There's something utterly magnetic about Anna Shay, the incredibly rich and mysterious breakout star of Netflix's "Bling Empire," that most people can't quite put a finger on. Is it that fact that she has penis pumps casually lying in her home? Or that she can take a spontaneous trip to Paris on her jet to visit her favorite restaurant? Or that her billionaire father was a literal weapons dealer?
What's clear is that none of these things particularly faze Shay, the half-Japanese half-Russian socialite who just turned 60 a few days ago. Unlike, say, some of her fellow castmates, she doesn't feel the need to flaunt her latest jewelry purchase or brag about her wealth. Perhaps it's that unassuming, mild-mannered nature that has helped capture the hearts of millions of viewers, earning her the unofficial title of the people's queen.
She's equally as soft-spoken over the phone when she calls in from her estate in Bel-Air, the ritzy residential enclave in LA. "Anna Shay ain't all that," she assures me. This despite living a life that sounds like something off a Great Gatsby novel: divorced four times, daughter of an aristocratic mother, throwing elaborate parties during Oscars weekend, friends with all the top designers.
But as those who've binged the entire series know too well, Shay is not someone who has to prove anything to anyone. She's lived. She knows you might not be on her level, but somehow you feel at ease about it. Yes, she has all the resources in the world, but what she values above all else, as each episode demonstrates, is friendship and loyalty.
PAPER caught up with Shay shortly before her milestone birthday to learn more about her bougie lifestyle, the fashion tea we all want to know and who the hell was the owner of that penis pump.
I don't know how much you're aware of this, but the general consensus from everyone about the show is that you're the fan-favorite, like everyone is just in love with you! What do you make of that reaction?
Well, perhaps because I'm the oldest one [laughs]. No I am though, for real. I don't know. If somebody asks me about something I'm going to say it straight up, nothing to hide. I don't really like gossiping. If you're gonna offend somebody, yes I will counter back. I'm not sure why the fans singled me out, but I want thank everybody that has been there for me on Instagram and social media, and even on my emails. It's just all very new to me.
The show was obviously filmed pre-COVID. I don't know if you watched it back but seeing how everything was like before — the parties, the traveling — and how different things are now, what are your thoughts looking back at that and how much life has changed since then for you?
Well, obviously you can't go out to events or any of the usual social obligations. But you know, thinking about this, everything happens for a reason. I don't mean it in that people die for a reason, no. I'm saying that, just taking the show in context, maybe it was supposed to be where we could take a moment to regroup, in my case, learn social media. My mother used to say, "For everything bad, good will come from it." Maybe so that we can finally get to know each other, one on one.
One of the biggest storylines this season was your relationship with Christine [Chiu]. A lot of people were living for your petty interactions and how you both handled each other's rich-woman shade. What would you say are some of the reasons why you two have your moments? Is it like a cultural thing? Is it old money versus new money?
We had met years and years ago and I thought she was fun, funny, cute. What she wanted in life, I can't tell you, or her goals. I don't really think about her. I didn't know that there was so much rivalry, on my part, not really. I just kind of answered once you threw something out. I would try to answer, because a lot of times I was quite surprised. That's not to say everybody has to love everybody. I mean reality is reality and you keep it real. I can't tell you what her goals were.
By the way, I read somewhere that the penis pump wasn't actually in your personal bathroom, but in one of your guest bathrooms. Did you ever figure out whose it was or did you already know whose it belonged to and you were just embarrassed?
Well, when it went out the window, my first thought was, Oh my god, did it hit somebody? This is a liability. My second thought was, Where is my security, because nobody should be walking around the house, right? My third thought was, Why did these people just walk around the house? Everything was outside. It was a spa day, so to speak. And I was having a garden party outside. So why are you walking around inside? We do have a gardener downstairs, two in fact. So I think it's a bit rude but I'm not their teacher. Do I know whose it was? Not really. Did I have a guest during that time? Yes, but they knew I was filming so they wouldn't be around, and yeah I'm not going to say hey to this person. But I don't know.
Speaking of your house, do you usually do yoga in the foyer, or was it just for that scene that you guys filmed? I thought that was a rather interesting location. Also, you guys were using bath mats instead of real yoga mats.
That's because I've never really done yoga, only a couple of times. Russell Brand introduced me to yoga. People always say that you might enjoy doing it, but I'll just be sitting there thinking of the million things that I have to do that I'm not doing which drives me crazy. I don't know why we did it in the foyer to be honest, we could have done it outside. Why we couldn't do it in our living room, I don't know.
Your BFF French boy Florent [Bonadei] plays a big role in your life. How did that friendship come about?
I met him when I walked into a Valentino store during Fashion Week — I hadn't been there, it was usually my mom who shopped a lot at Valentino back in the day — and he was working there at the time and we immediately clicked. We ordered pizza and I would serve him. He's now at Boucheron. But I think what drew me to him is that he always keeps it real, I think, back to your other question. And that's what it is with Florent. He'll say what he wants to say.
How closely do you keep up with the fashion industry as someone who wields a lot of purchase power?
Well, you know they change designers and sometimes the designer is not as good as the one before, for example. And so I don't particularly like their style or their style doesn't like me. In other words. It's not like the mannequins, you can't just walk in and say I like that mannequin. Well, mannequins might look great with it, but does that mean I'm going to look great with it. When I go shopping, it's really about feeling, and fabric, and the design.
Dior is a label mentioned a lot in the show. I'm curious, were you more of a fan of maybe Raf Simons' Dior or do you like Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior better?
Definitely Raf. I mean that moment, it was unbelievable. You didn't really know which way he was going to go, but he kept respect for the house of Dior against all odds. My mother, like I said before, was a big Valentino shopper, and this was when Maria Grazia was still there [with Pierpaolo Piccioli] and I remember trying on a skirt from them the day I met Florent and he kept saying, "Anna you got this you got this," and I said, "No I don't think I've got this." I think she's a great designer, but everyone has their own style. It is not for me to say this person makes a house. The house has been there for so long.
Are there any other brands that speak to you?
I think Ralph & Russo is so feminine and it's just beautiful couture. I hosted Tamara [Ralph, co-founder of the brand] at my home for a dinner party after seeing her at Fashion Week. My mother would always tell me, "You can love as many designers as you want, but be yourself, don't let the clothes wear you." So I would, for example, wear a Chanel suit with t-shirts from Target. Target makes great t-shirts. I'm very loyal to certain houses, especially jewelry. Boucheron, for example. My mother wore it. My family, my father and my mom would go to Boucheron and only Boucheron.
What do you miss most about Fashion Week? The Haute Couture shows are digital-only this season yet again.
Yeah, all my couture appointments are online and via email. I miss seeing and talking to the designers that have become my friends over the years. And I miss hosting a party for them. I would always host a party for various designers to say thank you for inviting me, thank you for including me. Just because I've spent a lot of money shopping doesn't mean I need to buy them. I think that's what people need to understand that money doesn't buy everything. I enjoyed saying thank you to them. I would always host a party and of course Florent would be right there helping.
And finally, did you ever get the placenta from that other woman?
No! I'm still looking for it. If you know anybody who's pregnant, please, please get me in touch. [laughs]
Photos courtesy of Netflix
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