On a recent evening, Inna De Silva, wearing a yellow sweatshirt, black pants and Lilly Pulitzer sandals, was walking in the East 50’s and looking like the kind of broad you don’t want to mess with. She held a bottle of vodka in one hand.
“If you’re in any bad situation, a street situation, breaking a bottle on somebody’s head will always give you a couple of minutes,” she said in her deep, raspy, Russian-accented voice. “I have the mentality of a gangster.”
We found a Japanese place and ordered sake.
I studied her face: still there, on the cusp of 40, as were her large, real breasts.
“I was considered to be one of the hot girls in New York,” she said. “Let’s face it: Everybody wanted to sleep with me. And I did sleep with quite a few of them.”
Inna De Silva should be sitting pretty, but over the years she’s partied too much, shot her mouth off, pissed people off. She always tried to take the shortcut, didn’t stick with things long enough. Or maybe she just had bad luck.
“I’m terrible with money-I spend it as soon as it comes in,” she said. “I just never thought about the future, never.”
She doesn’t consider herself a failure, though.
“I’m a hustler by nature, and hustling is exhausting,” she said. “Life in New York City is literally like war, and survival in one of the most expensive cities in the world is something. And I’m not blowing any fat old guys!
“I really believed until five years ago that this miracle would occur,” she continued. “I would move to the Caribbean, open a small four-star hotel and send everybody a postcard. I believed that since I’m an extraordinary person, that this was just supposed to happen. I’ve often said if I knew who to blow, I would have blown that person by now, but do I really mean it? I don’t know.”
The fun peaked around 1998. Ms. De Silva was the ringleader of a group of beautiful Russian girls whom she introduced to wealthy men who paid her commissions. She called it “a concierge service.”
These days, she lives in the Dylan Hotel in midtown on a discount ($200 a night), gets up at noon, orders a big breakfast, makes calls, works on her screenplay, then stays out late. Her main gig is as a consultant to nightclubs and restaurants.
“I’m sort of like a muse-I’m the person with the vision,” she said. “I see where the holes are and know how to fix them.” Sometimes she’ll get paid $10,000. Once the club opens, her job is done, though some clients keep her on.
One recent night, she accompanied a client, an owner of the nightclub Quo, to the strip club Scores West Side, where she drank cognac until 3 a.m. “It was practically almost an orgy, right there in full view of everyone,” she said. “It was pretty wild in there. No penetration, but with fingers everywhere.”
After sushi, we stopped by a party for Quest magazine at the Shoreham Hotel.
“Look at the women,” she said, pointing out a few beauties. “And look at the men we have in the room. What is that? I mean he’s asexual. Half of them are twerps-they’re tiny. Way too many short men in New York. ‘Macho’ is definitely not a word I’d use in this room. They’re all kind of fey, even if they’re dating women. Darwin has been very unkind to women in New York City! This is the species that survived?
“I could beat up any of these guys,” she said, laughing. “You know they’re basically gay, but for whatever reason they don’t feel comfortable being gay, so they become asexual.”
She eyed a young blond lady in a silvery skirt who was having an animated powwow with three other ladies. “This is not an important enough party to be dressed that nicely,” Ms. De Silva said. “They’re all smiling at each other, but if there was a man all of them wanted, believe me, they’d be slipping mickeys into each other’s drinks. These women are the equivalent of men in Rome.”
Ms. De Silva said she’d like to run an escort service for women like they have in Los Angeles and Monaco.
“We could have a potential of a huge market,” she said. “I mean, this would be work. But imagine: You walk into some brownstone and 20 good-looking men rise as you walk in, and they’re working for you?”
The vodka bottle in her hand, she said, was a form of payment from a client, and she planned to drink it on the way to the Hamptons that evening. For $100, a guy from her hotel was driving her to a hotel in Southampton, where she would stay for five days on a discount. “I’m poor, but I somehow live in hotels,” she said.
Any other plans for the evening?
“I’m hoping to get laid.”
A few days later, she told me her life story over lunch at a fancy Italian restaurant in Southampton. She grew up in Soviet Ukraine. Her mother, a skinny sex bomb with huge breasts, worked as a buyer for a department store. Her father was a handsome, gregarious womanizer.
“And that’s why I’m attracted to womanizers, because every girl picks a man like her father,” she said. “He’s like bourbon going down your throat.”
Her father fixed refrigerators and did scams. “In Odessa, you are born thinking about the hustle-it’s in the blood,” she said. “It’s a turn-on.”
Papa would pick her up at school on his motorcycle and take her to bars.
“It was like I was reared to be his son,” she said.
The Sokolovskys had no toilet of their own until Inna was 7, so they shared a bathroom with four families, each of which had its own toilet seat hanging on the wall.
She was scorned by classmates for being Jewish. In 1978, the family tried to find asylum and soon ended up in Coney Island, living in the projects. Papa became a cab driver. She hated him for bringing them there.
“I was in shock,” she said. A good day was one without fights. She was nearly molested in her building’s elevator, and another time three girls with razor blades attacked her in the hallway.
“I think my right-wing mentality was starting to settle in at that point,” she said.
She wanted to be a dancer, her mother wanted her to be an actress, and her father told her she needed to get rich. “He said, ‘I don’t care how you do it, but I want you to buy me a boat, a house, and give me money.'”
At 16, she realized she was a looker. “I walked down the street one day and every man was staring,” she said. “I didn’t get it. I thought there was something behind me.”
She got a job as a showgirl at a cheesy nightclub and made $150 a night. Her family moved to Long Island and she attended Massapequa High, where the Baldwin brothers’ father taught her history. At 16, she met a Sicilian-American named Anthony at a Brooklyn nightclub. She married him at 18. He insisted that she work, so she got a job at a travel company in Manhattan.
She decided to leave her husband and, in 1987, rented an apartment with a Russian friend named Alla on 91st Street and First Avenue. “We were the first Russian girls on the scene,” she said. “I was on a rampage. It was like someone let a pit bull out of a cage.” (She said she slept with a lot of people in her youth but didn’t want to give a number. “I still need to find husband No. 3,” she explained. “But it was a lot.”)
They went out six nights a week and developed a system to avoid paying for anything: Inna would date restaurant owners and Alla would date nightclub owners. One day, her husband showed up at her office with a gun and said, “If I can’t have you, no one will.” She calmed him down.
To avoid the gun-toting husband, she flew to Italy to visit a guy with whom she’d had a two-night stand. Marco turned out to have a family villa in Florence. “It was like finishing school,” she said. “It was really the showgirl and the prince-like the Marilyn Monroe movie.”
After three months, she began to cheat on Marco with his best friend and the best friend’s two brothers. A scandal ensued. “I think I was starting to like the father-it’s a good thing I left,” she said.
Back in Manhattan, she went on an even bigger rampage. There were very late nights dancing at the Palladium and free-basing cocaine in Brighton Beach. Then she’d go straight to work at her new travel job. “I was starting to get irresponsible,” she said. One day, she sent a client to Thailand instead of Puerto Rico.
“Free-base is the scariest high,” she said. “The first time, it’s like having the most intense orgasm in your life, but that’s only the first time. It is evil-like people at 7 a.m. crawling around on the carpet looking for rocks.”
Ms. De Silva got fired and moved all her stuff out of her apartment without saying goodbye to Alla. (Later, Alla and her druggie boyfriend robbed and killed a woman; Alla went to prison but got out on a technicality three years later. “I hear she walks up and down the boardwalk,” Ms. De Silva said. “I haven’t seen her in 700 years. But she was a stunner-a stunner.”)
Ms. De Silva didn’t touch drugs for the next seven years. She dated a photographer from Newsweek and sold timeshares in the Poconos (“A legitimate scam,” she said). Then she moved to Miami as a camp director at a kosher senior-citizen hotel. She met a Brazilian surfer dude, Teddy De Silva. On their first date, they had ice cream and sex-“and he was that good in bed that I became obsessed with him,” she said. “Women are stupid. If you fuck a woman well, that’s it-that’s all it takes. Then they follow you around like a puppy.”
Four months later, they were married. Inna was 23 and running her own travel company and, on the side, buying hotel rooms at a discount and reselling them. Miami wasn’t happening yet; she was a pioneer. She lured German photographers there to do fashion shoots. “My office was the living room of the Gianni Versace mansion,” she said. “I was at the right place at the right time. But somebody today would say, ‘Well, where’s your millions? Where’s the hotels?'”
She liked being a housewife. She got Teddy a job at a hotel, only to discover that he was sleeping with the female staff and guests.
Not long after they split in 1991, she met the owner of the Click modeling agency, who hired her as a booker. Waves of Russian girls were arriving in New York and men were flipping out. Ms. De Silva, the only agent in town who spoke Russian, started handling those accounts. “Girls used to land at Kennedy airport and say, ‘Inna, Inna, Inna, Inna,'” she recalled. “You were lucky if they had cab fare. This was like a movie. This was something like discovering gold. I invented basically the entire trend of Russian girls.”
In 1993, she left for Moscow to start up her own agency. She set up office at the best hair salon. The girls looked rough, with burned-out hair and bad teeth, so she made them presentable for Paris and Milan.
“It was like polishing a diamond,” she said. “That’s when I met the gangsters. I used to walk around with a knapsack full of money.”
The problem was that she couldn’t secure visas for her models.
“The people I was dealing with had no juice,” she said. “Maybe if I’d persevered and stayed another two years, I could have met somebody who was juiced, and maybe I’d still be living there. So many times I’ve been in the right place at the time, but somehow didn’t see the larger picture. I kept thinking everybody else was working deals to buy factories, export diamonds and oil-and I’m running around fixing girls’ hair.”
She came back to Manhattan and was hired as a scout at Metropolitan Models. She traveled across America hunting for 15-year-old beauties. She had a rent-free apartment and perks.
“There was lots of free stuff you could get as a model agent,” she said. “I just don’t have the lifestyle I used to. Back then, I was getting so many freebies-free trips, free health-club membership, free dinners obviously, free drinks, free hair.
“What’s unique about New York is it’s not all about money,” she continued. “It’s about having juice. If you know beautiful women, that’s juice. You bring five models into a restaurant, you just made their night. Women are juice.”
By 1995, Ms. De Silva discovered that nightclub and restaurant owners would not only give her a free meal, but actually pay her to show up with a few models, especially if they were Russian. Next thing she knew, a Malaysian guy who was investing money in an Oliver Stone movie offered her $500 if she would merely send a Russian girl to meet him for dinner.
She began promoting parties where she’d introduce her Russian women to wealthy men. Her best customer was a Saudi Arabian prince whom she introduced to her “insane, alcoholic” girlfriend Masha. “She was one of those girls who had nothing to say until the fourth vodka, and then she was the girl that got up at the table and proceeded to start taking off her clothes,” she said. “I once found her under the table at Au Bar servicing some Swedish guy who was seven feet tall!”
Masha and the Saudi Prince started dating, and at first the prince was so delighted that he gave Ms. De Silva a $20,000 Bulgari watch (“I hocked it a couple years later”). But he called one evening to say that his new squeeze was driving him nuts.
“He goes, ‘I’ve $50 million worth of art in this apartment and she’s going insane! I got Matisses on the wall!'” she said. “He goes, ‘Can you just come and get her out of my apartment?’ Someone like him can’t have cops come over. I came over, took me 20 minutes to collect this drunken mess. Finally I get her out, like you would with a little rabbit or something.” He handed her $10,000 in cash.
“It lasted for a couple of years,” she said of her business. “It’s typical me: Whenever I’m in a situation, I think it will never end. It’s not that I made a lot, but being given 10 grand to go collect a drunk girl out of an apartment? You think, ‘Oh gee, man, I hope this goes on forever.'”
In 1998, one of Ms. De Silva’s Latvian friends, Ines Misan, made headlines after her lover, a Wall Street hedge-fund big shot, sued to get a $289,000 engagement ring back. More court battles involving Ms. De Silva’s Russian girls followed.
There was one last big score: A Russian girl sued her ex-lover, and Inna collected $110,000 as a commission. The money lasted three months. She booked a hotel suite overlooking Central Park, purchased some Fendi luggage and flew first class to the South of France.
“I thought I’d meet a rich man in first class, or in Monaco,” she said. “I spent a month there, and I wound up sleeping with a gigolo.”
Back in New York, she got out of the Russian-girls racket altogether.
“My sister thinks that the entire thing with Russian girls was negative,” she said. “A lot of money in a short time? It ruins you forever.” She said that her sister Elena, who designs Web sites and lives in Montclair, N.J., “told me I was a complete and utter bitch when I had money.”
From 1998 to 2000, she lived in Sag Harbor, smoked too much pot and wandered around town late at night with a snifter of cognac and wearing tiger-print pajamas.
After lunch, we had a drink at the Blue Parrot in East Hampton.
“Women’s lib is a bunch of crap,” she told me. “We are making a little bit more money than we used to, but at what price? So men have become pussy-whipped? We probably lost a couple of million to the other team just because of women’s liberation. Our loss, their gain, you know?”
A few nights later, we had dinner at the Japanese restaurant under the Hotel Gansevoort in the meatpacking district. After our third cocktail, the talk turned to cocaine. She estimated that 80 percent of the people she knows take it, despite the low quality lately thanks to 9/11.
“In the 80’s, you did coke around 1, 1:30 in the morning,” she said. “Because you were having so much fun, you wanted to do a line to stay awake-you were talking to Andy Warhol and things were exciting. That’s why you did the couple of lines. Now the entire point of the evening is the coke. It’s the ritual. It’s like Italians cooking lunch: You talk about what you’re going to buy for lunch, you cook the lunch, then you serve the lunch. And no one dances anymore. People go to places where they buy $500 bottles of Scotch and sit together so that other people can walk by, and for some reason they think it’s being fabulous.”
She said she hadn’t done any cocaine in a couple of weeks.
“Someone who’s been dealing for years told me that the best supplies come in June and July, something about the coca harvest,” she said.
After a vodka shot, I followed her to the nightclub Hiro, where there was a party hosted by fashion designer Zac Posen. Inside, she sat on a couch by one of Keith Richards’ daughters.
“Every girl has five to 15 thousand dollars worth of shit on,” Ms. De Silva said. “Look at how many hot women there are, right? Everybody is saying, ‘I’ve got shit-I’ve got the watch, I’ve got the bag, the clothes.’ There’s no one here that looks like they’re having a good time, and this is a nice event with lots of good-looking people. They’ve got semi-fuck-me dresses on and nobody’s having a good time! What they’re saying is, ‘Can we pose together? Can we just stand next to each other and watch people together?’ There’s no interaction. The poseurs, when they just stand there, they’re saying, ‘I’m here, and that means I belong.’ Take the same girl, stick her in a Long Island bar, she’d be getting laid within an hour.”
A few nights later, Ms. De Silva scored a free dinner for us at Nello on the Upper East Side. Earlier that day, she’d enjoyed a $240 underwater massage at Gurney’s Spa in the Hamptons that she didn’t have to pay for.
“The best part was being in the men’s locker room lying in the tub with the jets,” she said. “I mean, I was thinking I could even sneak an orgasm, you know? I was watching men walking by through the glass, so it was sort of erotic.”
Three middle-aged men walked by our outdoor table.
“Anybody looking for a third wife?” Ms. De Silva called out.
“You know what’s funny?” she continued. “The two wealthy boyfriends I had, they were convinced I would bankrupt them, that when I was done with them they’d have no money.”
She was wearing a leather jacket over a turquoise Lilly Pulitzer dress and Lilly Pulitzer sandals. And no bra. “Well, the tits are still standing,” she said. “I have never worn a bra in my entire life. I think I look very cute. I’m dressed to pick up men.”
I asked her about success.
“I rarely pat myself on the back,” she said. “I have no college education and I’ve never sucked an old man’s cock, but I have lived a nice life, basically, which is an incredible thing. There’s no little trust fund, no phone calls to my parents asking for money. But do I think I could have been more successful? Absolutely.”
She said that in 10 years, she’d like to have hotels in Cuba and Montauk and a magazine, marry her intellectual equal and make one funny movie about Russian girls.
“It’s kind of funny, because people perceive me as this hard-core girl,” she said. “And meanwhile, I’m the biggest believer in fairy tales. I know it’s ridiculous, but I really do still think something wonderful is supposed to happen to me, like I’m this extraordinary person that is supposed to leave something great behind. Something-a great book, a movie, a hotel, whatever it is. You know, my child. The last man I asked to have a child with me said it would be a monster.”