Goga Ashkenazi: The First Female Oligarch of Fashion
Her proudest moments were giving birth to two sons via what she calls her “close friendship” with Timur Kulibayev, a Kazakh oil billionaire in his own right and, for two decades and counting, the son-in-law of the country’s president. “It’s complicated,” Goga says.
Goga’s a long-limbed and flirtatious woman of 35 with 32 years of experience in hoping to someday become a dressmaker. During that time, she has witnessed a number of remarkable moments (such as the fall of communism, which happened when she was growing up in the Soviet empire) and scored many accomplishments of her own, including a degree at Oxford and the establishment of an oil-and-gas company in her ancestral homeland of Kazakhstan that earned her a fortune and made her one of the country’s first female oligarchs. She is also famous for her high-end run of male companions, which has included Prince Andrew of Great Britain, Lapo Elkann (the Fiat heir and the closest thing to a reigning Italian prince), and Saif Qaddafi (a son of the late Libyan dictator).
Despite all that, it wasn’t until 2012, when she bought the historic fashion house Vionnet and installed herself as the chief designer, that she felt she’d begun to find her place in the world.
The press in Central Europe and London, where Goga owns a £28 million mansion in Holland Park with a household staff of 15, has shown obsessive tendencies regarding her romantic life. A few years ago, when Prince Andrew was pressured to stand down from his post as the British special representative for international trade because of a host of shady-looking friendships, she came to his rescue perhaps a bit too eagerly, bragging how he’d confided in her. She was also credited with enabling a sweetheart deal when the Duke of York, who’d been struggling to sell his £15 million country manor, suddenly sold it for £18 million to her boyfriend, Timur Kulibayev. One columnist compared her to a Bond girl.
There were also questions about her on-and-off union with Kulibayev, which began in 2005. Kulibayev, who resides in Kazakhstan, remains married to the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and, at 48, is widely considered a leading candidate to replace him. According to a U.S.-embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, Kulibayev is “the ultimate controller of 90 percent of the economy of Kazakhstan.” A documentary critical of Goga’s oil and gas ventures, produced by a TV station in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, was titled The Princess and the Poor. Global Witness, an international think tank, calls Kazakhstan a “ ‘kleptocracy’ run by and for the benefit of the ruling family and its close associates.” Goga says most of the harsh assessments of her, including the documentary, come from a wealthy faction within the government’s opposition party. “It’s all political,” she says. “That’s what I ran away from.”
Goga and Kulibayev’s boys, Adam, 7, and Alan, 3, are full-time residents of London, where they are cared for by her mother.