here she tells ASW about her upcoming TV projects and her obsession with music and… well… chess!

Q. How and when did you become a member of ASW?
Sasha Barrese : I became a member around three years ago. I’ve known Erik, the founder, since I was little. ASW was much smaller at the time. I thought it was a really great idea.

Q. How do you use ASW and what’s your favorite site feature?
SB: I use it to stay in touch with friends from out of town. I also look up cities I am traveling to for work; recommendations for hotels, restaurants and art shows.

Q. Tell us about your latest role on ‘Supernatural’.
SB: The episode [called ‘Sin City’] aired on the CW network on October 25th at 9pm. The part of Casey was written for me so it was really great. We shot the show in Vancouver, Canada – a very beautiful city. The reviews just came in and they were amazing. I won’t be back on that show but I will be working with the producer, Robert Singer, and the director, Charles Beeson, again soon.

Q. Your first acting role was an appearance on American Pie. What was it like to be a part of a cult American comedy film?
SB: I was very surprised it became such a huge hit. I was a junior in high school when I shot it. I was home on a break from boarding school. The movie was released just after I graduated. Doing that part opened a lot of doors for me, work-wise. I still get stopped by people all the time for it! I guess some people have seen it a hundred times. As for a funny American Pie story… right after it came out I was at an audition. I was looking down in the waiting room reading my lines to myself. This guy next to me says "Hey, weren't you in American Pie?" It was the first time I'd been recognized by someone I didn't know. I looked up beaming and said, "Yes! Wow you must be a big fan of the movie!" (My part is small in it.) And then I realized who he was. It was Sean William Scott – one of the stars of American Pie! He played Stiffler. I blushed the deepest shade of red I could go and said, "But you would be because you’re in it. Arghhhh." Stuff like that happens to me a lot.

Q. You lived in Paris until you were four. What do you remember of growing up there?
SB: Paris is a fantastic place for a child. I go back all the time. When I have a job lined up in the fall, I go to the south of France in the summer.


Sasha Barrese and her mother, Katherine Barrese

Q. What has been your favorite role and why?
I did two plays in Los Angeles that have been my favorite roles: ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and ‘The Dutchman’. The characters are so well written. A good play feels like swimming down to the deepest part of the ocean. I also loved my character on ‘Supernatural’. It reminds me of my role in ‘The Dutchman’.

Q. What’s your next big project going to be?
SB: I will probably go back on ‘Carpoolers’, a new comedy on ABC, sometime soon. Pilot season is starting early this year because of the writers strike coming up. There are some amazing pilot scripts out there. Brett Ratner is doing a fantastic show called ‘Blue Blood’. I am waiting to hear on that part. I am also trying to secure the rights to a favorite book of mine for adaptation into a screenplay.

Q. Are there any actresses or models from which you would say you draw inspiration?
SB: Yes. For me it’s more about the specific parts they played. Joan Allen – she was in The Contender, which I think is a perfect film; Jane Fonda in Klute; Eva Green in The Dreamers; Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive.

Q. What makes you happiest?
SB: Seeing a great film. I just saw Michael Clayton in the theatres. I went back the next day and saw it again! I cried because it was so perfect.

Q. Where is your favorite travel destination?
SB: New York. I love to go see plays there.

Q. What is your greatest vice?
SB: Playing chess. I play two hours a day. I should cut back but I’m hooked.

Q. What is your favorite restaurant?
SB: I like the little diner underground at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The food is simple and the waitresses are cool.

Q. What is your favorite museum or gallery?
SB: The New Image Art Gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard. Marcia, the owner, has a great eye for new talent. I also love the Moca in downtown Los Angeles.

Q. What is your favorite beach?
SB: In the movie Contact, Jodi Foster’s character goes to a beach in her mind. The sand is made up of all the stars in the universe. I want to go to that beach.


Sasha Barrese

Q. What film has had the greatest effect on you? Why?
SB: I am really into a director named Michael Haneke right now. He has a new movie coming out called Funny Games. It’s an American version of his original movie with the same title. I can’t wait.

Q. What cause is closest to your heart? Why?
SB: There are two:
‘The Brent Shapiro Foundation’
A friend of mine, Brent Shapiro, passed away from taking half an ecstasy pill two years ago. He was a magical person. He brought people together. He was so full of love. He was so loved. His parents Bob and Linelle Shapiro started the Foundation to raise drug and alcohol abuse awareness. Many people still don’t know that alcoholism is a disease. Everyone I know has been touched by alcoholism in some way. Please go to their website:

In Downtown Los Angeles we have a homeless population of 100,000 people. ‘The Downtown LA Women’s Shelter’ is a fantastic place for women to stay. The facilities are bright and clean. Whenever I go down there, there is always a meeting or class going on. It feels like a warm home, rather then a shelter. There is a large open kitchen in the center of it all. I can’t imagine something worse then being a woman and being homeless on the street. I love to see women helping women get back on track. Their web site is:

Q. What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself?
SB: I wish I could sleep better.

Q. Which artist do you admire most?
SB: I go through phases. For art right now I really love Aya Takano.

Q. What upsets you the most?
SB: Many issues; I hate the fact that many public schools don’t have enough textbooks or teachers for the children. Money is being spent in the wrong places right now.

Q. What is your favorite bar?
SB: Anywhere where the music is good, the couches are comfortable and I’m with my friends.

Q. What gadget can’t you live without?
SB: My BlackBerry. I have work emails all day long.

Q. What are you most afraid of?
SB: Falling from great heights.

Q. Were do you love to shop?
SB: Milk, on West Third Street in Los Angeles. Also, in Saint Tropez and Monte Carlo they have some great stores.

Q. What’s your favorite drink?
SB: Coffee

Q. What are your top 3 songs?
SB: I am a huge music fan! I love Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails and tons of Indy Rock. I was learning ‘Moonlight Mile’ by the Rolling Stones on my guitar just before I started this interview… anything by the Beatles or Fleetwood Mac… Dylan.

— Laura Jakobovits

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Reinventing Sartorial Traditions: The New Savile Row

Behind an unmarked green door in Central London, a Savile Row tailor fitted a client with a bespoke suite on an early November afternoon. If you are picturing an interaction between a stuffy gentleman and a tight-lipped tradesman, think again.

The tailor in question was the maverick, Mark Powell, and the client was Dexy’s Midnight Runners frontman, Kevin Rowland. In front of the mirror, Rowland turned to admire his 1930s high-waisted, wide-leg Donegal tweed trousers and extreme cut-away jacket. “Mark understands me,” Rowland told ASW. “We can spend an hour talking about turn-ups.” Powell left the room only to return holding a remarkably similar pair of tweeds.

“I just made these for Keira Knightley,” he declared.

Welcome to the new Savile Row. The elegant London street, where bespoke craftsmen have been in business since 1733, is still the heart of exquisite British tailoring but it’s the younger players who are reinventing the meaning of bespoke. Their innovation is beckoning younger, hipper – and occasionally female – clients on to the Row to be measured up for luxe made-to-order suits.

Bespoke tailoring comes from the expression ‘be’spoken’ meaning that the tailor’s cloth has literally been spoken for by a client. When you walk into a bespoke tailor’s atelier, you are opting for a distinct set of craftsmanship principles: specific measurement technique, straight shoulders, a narrow syce, and a well-defined arm are standards.

A bespoke suit is perhaps one of the original proofs that a quality product takes time. A suit takes an average of six weeks and three fittings to finish because every detail is hand-sewn. But according to Ozwald Boateng, a Savile Row bespoke tailor, tradition needed an infusion of the new. “If traditions don’t evolve, they die,” said Boateng, who is also the creative director of Givenchy. “Savile Row wasn’t evolving.”

Boateng and other tailors, who are a part of the New Bespoke Movement, maintain painstaking bespoke techniques but challenge the old school bespoke firms’ subtle, traditional take on the standard suit. They have personalized bespoke even more, offering creative and more individualized looks. Below are the best of the Row’s new innovators.

Ozwald Boateng
The youngest tailor to open on Savile Row, Boateng talks like an artist, looks like a model and insists that he wants “to make all men beautiful.” Boateng’s look proves that brilliance and elegance go hand in hand. He skillfully uses bold colors in monotones and patterns to highlight his sharp suit lines. Clients include Daniel Day-Lewis, Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves. Bespoke suits start at £3,000.

Mark Powell
Famed for his sharp three-piece suits, Powell also knows how to combine individuality and fine tailoring to create edgy, dapper looks. He understands women too and has dressed Keira Knightley, Naomi Campbell and Bianca Jagger. Powell’s male patrons include George Clooney and David Bowie. Suits start at around £1,500.

Established in 1882, Kilgour was revived in 2004 with Carlo Brandelli as the creative leader. Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Jude Law and Daniel Craig are amongst the gentlemen who have donned Kilgour suits. The label distills sleek functionalism in its lean silhouettes. Expect charcoal mohair single button suits and jackets lined with polka-dotted silk. Look out for hand-blown Italian glass cufflinks in sky blue or powder pink and silk knit ties. Suits range from £1,500 to £5,000.

Timothy Everest
From his beautifully restored retro gentleman’s atelier in Spitalfields, Everest crafts trim two-button slanted pocket jackets and plain trousers for the likes of Colin Firth, Gordon Brown and Tom Cruise. Everest, whose signature is his Spitalfields flower-patterned tie, also does bespoke denim. Suits start at £2,200.

Richard James
Dandifying the traditional British menswear look, James’ suits are recognizable for their elegant elongation. The jackets are waisted with deeper side vents and come with one to three buttons. James isn’t afraid of color or texture, much to the delight of his fans, who include Pete Doherty, Hugh Dancy and Mick Jagger. Suits start at £2,700.

— Taraneh Ghajar

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Sebastian Copeland / Antartica: The Global Warning

Celebrity photographer and ASW member Sebastian Copeland now has a bevy of new models posing in front of his camera: all breathtakingly beautiful, majestic, with ice-cold glares, Copeland describes them as his latest obsession.

So, who are these mystery muses?

Located in the southern most hemisphere, spread over five million square miles of pure ice, the melting icebergs of Antarctica have been the focal point of Copeland's photographs for several years and are the underlying theme of his latest book, Antarctica: The Global Warning, a compilation of photographs documenting the perils of imminent global warming.

The book contains a foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev, an introduction by Leonard di Caprio and a chapter by ASW member, David de Rothschild.

"I'm just trying to engage and educate people about the dangers of climate change. It's an important warning to which we should pay attention," says Copeland, who is also a board member of Global Green USA, an environmental NGO.

And what better way to engage people than to host a celebrity-studded event to raise awareness, as Copeland did, in association with ASMALLWORLD and Max Studio-- at the Jan Kesner Gallery in L.A last week.

Guests in attendance included ASW President and CEO Joe Robinson, Max Studio's Orion Hand and Ame Max, actresses Brittany Murphy and Julie Delpy and Copeland's cousin Orlando Bloom, who accompanied the photographer on his Antarctic odyssey.

"It was a great opportunity to see what was at stake," said Orlando Bloom. "I took a four-week trip there with my cousin and it's clear the earth needs protection. We really need to team together and do something to help."

That "something" involved Copeland instructing members of his ship to disembark on an iceberg in 2006 and align themselves so their bodies spelt out the letters "S.O.S": an echo of the continent's plea for help, which, according to actress Julie Delpy is yet to be heard by politicians.

"The environment is still not a priority in politics and it needs to be," she says. "The problem needs more attention. It is, after all, our future."

— Mmoma Ejiofor

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In 2004, Adi Ezroni, a well-known Israeli actress and TV personality, learnt of the harsh realities of the underworld of child trafficking. In defence of the rights of children around the globe, Adi decided to get involved in the production of ‘Holly’ – a feature film opening this week in the US – which portrays the life and experiences of an underage girl who ends up in the hands of sexual exploiters.

What started as a narrative project has now turned into an international grassroots movement dedicated to raising awareness of child prostitution and putting an end to the inhumane industry. Here, ASW talks to Adi about the difficulties she faced while shooting the controversial film, and the importance of delivering a clear and urgent message to the international policy-making community.

Q. Tell us about Holly. Where did the idea come from? How did it start?
Adi Ezroni: While travelling on a sabbatical in 2002, my partner, Guy Jacobson, encountered a group of five to seven-year-old girls in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who aggressively tried to solicit him for prostitution. One of the girls, she was about six years old, said, "I yum very good. I no money today. Mama San boxing me.” (Meaning: the madam of the brothel will beat me up.) He gave them some money and walked away, but decided to do something about it.

While researching the subject, he was horrified to realize that each year around two million children (some younger than a year old) are kidnapped, sold into prostitution and sexually abused worldwide.

I met Guy in 2004, right after his trip. I was on vacation in New York when he told me of his idea to write a narrative film through the eyes of a girl. I was so passionate about making this happen that I suggested I’d be the water girl and decided to leave Israel and my career to pursue the dream of producing a film that would raise awareness on the issue.

The product of this decision was to create a combination of a three-film project which has now evolved into an international grassroots movement to decrease child prostitution, sexual exploitation and child trafficking. We were extremely fortunate to meet Amit Kort and Dr. Smadar Kort who decided to fund the whole project. And we had an incredible crew led by Holly’s director, Guy Moshe.

Q. I understand you had many problems while filming, including being held at gunpoint and even being held hostage for two weeks. Could you share your experiences?
AE: Producing this project has been an uphill battle, and sometimes seemed more like a war. When we arrived in Cambodia, Interpol cautioned us about threats to our lives. We were a group of international filmmakers who had decided to expose explosive subject matter in a corrupt country. Everything that could go wrong, did – the Cambodian, Vietnamese and Chinese mafia were after us, our equipment was held up in the borders and we were extorted to get it back, we had over forty bodyguards with AK-47s guarding us on the set, we had to hide our film, we got stuck in remote rivers, and, finally, after the production team left, I was denied exit out of the country and basically held hostage for two weeks.

When I arrived in the airport to leave the country with a bag full of documentary tapes (for the second film), the officers stopped me and said “cannot” and gave me a warrant in Khmer with the names of the chief producers of the project in English. Since I was the only one there at that point, I realized that I was in danger and I couldn’t go back to the hotel I was staying in. I stayed in a different area in town under a fake name and after about five days, we found out that it was pure extortion. It took me another two weeks and a lot of money; had I not left, it would have become a diplomatic incident.

Q. Child prostitution is largely an undocumented issue. Was the problem larger than you imagined?
Actually, I feel like when we started there wasn’t much awareness to the issue. It was ‘Dateline’ in 2005 that did the first big exposé, I think. And then they started with the series about sexual predators. I knew about the issue, but never ever imagined that it was so vast and so extreme. Three-year-olds? And not only in Asia — everywhere.

That is part of the problem of combating this epidemic – the lack of one geographical/racial/ethnic theme. For example, a brothel was just closed in Queens, NY,with ten-year-old girls.

Q. Tell us some of your favourite moments when filming Holly.
AE: My favorite moments when filming Holly had to do with casting locals for different roles, and especially finding the children that would play the street children in the film. I went to a number of different orphanages and auditioned little Cambodian children to see if they could handle the pressure of being on set, if they understood what we wanted from them, etc. I found a wonderful group of kids who are featured in the film, and an extraordinary boy that plays Holly’s street friend. It was sometimes very difficult because no “good” girl would play a prostitute in a film. We ended up finding real working girls for those scenes.

Also, Somaly Mam, the head of AFESIP (one of the largest organizations that treats these children) and the Somaly Mam Foundation is here in New York for our premier at the UN. After a number of years, hearing Khmer again really made me nostalgic. I loved touring around on a small motorcycle, walking around in the markets, eating exotic fruits.

Q. In your opinion, what is the main cause of human trafficking - aside from there being a great demand for it?
AE: I think that the demand is the key. If you reduce the demand, you’ll reduce the supply. I wouldn’t say poverty, because some of the poorest countries don’t have as much of a problem. It may have to do with a broken family structure/culture, usually as a result of war. But the most important thing to remember is that there wouldn’t be any child prostitution if there weren’t regular clients that look specifically for that, which is why it’s important to strengthen legislature and enforcement.

Q. The making of this film inspired the creation of an active humanitarian movement. Tell us about Redlight Children.
AE: The Redlight Children Campaign is a worldwide grassroots human rights initiative promoting awareness and practical action for reducing the number of children who are sexually exploited each year. The goal is to decrease the demand for child sexploitation by raising awareness through mass media, pressuring governments to enact, amend and enforce more effective legislation and creating a broad coalition of human rights organizations as well as academia and media to deal with the issue.

With an easily accessible website, readers will be able to read information/research about the subject, and send emails to their representatives about what they would like them to do. The emails/communications received are featured on the site for additional accountability and pressure.

Q. What do you think will be the future of human trafficking? What are the solutions being proposed by local and international authorities on the subject?
AE: The TIP (Trafficking in Persons) report that comes out every year ranks the different countries in terms of steps that are taken in enforcement, legislature, education and treatment. There is a strong push now for countries to be able to prosecute their nationals if they’ve found them participating in underage sex. It is already implemented by the US. I hope it will be implemented everywhere. We will be screening the film in DC to ambassadors of all countries, as well as senate and congress, and hope that this will push them in the right direction. If one knows that wherever they are in the world they will be held accountable under the laws of their own country, it makes a difference. Since some countries are still too corrupt to truly implement strong laws, this could definitely be a great step in the right direction.

Q. Given the fact that the issue is still extremely undercover in most countries around the world – especially in the West – what would you advise people to do to help fight child trafficking and sexual slavery in their own communities?
AE: It is not West versus East – this is very important to emphasize. Holly was shot in Cambodia, just like it could have been shot in London, Florida, Mexico, Israel or Croatia…
Go to

In the coming week we will install an application that will allow you to send letters to your constituents and representatives demanding immediate action.

If you have a nonprofit, if you have a corporation, or are just as passionate as us about the issue – go to and see how we can arrange mutual screenings or other ways to spread the word. It is important to keep this film in the theaters, for a long time, so that it gets to the smaller cities, to the college towns and crosses over internationally.

Holly opens in theaters nationwide in the US on November 9. For tickets and more information visit

— Alonso Dominguez

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I'm not a Russian Mail Order Bride!


Helena Khazanova

One would think I know all about Russian girls in New York because that is exactly what I am: a Russian girl living in this monster of a metropolis. People often ask where I am from. “Moscow,” I reply with certainty and without hesitation, despite fifteen years spent abroad. The look of surprise always registers in their face. “No accent, I know,” I feel compelled to finish the thought for them in order to avoid another obvious comment, a conversation that I can predict word for word. But it follows anyway, and the next question is why.

“Why are you here?” they ask, almost surprised, as if I am the only person not born on this island. They look on, eager to hear another heartbreaking story about bleak, cold weather, everlasting snows, and bread shortage, garnished with an intricate and hopefully slightly illegal crossing of the Atlantic. Black and white images of Ellis Island flash in their minds, and faces of harassed dirty immigrants contrasted by their own childhood that is suddenly basked in a warm glow reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Sorry,” I let them down. My story is not thickly wrapped in darkness and despair. Instead, it is disappointingly ordinary. “Well, my parents moved here because my father worked for an American company,” I begin my speech that I have told enough times that I no longer need to concentrate on what I am saying. “They live in the city and Southampton,” I continue. “I went to school in Rhode Island. No siblings,” I add for some reason. So far nothing too scandalous.

“So, your parents are here?” they ask, shocked at another proof that I am not, in fact, a prostitute in disguise. “Yes,” I say. Somehow they feel cheated out of their small victory.

It’s not offensive really. I guess I am just used to it. But no matter where I come from, today, in New York, I am only an observer. I watch in awe as this new breed of Russian girls dash wildly around Manhattan in four-inch stilettos as if they are still at a local collective farm, rounding up all eligible men like a herd of cattle. Yes, sometimes the ill-fated reputation is well-deserved. Permanent fixtures at every chic and expensive restaurant their faces look somewhat devoid of expression and can be compared to say, a genetically engineered peach. Good to look at, perfectly colored, firm and completely inedible. They sit on their well-chosen dates with silence hanging heavily off their forks and vacant smiles on their plump and glossed lips. But although they look blank, their minds are crunching numbers faster than any investment banker.

Unfortunately, to many in New York it seems highly unlikely and very suspicious that a girl from Russia could be just that: a person from a place with no baggage attached. Stereotypes run rampant; a model from a small town who was selling vegetables in the snow-covered market to survive; some beauty whose main goal is to marry a billionaire but who is still having trouble reading; a designer-clad girlfriend of a shady businessman with wads of cash stuffed in her purse.

Somehow lately the image of the Russian “girl” has undergone a very significant and swift transformation. First it was associated only with something Americans strangely like to refer to as babushka (which, in fact, does not mean a scarf or any other headpiece but a grandmother). This babushka is usually represented in their mind as a poor girl swathed in rags, slightly hungry and pale, looking wistfully at the brightly lit store window, too embarrassed to go in.

Then came the age of the mail-order bride: a girl who does not possess any command of the English language but is nice-looking, timid and compliant. This was an image that made a proud husband think himself a knight on a white horse and not some loser from the Midwest in a white Subaru.

But with the iron curtain swinging wildly in the wind of political change during the early nineties, the seemingly largest resource of the former Soviet Union spilled out into the world: women. They are literally everywhere. Mainly stationed in leading epicenters such as New York and London, they traverse the globe to the best beaches, ski slopes or just anywhere that starts with a “St”. They are beautiful, tall, ready and willing but behind the sugary facade they are tough and uncompromising.

They come from different corners of the enormous country empowered just by their ability to get out, something that was forbidden to their families for generations. Behind them is a dirty country road, remains of an old factory sticking out against the big sky as a skeleton of some prehistoric beast, bleached white concrete with weeds growing timidly in between the cracks and long forgotten objects that suggest an everlasting, destructive human presence: vodka bottles, condoms, candy wrappers. In these places, being beautiful does not really matter and does not have the capacity to change your life.

Russian girls want what everybody wants; a good life and they want it badly. I guess they just don’t go to the trouble of hiding it. True, there is a lack nuance in their approach as they are offensively shameless about it. A style quite opposite from their American counterparts who want it just as much, but pretend they do not by modestly feigning indifference (which, in their minds translates to good breeding) and then turn into domestic monsters the second they have a ring on their finger. Yet, a lingering and unwavering impression remains; complete and utter obsession with money.

Saying one is Russian in New York gives off a subtle whiff of negativity and indignity. However, isn’t it giving Russian girls too much credit in the originality contest? As if no one else ever wanted a diamond or two, as if obsession with money, especially someone else’s, has not been plaguing people since the beginning of time.

New York is a city that indeed does not get much sleep. Here our tastes are erratic and there is clearly an obsession with ‘the new’. Spoiled and neurotic, we are in constant search for the next best thing. And guess what? Russian girls are ‘in’. Modeling agencies are practically bursting with various Natashas, who are rapidly succeeding Brazilian bombshells and sprinting towards the finish line of lukewarm celebrity. Not too many men would object to having one on their arm either. But for some reason, insinuating that a Russian girl, no matter how pleasant or gracious, is most likely a whore in disguise has become “a thing to do”, almost like bashing France.

But like it or not, even when this trend is gone the Russian girls are here to stay. And in the city that is a graveyard of failed dreams they will most likely be successful in finding what they are looking for – be it money for some or a white picket fence for others.

Maybe at the end of the day, girls are pretty much the same. They could be from Minsk or Minnesota and want the same thing just wrapped in different packaging. And who is to say what the American Dream really is if not to get your own Prince Charming with all the right trimmings?

— Helena Khazanova

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Liverpool: City of the Arts

‘It’s grim up north’ or so goes the familiar reply whenever a town situated north of London’s M25 is mentioned. ‘Well, have you ever been to Liverpool?’ is the appropriate response. After suffering a chequered history, Liverpool has recently emerged as a lively centre for the arts. Former home to Europe’s largest port, the city enjoyed its heyday during the industrial revolution before it was bombed to smithereens during World War II. Out of the rubble emerged the Beatles, until disaster struck again, in the shape of Margaret Thatcher and hundreds of dock workers were laid off. Liverpudlians soldiered on, however, transforming their disused dock system into a suitable home for Tate Liverpool. Now the city is positively brimming with art and has been voted Europe’s 2008 Capital of Culture.

• Tate Liverpool is hosting this year’s Turner Prize. Mark Wallinger is tipped to win the £25,000 prize with a hilarious film of the artist dressed in a bear suit.

• The Liverpool Biennial was founded by Liverpudlian and arts innovator James Moores. Now in its 5th year, the 2008 Biennial is commissioning 36 new works by leading international artists, many of them will be installed in public spaces. Previous projects include Anthony Gormley’s spectacular cast iron figures standing on a Lancashire beach, waves lapping around their heels.

• ‘A’ Foundation, Moores’ latest Liverpudlian venture has secured vast warehouse spaces for exhibitions. Installations by British artist Brian Griffiths and U.S. based collective SIMPARCH will be on show until April 2008. “James Moores' introduction of the Liverpool Biennial in his own home town has really helped to bring the city to the forefront of the art world’s collective consciousness,” says arty ASW member Rebecca Guinness.

• The Walker Art Gallery will be staging the John Moores Prize for Contemporary Painting, now in its 50th year. The winning painter receives a prize of £25,000.

• FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) commissions artists to make works in film, video and new media. On show until Jan 13th 2008 are three new films from Manchester based filmmakers Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson about issues of faith in contemporary society.

• ‘Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2008,’ is the hot ticket next year. This annual exhibition of the best work by recent graduates from art schools attracts eager gallerists in search of new artists.

— Constance Wyndham

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Le Freak, C'est Chic! A Roundup of NYC's Halloween Bashes


A 'too cool for school' crowd danced to the hipster music sensation Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at the Gramercy Park Hotel for the party, which was hosted by Nur Khan and Gemma Ward. Fashion royalty Julia Restoin Roitfeld-- looking beautiful even with fangs-- partied with boyfriend Magnus Berger, friends Genevieve Jones and new ‘it gal about town' Pamela Love, who was hoping to "catch a glimpse of Josh Hartnett even for two seconds." Across the room Lauren Davis, dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein (in vintage Christian Doir, bien sur!), held court with Derek Blasberg, and leader of the art kid-eratti Carlo von Zeitsel. Other guests included Chloë Sevigny, Lisa Cant, Mandie Erickson, Fabiola Beracasa, and Yeshwant Holkar who, as Hunter S. Thompson, was donning “the clever man’s costume” remarked Lauren Goodman.

Meanwhile uptown at the Roberto Cavalli and Cavalli Vodka Halloween Party at Cipriani, a ninja mingled with Snow White as half-naked men and women danced with cowboys, spacemen and pirates.

A select crowd – including Petra Nemcova (a.k.a. Cleopatra), Sarah Ferguson, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Marcus Schenkenberg, and John Legend – enjoyed a private dinner reminiscent of a medieval feast, where wine was flowing out of giant goblets. But the party really kicked off when Roberto Cavalli, surrounded by models in silver catsuits, danced on sofas to a musical performance by Eve. Of the evening, member Sabine Roemer said, "Great costumes, great drinks, fun people!" Other party- goers included Celine Assimom, Thierry Chaunu, Kristen Knapp, Rachel Chan, Neal Gorevic, and Oliver Jacquez

Late-night, the scenesters migrated to The Box for the Sagatiba Cashaca party. The notoriously hip club, famous for outrageous burlesque shows, put on a spectacle with scantily-clad dancing women and a mini-Michael Jackson who performed 'Thriller' with a dancing zombie. Arden Wohl, Leelee Sobiesksi, Ashley Olsen, Andre Balazs, Lance Armstrong and Alexander McQueen enjoyed the show and sipped deadly blood orange Sagatiba Cachaca cocktails.

— Sabine Heller and Laura Jakobovits

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Sushi Samurais Battle for Top Sushi Honor

Sushi epicures gathered at the Sushi of the Year 2007 competition at London House for the ultimate sushi fix last Tuesday night.

On the menu were seven nigiri dishes prepared by top sushi chefs – collectively billed the ‘Seven Sushi Samurai’ – who competed for the sushi world’s highest honour.

Now in its sixth year, the challenge attracts global competitors from Michelin-starred restaurants such as Nobu, as well as an impressive line-up of judges. Kyle Connaughton, guest judge and head chef of development at Heston Blumenthal’s famed Fat Duck restaurant was keen to participate: “We are influenced by Japanese technique at the Fat Duck,” said Connaughton. “We are always looking to Japanese food-science to enhance our cuisine.”

Visiting gourmands also had the chance to sample each nigiri and cast their votes alongside the judges – not before cleansing their palettes with some shochu highballs of course. ASW member Lini Kuhl was amongst those grazing on the spreads. “I’m looking forward to trying a new combination that isn’t usually in sushi,” she said, adding that she was eyeing Nobu chef Yasuhiro Mineno’s Scottish beef nigiri with miso marinade and a dab of English mustard.

The event highlights an interesting foodie conundrum: on one hand, sushi represents the value of tradition and simplicity in cuisine. But to Japanese sushi chefs working abroad, being inventive is a necessity as traditional materials are often scarce.

Sushi’s global popularity also means that non-Japanese chefs are integrating their own cultures and regional ingredients. Andrei Sim, chef at Moscow’s Planeta Sushi, for example, wowed the crowd with ‘Red Square’, a nigiri sushi consisting of red flesh tuna with mirin gelee on a cream cheese and beetroot sushi rice base.

Sushi innovation triumphed in the end when Masashi Ogata was crowned the event’s winner. The chef had intended to use shark fin in his ‘Golden Shooting Star’ sushi. Unable to find quality shark fin in London, Ogata recreated the taste and texture using vegetarian ingredients such as daikon sprouts, maple syrup-infused apple and cornflakes.

“It was absolutely unlike sushi I've had anywhere else," said novelist Tobias Hill on the winning sushi. Hill, who described his first taste of sushi in 1987 as "one of the most alien things I'd ever eaten at that point," should know since he is now familiar with the London sushi scene. "Nobu is lovely, although a little trendy," he said. "But this [Golden Shooting Star] sushi is a surprise."

— Taraneh Ghajar

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Halloween in NY: ASW Scenesters Reveal Their Party Plans and Costumes

Valerie Boster
Who is she? Fashion 'It Girl' and Vogue Editor
Halloween plans? Cavalli party and a loft party in Brooklyn
Costume? Cocktail attire for Cavalli party and changing to a hipster outfit (American Apparel, head-to-toe) for Brooklyn

Fabian Basabe
Who is he? Handsome party boy and blogger
Halloween plans? Lance Bass' party in Hollywood then to a private dinner at le deux
Costume? He and his wife Martina are going as quarterback and cheerleader

Lauren Goodman
Who is she? The hip Fashion Director of Domino, also affectionately known as 'Spaghetti Legs'
Halloween plans? V Magazine Party and Cavalli party at Cipriani
Costume? A nurse, à la Richard Prince; maybe a Park Avenue nurse or Long Island nurse, depending on her mood.

Euan Rellie
Who is he? An investment banker, co-founder of Business Development Asia LLC, chairman of his wife's business, Lucy Sykes New York, and 'man about town'.
Halloween plans? Trick-or-treating in the Far West Village with kids, Heathcliff and Titus Rellie
Costume? Heathcliff Rellie and Euan Rellie will both be dressed as the Black Spider-Man from Spider-Man. Titus Rellie will be dressed as a cow. Lucy Sykes Rellie will be dressed as Wonder Woman.

Holly Doran
Who is she? Former Special Events Associate at Vogue and now Global Events Director at ASMALLWORLD
Halloween plans? Taking her daughter trick-or-treating (she's an octopus), then heading to the Cavalli/Cipriani/ASMALLWORLD Halloween Party.
Costume? She and friends are going as the Easy Spirit Basketball Girls: Short Shorts. Tube Socks. Tank Top. High Heels. And a basketball. Swish!

Brian Wolk and Claude Morais
Who are they? The Ruffian designers, a.k.a. the Ruffian Boys
Halloween plans? Maximillion Whitney's party
Costume? Cain and Abel

Marissa Anshutz
Who is she? The prettiest rising star in PR, Director at SYNDICATE
Halloween plans? V Magazine Halloween Party at the Gramercy Park Hotel Rose Bar (hosted by Gemma Ward) and then heading to The Box, NYC, where Sagatiba Cachaça is hosting – Blood Orange Sagatiba Capirinhas will be served to ensure that everyone gets their fill of the spirit of Brazil.
Costume? Lolita – lollipops will power her through the night as will looking through heart-shaped rose-colored glasses at the Halloween debauchery.

Joseph Varet
Who is he? Founder of LX.TV and on the Contemporary Art scene
Halloween plans? House party in LA
Costume? An IDF soldier

Karen Duffy
Who is she? Bubbly Fashion Consultant
Halloween plans? Taking her two-month-old little girl to the Museum of Natural History for the Twelfth Annual Halloween Festival, then heading to V Magazine party and ending up at Cipriani Downtown
Costume? A ladybug

Melissa Skoog
Who is she? Powerhouse and Vice President of PR at Prada
Halloween plans? Bronxville to trick-or-treat with my nine-year-old nephew, William.
Costume? William bought her costume a few weeks ago because he thought that it was perfect for her... red devil ears so that she can be the devil wearing Prada!

Melanie Charlton Fascitelli
Who is she? Founder and President of Clos-ette, Palm Beach princess, and author of Shop Your Closet: The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Closet with Style
Halloween plans? The Barish's Annual Halloween Party
Costume? A huge afro wig and short green dress – the auto-wash girl from the 70s movie, Car Wash

Di Petroff
Who is she? Social creature with a love of travel, freelance journalist
Halloween plans? The Police concert at Madison Square Garden
Costume? Tibi top and Michael Kors pants

Laird Borrelli
Who is she? Fashion Editor at
Halloween Plans? Neckface event, as she collects his work, which she finds pretty scary!
Costume? Tuleh dress with a print by Fabrizio

Luigi Tadini
Who is he? It boy, 24-year- old VP of Tadini Jewelers
Halloween plans? Heading to a bacchanalia Fellini style; the theme is Satyricon.
Costume? Something Fellini-esque

Tamsin Londsdale
Who is she? New Brit in town, founder of The Supper Club
Halloween Plans? Gold Bar
Costume? A flapper, but with a masculine take, so instead of a dress she will be wearing high waisted shorts, tuxedo shirt, black waistcoat, Marc Jacobs heels, black hat from Patricia Fields, so all black and white, apart from blood red nails and red fake eyelashes.

— Sabine Heller

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Swarovski Fashion Rocks 2007

"Music is fundamental to complete an outfit," said Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director at the Swarovski Fashion Rocks 2007 on Thursday night at London's Royal Albert Hall. The evening proved her point as 15 designers, including Gucci, sent models down the runway to tunes of their inspirational rock star collaborator. Armani paired with Alicia Keys while Chanel chose self-proclaimed Chanel fan, Lily Allen. Versace models strutted, bright as canaries, as they dodged a writhing Iggy Pop. Dolce & Gabbana preferred a loud and proud soundtrack from rapper Timbaland.

The evening's star quotient was exceptionally high. Uma Thurman, who wore a stunning crystal-scattered Valentino gown and Samuel Jackson, in a series of Armani suits, played hosts while Gwyneth Paltrow presented the evening's highlight: a lifetime achievement award to her dear friend, Valentino, who recently announced his retirement. "I want to leave when the party is still full of people," said Valentino of his half-century in the fashion world. "This is very emotional for me." The audience stood as Valentino accepted the award and later his fans cooed over his talent. "Valentino is frills, bows and dots," said social Tamara Beckwith, who arrived in full-length red Valentino dress. " He makes you feel like a million dollars."

Other surprises included the unconventional Scottish designer Christopher Kane's runway show with Beth Ditto and The Gossip. Ditto has a reputation for making fashion 'don'ts' - like spandex and horizontal stripes - into fashion 'dos.' Kane fully supported her with a magenta crystal skirt suit. Ditto kicked her shoes into the audience during the last extended shout of the performance.

"Chris Kane and the Gossip were definitely the stars of the show," agreed Charlotte Hamlett and Miguel Pascal, ASW members who moved on to the Kane after-party at Paper club on Regent Street. Other attendees also dispersed into the night. Jasmine Guinness, Elizabeth Saltzman, Harvey Weinstein, Calum Best, Courtney Love and Princess Beatrice headed to the official after-party at Baglioni.

Bungalow 8 attracted the sophisticated set, which included members of the Armani group while Punk Club drew fashionista and rock offspring Peaches Geldof. The parties continued well into the wee hours – evidence, if any was needed, that fashion indeed rocked.

— Taraneh Ghajar

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Alexander Kølpin


Alexander Kølpin

Alexander Kølpin is a Danish star of film, the stage, and the ballet. He danced with the Royal Danish Ballet, in Bournonville Ballets, and guest starred with several other ballet companies. While injury forced Kølpin into an early retirement from dance, his life still revolves around the art and he is currently the artistic director of the Copenhagen International Ballet. Here he tells ASW about his many passions and his next big project.

Q. How do you use ASW and what’s your favorite site feature?
Alexander Kølpin : I use it when I have to travel, especially for restaurants and hotels. I like the rating system and I mostly look at the individual comments.

Q. At what age did you know you wanted to dance?
AK: When I was 10. I came straight from a soccer match to see my sister do a ballet class. And I believe it moved me right away because all the things that I was interested in were represented in this one room; movement, music, physicality, grace and drama, all embodied in one vocabulary.

Q. What has been the greatest moment of your career thus far?
AK: Dancing ‘James,’ the lead in La Sylphide; first in Copenhagen and again later at the Sydney Opera House.

Q. Is dance in your blood?
AK: No, my mother is a designer for cloth, my father an architect.

Q. You’re in the Danish stage production of the Full Monty. Do you get your gear off?
AK: Not completely (Full Monty-style) but it was a great experience to be a stripper and do a ten minute solo strip to open the show.

Q. You performed in several Bournonville Ballets. For the ballet-ignorant among us, what is unique about Bournonville?
AK: That his ballets are always about people and the characters. It’s demanding in the technique, but first and foremost it is a portrait of personalities.

Q. What are you doing in the way of TV and film these days?
AK: I did a short film last year and am now shooting a documentary on my father-in-law, Peter Zobel (a retired business tycoon in the insurance industry).

Q. An injury forced you into early retirement from dance. How did you cope with that disappointment?
AK: I have been injured many times in my career – it is a part of being professional and working hard. I had to stop for a year, but recovered and left the Royal Danish Ballet to work with Maurice Bejart in Lausanne. After that I moved to New York and worked with Twyla Tharp. Then moved back to Denmark and stopped dancing.

Q. Tell us about your next big project?
AK: My documentary and planning next summer’s dance performances.

Q. What makes you happiest?
AK: To travel, eat, listen to music, the ocean, friends and my kids. And work when I am with cool people.

Q. Where is your favorite travel destination?
AK: Paris and Mallorca

Q. What is your favorite hotel?
AK: Plaza Athénée, Paris

Q. What is your favorite restaurant?
AK: Le Stresa (Paris), Oubaek (Copenhagen),

Q. What is your favorite museum or gallery?
AK: Moma (NY), Whitney (NY), Rodin (Paris)

Q. What is your favorite beach?
AK: Blacks Beach (La Jolla, California), 7 Mile Beach (Byron Bay, Australia), Hornbaek (Denmark)

Q. What is your favorite restaurant?
AK: Le Stresa (Paris), Oubaek (Copenhagen)

Q. What is your favorite museum or gallery?
AK: The MOMA in Paris

Q. What film has had the greatest effect on you? Why?
AK: Girl on the Bridge (touching and honest acting; great story about human relationships)

Q. What is your favorite ski resort?
AK: Verbier (Swizerland)

Q. What cause is closest to your heart? Why?
AK: Children in need, because they are vulnerable and bear no responsibility for what we are doing to the world around them.

Q. What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself?
AK: To be less self-aware and more patient.

Q. Which artist do you admire most?
AK: Whoa… Picasso or Igor Stravinsky. My favorite living artist has to be choreographer Jiri Kylian.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
AK: Not a good idea to share it.

Q. Who is your favorite historical figure?
AK: Not historical as such, but the Dalai Lama

Q. What upsets you the most?
AK: Stupid and lazy people who do not take action but expect respect without contributing.

Q. What is your favorite bar?
AK: Plaza Athénée (Paris)

Q. What gadget can’t you live without?
AK: My iPhone and my Mac.

Q. What are you most afraid of?
AK: Not being healthy and lose my loved ones.

Q. What’s your favorite drink?
AK: Beer

Q. What are your top 3 songs?
AK: 'Love Me or Leave Me’ by Nina Simone, ‘Adagietto,’ Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ sung by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

— Laura Jakobovits

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From Comunista to Fashionista--Models Strut Down the Great Wall of China

When Qin Shi Huang erected the Great Wall of China in 221 BC, protection of the Chinese Empire's northern borders was what he had in mind. More than 2000 years later, Karl Lagerfeld had a different thought.

Last week, for the first time, the historic monument was transformed into the world's largest runway to showcase Fendi's Spring 2008 collection. The show, which was the grand finale to a four-day extravaganza, was attended by socialites, celebrities and fashionistas including Kate Bosworth, Zhang Ziyi, Tinsley Mortimer, Thandie Newton, ASW Members Julia Restoin-Roitfeld, Amanda Hearst, Fabiola Beracasa, Laird Borrelli, Billy Farrell (New York's ubiquitous shutterbug) and Zani Gugelmann who effusively recalls the show as being "a magical, surreal moment - surpassing all expectations I could have ever imagined."

Not everyone was so happy. ASW member and Executive Director of the Association for Asian Research, Erping Zhang, felt that "reducing a historical landmark such as the Great Wall to a commercial site for self promotion is not a decent idea."

As we march towards the 2008 Olympics, it is becoming increasingly clear that China, a politically socialist, yet seemingly economically capitalist nation is openly and visibly embracing American and European luxury brands, and placing them center stage.

It also seemed fitting that the Fendi celebrations overshadowed the Chinese Communist Party's Annual Convention, which was held during the same timeframe.

— Sabine Heller and Alonso Dominguez

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Jared Cohen

Rhodes Scholar and Stanford Graduate, Jared Cohen received his true education traveling through the Middle East where he met with Islamic youth and explored how they view themselves and their place in the world, post 9/11.

Author of One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwandan Genocide (Rowman and Littlefield) and the newly released, Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East (Penguin Books/Gotham Division), Cohen currently works on the Policy Planning Staff of the US Department of State and is responsible for public diplomacy, Muslim world outreach, and North Africa.

Here he describes the experience of interviewing young Islamic militants as an American Jew, shares some insights into the minds of Islamic youth and explains how he came to realize that he and his interview subjects actually have more in common than he ever imagined.

Q. How and when did you become a member of ASW?
Jared Cohen: I joined ASW in December 2005 after a friend of mine at Oxford invited me. She assured me that I would love it.

Q. How do you use ASW and what’s your favorite site feature?
JC: Like so many other ASW users, I have gone through my phases. At certain points I was all about the threads; other times I utilized it when traveling places for the weekend; and on other occasions, I use it just for messaging.

Q. Where did your fascination with the Middle East and fundamentalist Islam come from?
JC: Like so many other people my age, I wanted to learn about and travel to the Middle East because it was a hot topic for a graduate student studying in the aftermath of 9/11. In this sense, what drew me to the Middle East was the same intellectual curiosity that thousands of college kids and graduate students around America were experiencing. While this is what brought me to the Middle East, it was the unexpected reality that kept me traveling there and craving as many experiences as possible. I stumbled into a youth culture that was all too familiar to my own and was inspired by what I saw as more similarities than differences across youth cultures. In the end, I could relate to the similarities and together we could celebrate, learn, and share in the differences.

I really don’t believe in the notion of fundamentalist Islam. I believe in the existence of violent extremism as a dangerous phenomenon that preys on communities where critical thinking has not been introduced. The individuals that we see in the media undertaking suicide attacks and senseless murders of innocent civilians are to me, violent extremists. To link them to a particular religion is to validate their imposing a one-sided partnership with otherwise peaceful religions.

Q. Having met with and studied Islamic youth in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, what are some of the things that surprised you most about their ideas, views and attitudes?
JC: There are two tremendous surprises that I found in my travels:

First, the youth are a completely different phenomenon than the older generations. They have a far greater understanding of the differences between governments, people, and religions. This is why I was never mistreated for being Jewish. They are at a rebellious stage of their lives that lends itself to a life of duality in the form of social and recreational defiance from societal norms. And they use the same technology as adults, but they use it in completely different ways and for completely different purposes. As a result of this, the youth are more emancipated than we give them credit for because they are in a technological world that allows them to engage in resistance or private activity without the knowledge of their government or their parents.

Second, it is such a common misperception that young people join militant or extremist groups because of a deep piety or innate religiosity. When I would ask young militants why they joined their respective group, the initial answer confirmed this assumption; however, the more I engaged with youth who had been drawn into these groups, the more I found that the initial factors drawing them toward extremist groups had very little to do with religion. I actually found that the majority of young extremists were not so much gun-toting masked militants shouting “Alahu Akbar”, but rather broken souls with dangerous toys. They had experienced some very normal feelings of humiliation that any youth could potentially go through and this humiliation led to alienation, which in turn led them to look for belonging. The recruiters from these extremist groups were always there preaching a message of belonging and group identity under the auspices of their own interpretation of Islam.

Q. What do you think are the most common misperceptions about Islam?
JC: The most common misperception about Islam is that it is either monolithic or different than any other faith around the world. Islam as a religion has been victimized in terms of Western perception by a small minority who claim to be Muslim, but are more interested in exploiting an otherwise peaceful religion for their own objectives. Islam—similar to Judaism, Christianity, etc.—has many faces, interpretations, and sects. To generalize about the religion or even refer to the existence of an ‘Islamic world’ is to suggest that it is a uniform religion and identity. I have always been told by my friends and people I have come into contact with that like all religions, Islam is socially constructed around the individual based on their belief system and what society they live in. To share an example (I actually once wrote a thread about this), I was on one of my usual outings for interviews with youth, when I came across four girls, three of whom were wearing the hejab and one who was not. The girl who did not wear hejab explained to me that she was no less religious than the others. I asked her why, if she was deeply religious, did she choose to not wear hejab. In retrospect, I realize that this question was ignorant. But, I had believed incorrectly that the Quran stipulated that all Muslim women must wear hejab. She explained to me that the Quran only says women must cover modest parts of their body and that hejab comes from a Sura about modesty. She then continued by explaining to me, “I wear hejab every day, I wear a metaphorical hejab.” Because the hejab is about modesty, she believed that she was wearing hejab if she was classy, a good person, working to get an education, being true to her family, and being proud of who she is. I asked other girls about this in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon who articulated the same thing, albeit in different words.

Q. In your book, Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East, you discuss how the under-30 generation in the Middle East is the West’s best hope for peace. Why is this so?
JC: It didn’t matter if they were extremist or moderate, secular or non-secular, affiliated with a terrorist group, or a law-abiding citizen; when it came to innate youth qualities, the young people I met were more similar to me as a young American Jew than they were different. I strongly believe that the largest party in every country is the metaphorical ‘youth party’ and it doesn’t necessarily have a political, ethnic, religious, national, or sectarian face to it. Many of these young people share the same hopes, dreams and desires as the youth in America. They are trying to figure out who they are and what their role is in society. As they search for their identity, they are drawn to social and recreational indulgences, they have a fascination with technology, and they often rebel against their community or societal norms in varying degrees of insubordination. While it is impossible as an American to relate to what they experience as Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians, or Palestinians; I could always relate to them as my fellow youth.

Q. In your book you talk about meeting with Hezbollah members in a McDonald’s and about Bedouin shepherds with satellite dishes so they can watch Western TV. How do you think Islam is changing in the modern world?
JC: I don’t think this is an issue of Islam changing in the modern world, I think this is an issue of youth changing in the modern world. The reality is that 60 percent of Muslim communities around the world are under the age of 30. As a result, the communities are changing, not necessarily the religion. As all religions are intertwined with culture and society this is a natural outcome. But this is also not something exclusive to Muslim communities. Christian and indigenous religious communities in Africa are changing as a result of new technologies, Buddhist communities in Southeast Asia and communities throughout Latin America are also changing rapidly as a result of technology.

The current generation of youth is the first generation socialized into societies with high prevalence of satellite TV, mobile phones, and Internet. While adults use these same technologies, they use them primarily for traditional communications. The youth use these same technologies in completely different ways and for completely different purposes. For them, it is a source of entertainment, expression, and life-enhancement. As a result, the current generation of youth is the most emancipated generation we have seen in our life time. They can act one way at home and in their community, and have a completely different identity over the Internet or through their mobile phones. Because the digital and technological world offers them opportunities to generate their own media and entertainment, they are learning critical thinking through self-exploration in what one could call ‘digital democracy’.

Q. Do you think the world’s perception of fundamentalist Muslims is very different from reality?
JC: For me, the fundamental misperception is that radicalization is something inherently linked to Islam. The reality is that radicalization as a process has existed since the beginning of time. It is the process by which illicit actors hijack impressionable young minds and exploit them to achieve criminal ends. Geography determines what form that takes. In Latin America, radicalization takes place through the gangs. In Russia it takes place through international organized crime. In the Middle East and South Asia it takes place under the auspices of extremist Islamist groups, and in the United States it takes place through inner city gangs.

As for the question about fundamentalist Muslims, I think extremist anything is harmful. Islam is a peaceful religion and those individuals that undertake terrorist attacks are extremists that merely seek to exploit a peaceful religion.

Q. Did being an American Jew make things difficult for you when you were traveling through Muslim countries and meeting with fundamentalist Muslim groups? How were you received?
JC: Being Jewish has never been a problem for me. I have never had to hide my identity and I have never been threatened because of it either. The youth are particularly good at distinguishing between governments, people, and religions. In part, this is because many young people are displeased with their own governments, disenchanted with some of their own religious leaders, and exposed to a world outside of their own through new media.

Q. How does your own background affect the way you approach the subject of Jihad in the Middle East and around the world?
JC: The more time I spend in the Middle East the more I want to understand and learn from my peers. ‘Jihad’, as a term, has been polluted by extremists. As a pillar of Islam, the term, I am told, means more broadly the pursuit of knowledge, the providing of charitable services, and a number of other characteristics that have nothing to do with violence or war. I have actually started to study Quran weekly with an Imam in Virginia so that I can better understand the theology as I venture out into different parts of the world and so that I can engage in conversations about the different interpretations of the Quran.

Q. From your studies in the Middle East, did you find much hope?
JC: I have hope because of all of the people that I have met who brought me in and share their stories with me. I have hope because I could relate to them as youth and because what they want is no different from what young people around the world crave. The existence of this youth phenomenon is our best hope, but one that will only be realized if their basic needs are met.


Q. What makes you happiest?
JC: Knowing that I have friends and family that I would do anything for and that make me a better person.

Q. Where is your favorite travel destination
JC: Lebanon

Q. What is your greatest vice?
JC: I can’t resist a night out even if it means I am exhausted the next day, especially if I am in another country.

Q. What is your favorite restaurant?
JC: More fun than my favorite restaurant is my favorite lunch place to gossip, which is Tartine in South Kensington

Q. What is your favorite museum or gallery?
JC: The MOMA in Paris

Q. What film has had the greatest effect on you? Why?
JC: Schindler’s List for personal reasons; other than that, I would say, The Battle of Algiers

Q. What is your favorite book?
JC: Non-fiction: Ed Hussain’s The Islamist. Fiction: Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life

Q. What cause is closest to your heart? Why?
JC: Education and critical thinking because without it, youth are not equipped to charter their own courses of action.

Q. What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself?
JC: I wish I was able to sit back and relax and that I was not so hard on myself

Q. Which artist do you admire most?
JC: Chuck Close, because of how he has turned challenges in his life into artistic advantages.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
JC: Snuck into the civil war in the Eastern Congo under a pile of bananas or snuck into the Ain al-Hilwaih Palestinian camp while getting chased by the Lebanese Armed Forces; either way, sneaking into something.

Q. Who is your favorite historical figure?
JC: Woodrow Wilson for his vision

Q. What upsets you the most?
JC: Exploitation of youth

Q. What is your favorite bar?
JC: Sky Bar in Beirut! Eclipse in London!

Q. What gadget can’t you live without?
JC: My BlackBerry

Q. What are you most afraid of?
JC: Something happening to someone I love.

Q. What are your top 3 songs?
JC: Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’
All things by Bob Sinclair because it reminds me of Beirut in the Summer of 2005
Green Day’s ‘Time of Your Life’ because it is reflective

— Laura Jakobovits

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