Case Study #8: “Almost Naked” Party-Goers Get a Dressing Down

by Tigran Martirosian and Sam Schechter, 2024

Walking through the Wrong Door

“In the life of every person comes a moment when he walks through a wrong door,” said Philipp Kirkorov, one of Russia’s prominent pop artists, who attended the now-infamous “Almost-Naked Party” in nothing but a glittery see-through jumpsuit and underpants. These words perfectly described the pall of tearful apologies, annulled sponsorships, and brief jail sentences that these almost naked party-goers experienced.

Celebrity influencer and television personality Anastasia Ivleyeva invited the elites of Russian pop culture to a themed “almost-naked” party on December 20th, 2023, at the Mutabor Club in Moscow (Jankowicz, 2023), with tickets reportedly costing a million rubles each (approximately US $11,000) (Meduza, 2023).

The event drew attendees from diverse backgrounds, featuring public figures known for shaping cultural opinions for decades. Each of these figures had a prominent spotlight in Russian pop culture. The scantily-clad stars wore flesh-colored mesh, lace, lingerie, or even less (Sauer, 2023). Ksenia Sobchak, rumored to be President Vladimir Putin’s goddaughter, was also in attendance (Sauer, 2023).

However, a new red line was unwittingly crossed, as the raunchy celebrity-studded party prompted outrage among conservative Russian audiences. Waking up with a hangover–of the worst political kind—is how some of Russia’s top celebrities started the New Year.

This came at a critical time for Russia, just as the nation approached the two-year mark of its military campaign in Ukraine and faced a presidential vote in March, 2024. Russia’s crusaders for traditional values found a new battleground, and nudity of all kinds became a target (Hartog, 2024). The party prompted Yekaterina Mizulina, the ultra-patriotic head of the Safe Internet League, a pseudo-NGO, to call it “a cynical act … at a time when our men are dying in the special military operation, and many children are losing their fathers” (para.8).

The situation was unprecedented, but the blowback was immediate and severe. Pro-Kremlin bloggers, state media, and Orthodox Christian groups led a fierce backlash that dominated headlines for days (Osborne, 2023). Following the event, at least six participants publicly apologized, expressing regrets and/or implausible defenses.

Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said that the event “stained” the participants, but offered an opportunity to party-goers to reflect and improve themselves (Osborne, 2023). As the conservative outrage piled up, police raided Mutabor Club on December 21st, 2023 (Hartog, 2024).

Celebrity Scandal, Response, and Consequences

In the public relations aftermath, some party-goers made strategic communications decisions towards maintaining their previously trusting relationships with audiences, while others made terrible decisions. Either through skill or folly, all of these individuals showcased the importance of trustworthy public relations and protecting and restoring one’s reputation.

To start with, Anastasia Ivleyeva, who had 18 million Instagram followers, said the event was the premiere of her photography project, originally commissioned by the local branch of Playboy magazine (Hartog, 2024). She said the dress code was “almost naked” and that guests were given the freedom to interpret that as they saw fit.

No doubt true, but she could have anticipated controversy and avoided some of these potential outcomes by, for instance, asking attendees not to film the event. And, once the controversy erupted, Ivleyeva counterproductively took a defensive stance. “It was just beautiful people in beautiful outfits, half-naked. When we look at beautiful, slender models in the West, we say, ‘D**n, they’re so beautiful, they’re so cool.’ And our beautiful, fit artists go out, and everyone is like, ‘F***, how could they! Showbiz has gone downhill’,” she wrote the day after the party (later deleting the post) (Meduza, 2023). The response failed to understand the backlash, escalating the audience’s dissatisfaction.

Within days, partygoers began issuing public apologies for attending the event. One of the first to do so, on December 24th, was Ivleyeva herself, promising to donate the proceeds from ticket sales to charitable causes. However, because Ivleyeva did not specify which charitable causes, audiences questioned the legitimacy, transparency, and authenticity of the apology. Soon after, Russia’s largest mobile network operator, MTS, removed Ivleyeva from its list of brand ambassadors, while one of the largest banks, Tinkoff, ended its contract with her.

On December 21st, Russian television anchor and journalist Ksenia Sobchak, who attended the party, issued a half-hearted apology with some mixed messaging (Borisenko, 2023). However, the audience was not accepting half-hearted apologies. Because of her public profile, Sobchak was under enormous pressure from government leaders. On December 26th, Sobchak issued a new, more complete and direct apology. Her initial comments and subsequent apology can be seen as a response to the pressure on her, which showcases the Kremlin’s influence over media and public individuals during critical events.

For Philipp Kirkorov, pressure came publicly and directly from President Putin’s press secretary. Kirkorov responded by downplaying his motivations and lying about how long he attended the party (which was promptly exposed as a lie) (Borisenko, 2023). The rationale behind such an attempt falls short, considering the undeniable evidence presented through photographs and videos, revealing a full evening of partying that is not even close to Kirkorov’s original “dropped in for five minutes” claim (Russia Television, 2023).

Kirkorov’s self-inflicted wound underscores a crucial lesson for the realm of public relations: in a digital media landscape with constant photo and video sharing, anonymity and privacy are antiquated notions. While this person’s attempt to reduce the scale of anger by lying to society might have provided some help for the first couple of days, the collapse of his self-excuse was inevitable, worsening the relationship with the audience and the damage to himself.

Promptly, Kirkorov’s image was removed from advertising for a New Year’s comedy show and other New Year’s events were edited to remove images of Kirkorov (Ilyinsky, 2023), representing a significant attack to his personal brand.

Another implicated figure was popular singer, Dima Bilan, who posted a video on Instagram on December 26th, in which he also tried to justify the outfits of party attendees. “I knew about the dress code, but everyone had their own understanding of what that meant. Attending events is part of my profession. It’s my job. I couldn’t have known in advance what other people would wear. I can only be accountable for myself,” he said (Borisenko, 2023). Bilan’s stance aimed to reinforce his integrity, connecting his behaviour to a professional ethic. In this way, he was more successful than other attendees, as some saw this as a valid argument and not so much of a deflection of responsibility.

On December 22nd, singer and actor Lolita Milyavskaya defended the party: “This organized hate from out of the blue made me laugh. The party was ironic, not about sex, otherwise, you know, they wouldn’t have invited 60-year-olds” (Borisenko, 2023). However, with the backlash intensifying, three days later, the singer completely changed her tune, acknowledging error and taking responsibility (Borisenko, 2023).

The immediate move of other artists towards public apologies indicated a recognition of the event’s misalignment with public sentiment and the reigning political context (Borisenko, 2023).

However, the most significant case was that of rap artist Vacio, legally known as Nikolai Vasilyev, who faced legal consequences for his attire at the event. Going to the party wearing only a single white sock to cover his genitals, an homage to the famous 1987 Red Hot Chili Peppers album cover (Sauer, 2023), Vasilyev was sentenced to 15 days in prison for “disorderly conduct” and was fined 200,000 rubles (approximately US $2,200) (Al Jazeera, 2023).

The arrest of Vasilyev and charges pressed against Ivleyeva were seen as part of a wider Kremlin crackdown on LGBT+ rights across Russia (Sarkar, 2023). Beyond the fact he had apologized, there was a twist to this story: so-called Easter eggs referencing the situation were included in Vasilyev’s new video demonstrating “10 ways to destroy a Balenciaga sock” (Sablin, 2024), a form of protest often appreciated among rap enthusiasts. Despite the Easter eggs, Vasilyev publicly bowed to external pressure and aligned his public statements with apologies from other attendees. Shortly thereafter, Vasilyev was drafted into the Russian military and his jail sentence was extended by an additional 10 days (Hartog, 2024). Apparently, the wrong audience found the Easter eggs.

Learning Points

The PR strategies employed by the celebrities in response to the backlash from the “Almost-Naked Party” varied in effectiveness. While the initial reactions were met with criticism for their apparent insensitivity, the follow-up apologies and clarifications helped to soften the public’s stance and restore some degree of public trust, though the celebrities themselves were clearly less sincere and apologetic because of the controversy, rather than their actual behaviour.

The “almost naked” case study offers a range of important learning takeaways:

  • Even when in a critical situation, communicators need to recognize the responsibilities audiences perceive as being owed to them.
  • The immediacy of apologies illustrated that timing can be everything in PR. An apology that is too slow to be delivered undermines its perceived sincerity. On the other hand, an apology that is issued too quickly can seem equally insincere, as if no meaningful reflection took place.
  • Communicators should never lie to the audience. The lies are too likely to fail and the consequences are too severe. Even if other parts of the defense are true and even if the personal conduct should be seen as acceptable, the lie will taint everything else.
  • For individuals of high social status, personal brand is closely linked to public behaviour. Mistakes in social settings can lead to drastic personal brand damage.
  • Humour needs to be used carefully. Even when witty or poignant, current events may make its application unpalatable to audiences. Public speakers need to be able to “read the room” when they offer their comments.
  • If there is no key message a communicator needs to deliver, the best approach is to default to the expectations of the audience, meeting those to protect a brand and/or relationship so that future messages have a better chance of landing.
  • Cultural and political contexts must be recognized. Statements and behaviours that are usually seen as acceptable—even if minimally so—can be judged unacceptable—and harshly so—depending on the cultural and political context of the moment.
  • Openly framing comments within the principles being embraced helps audiences to understand those values and connect them within the context of the moment. A statement that appears principled, even if not aligned with the audience’s own mood, will be better received than a statement that is received as unprincipled.

Political and cultural contexts can vary intensely by country, epoch, and other variable factors. In this case, many social media users applauded the government’s crackdown on the behaviours exhibited at the party. On the other hand, others expressed more moderate sentiments, perhaps best captured by this quote from a Moscovite commenting on social media: “Those who attended had not broken any law and were free to do as they pleased at what was a private event” (Osborne, 2023).

With such a split in public opinion, communication needs to be strategic to secure positive—or at least neutral—public perceptions. Aligning communications with the audience’s demands can reduce the intensity and longevity of the crisis, maintain public trust, and ultimately help to navigate the controversy with integrity and a focus on the long-term outcomes of the crisis.


Al Jazeera. (2023, December 29). Almost naked celebrity party triggers backlash in wartime Russia.

Borisenko, L. (2023, December 28). The apologists. Novaya Gazeta Europe.

Hartog, E. (2024, January 8). Vladimir Putin’s attack dogs target influencer Anastasia Ivleyeva over almost naked party pop stars’ Russia new culture war. Politico Europe.

Ilyinsky, D. (2023, December 26). They didn’t forgive: Kirkorov was declared a complete boycott on TV.

Jankowicz, M. (2023, December 28). Russian celebs losing jobs one by one. Yahoo News.

Meduza. (2023, December 22). Russian pop stars threw themselves an exclusive party with an almost naked dress code. Here’s what happened next.

Osborne, A. (2023, December 28). Russian stars’ semi-naked party sparks wartime. Reuters.

Russia Television. (2023, December 26). Russian pop stars apologize over ‘naked party’.

Sablin, M. (2024, April 2). Vacio shows 10 ways to destroy a Balenciaga sock. Afisha Daily.

Sarkar, A.R. (2023, December 28). Rapper at ‘almost naked party’ jailed in Russia as part of Putin anti-gay crackdown. The Independent.

Sauer, P. (2023, December 28). Russian rapper jailed amid backlash over almost naked party at Moscow nightclub. The Guardian.


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