‘Last Empress Of Fashion’ Film Tells The Real Life, Rags-To-Riches Story Of A Russian Entrepreneur Who Built A $100M Fashion Empire.

There are some people who live lives and have stories that we find ourselves reacting with comments such as “this should be made into a movie!” or “Hollywood couldn’t even make this up!”. Mila Anufrieva is a woman whose life story can be summed up by both of those statements. And now her life IS being made into a Hollywood movie, called ‘The Last Empress of Fashion‘.

Mila’s story is unique as it is compelling. She was born into a poor family in Russia but ended up building a $100M luxury fashion empire before turning 30. She has survived stage 3 cancer even thought doctors gave her a 99% death prognosis. She survived a KGB conspiracy to take her down after they hijacked her whole business empire. She fled to Italy with the help of one of the KGB spies who was against the plot to kill her. In 2017 she became the first Russian woman in history to be named an ambassador of Made In Italy. Today she takes care of over 170 orphaned and trafficked children in Guinea-Bissau.

Mila has dressed some of the most high profile celebrities in the world such as Sting, Bill Clinton and Claudia Schiffer, and became a respected name in the fashion world among notable designers such as Fendi, Lanvin, Valentino and more. When we heard about Mila’s story, we were intrigued and wanted to know more. So not only did we get a chance to speak with her, but also Gala Pawl who is the director and executive producer of the film. The team are raising awareness and money through an Indiegogo campaign. Watch this video and read the interview below.


How did you first learn about Mila’s story and become involved with the film production?

GP: I am sure that no producer – especially a female producer – would miss such a story. It’s a historic fact that Mila was the first person to create a luxury fashion empire in her homeland and to discover most luxury fashion brands for millions of people.

She was dressing 99% celebrities, politicians, showbiz stars and TV anchors making a huge impact on how stylish and westernized they looked and how beautiful, attractive and self-confident they felt. Her stores were a sort of The Hermitage in the field of fashion where many people would come simply to take a look at the works of art – the High Fashion, the luxury fashion. Even in the hard times the young Russia had passed through her boutiques were the source of inspiration and hope for many, a sort of a lighthouse during a nasty storm. But not many know what a life she had and how many obstacles she overcame, how many battles she had won. 

So when I had to choose which story to produce of course I decided to devote all my time and efforts to Mila’s biopic – as a director as well. Though in this case as a producer I’ve made an important decision to split documentary and live action directing with one of the most talented award-winning directors – Michael Vaynberg, so that I could focus on what I am good at while he makes the re-enactment scenes of the film simply brilliant, because he truly is an amazing director.

Director and Producer of ‘The Last Empress of Fashion’ Gala Pawl

The story reads like a cross between ‘Devil Wears Prada’ and Angelina Jolie’s ‘Salt’. Except Mila’s story is REAL. What aspects of her life are you hoping to highlight the most?

GP: The main message I want to deliver is simple: follow your dreams and never give up. There’s no challenge or test in life others have not had before you. So whenever you’re stuck or want to surrender to circumstances – watch Mila’s story and see that a woman can overcome so much!

What I personally love the most and would like to highlight is that Mila had started with absolutely the same or similar conditions most of us have: an ordinary family, no super-stellar connections or multi-million dollar trust funds, an absolutely usual town unsuitable for dreams like hers. But having started as an underdog she used every bit of her talent, skills and ability to work hard to achieve what she got.

Almost anyone from anywhere can see herself in this description: be it a girl born in Kentucky and dreamed of acting like Jennifer Lawrence – or in Lousiana in the family of ex-slaves like Sarah Breedlove, the first female millionaire in the US history – an African American woman by the way. Even Oprah Winfrey who I adore was not born as a celebrity or a superstar – she made herself one. So your origin matters not as much as your sincere efforts.

Mila with Linda Evangelista
Mila with Claudia Schiffer

Not vileness, not deadly illness, not even the KGB plot nor betrayal of close friends – nothing could stop Mila from being and staying herself. So when you encounter problems – do your best to deal with them and reach for the stars.

Having understood that you can’t excuse your inability to get what you want by not having the money or the ties or whatever else you see you life gets better or more understandable at the very least. Only the lack of persistence and hard work are the true reasons. Or saying it simpler – it is You who can stop You on the way to success. Mila’s story highlights it really good.

We’re seeing a rise in the number of female directors and female-driven stories in Hollywood. Why is it important for you to be part of such a project like this? 

GP: As an executive producer I did not notice any difference in the amount of talent between male and female professionals I had worked with. So the first thing I am looking for is always the Story: and you either have it or not. We’ve pitched this biopic to a number of financiers and Hollywood producers recently, and all they say the same thing: there IS a story and you don’t need to add or subtract anything from it.

Of course it is great that this story is female-driven, and it’s superb that nowadays the society is ready to perceive the truth that women are truly amazing. Films like this fortify the understanding that women are as capable as men, but in Mila’s case the message is way broader: it is not targeted at women or girls only – it tells any viewer, any person to believe in him- or herself, to be strong and… having reached what you dreamed of – to help those in need. So every aspect of this biography is fascinating.

Mila Anufrieva with actress Mila Jovovich

Mila’s story also speaks to the current #MeToo movement, as she has been a victim of powerful men in business. What message do you hope to portray with this aspect of her life?

GP: The hardest thing in any conflict is to make yourself heard. In case of systematic problems we really need to unite in large groups to attract the attention we need – and history itself proves it really works. From that point of view #MeToo and #TimesUp are doing the right thing – no matter what kind of whispers there are behind their backs.

What vile people are afraid of the most is being brought into the spotlight. While you think that keeping a low profile is better you choose being a victim, not a fighter – it creates the perfect conditions for bullying or even taking you down.

In Mila’s case the Internet had not – yet – been such a big thing, was not a source of the invisible power, the projector that highlights the ugliness in what people do. But she fought with every tool that had been available. But sometimes even this is not enough – sometimes the foes are really powerful, like in case with the famous producer/actress or producer/director schemes that made women create the MeToo movement.

I  think the message is that silently surrendering to vileness is not right – especially in our times. So I really want to inspire girls, women and any people out there not to feel alone or stay alone – to find someone who’d help, who’d listen and who’d believe you. And of course I want to inspire everyone to go public – because if you do not, your offender will, and Mila’s story will show that the foes even had the negative media coverage planned beforehand. 

As a director and producer, what barriers have you personally faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Any producer and director has only one barrier: to find someone who would believe in you as a professional and in the story you have found and trying to produce. I like the idea of ‘if you can’t find a job giveyourself a job’ – that’s a 100% directing/producing approach!

What I’ve come to understand is that you must never refuse any offers or possibilities to put a foot in a door: many successful people I know accent the same thing – a party they had no mood to attend to but still did, a seemingly unprofitable request or a seemingly useless contact led them to who they are at the moment. So say YES more often and be nice to the people.

And the second simple rule is: the shortest route is almost never the fastest. So speaking of me I am overcoming many obstacles by finding my way through or around them – whichever path is most effective in each specific situation. And it works.

Mila with the Gucci Family

When do you anticipate the film being finished and ready for release?

The film will be ready in 2019, but I’m not sure what the wide release date will be because every major festival wants an exclusive premiere. Please follow the project and news on @TheLastEmpressOfFashion Instagram. Also anyone can get a personal VIP premiere ticket or a film copy on our campaign page: igg.me/at/FilmAboutMila

There you can also get a perk of meeting Mila, me or Michael Vaynberg in person, get directing classes or even become an associate or co-producer of our movie.


Your life is a rags-to-riches story, with plenty of adventure and struggles along the way. What are you excited about most when it comes to the film being made about your life?

What makes me happy the most is the fact that making this a Hollywood story will help a large number of women and people in general to see it for themselves and understand a very important rule of life: you must never give up, no matter what life throws at you.

We hear this a lot during our lives but I am sure that seeing that this rule really works in real situations with a real woman will make a more powerful impact. It is especially important for those who have fought or who are fighting with any kind of serious illness: when everything seems crumbling down and you think nothing is going to work anymore. In such moments it is hard to believe that you – specifically you – will win, will survive, and in these very moments any story that proves it is possible is the ray of light and hope you need.

I will be really excited both to see more and more talented women chasing their dreams against all the odds and more people winning in deadly fights. This is what my story’s about.

Mila Anufrieva in Guinea Bissau

Although you were born into poverty you are a self-made business woman who built a $100M fashion empire before the age of 30. But you also had to battle forces that didn’t want you to succeed. What would you say to aspiring businesswomen who feel like the odds are stacked against them?

I built my company from a scratch, step by step. On the peak of success its evaluation reached 250 million dollars, and I am sure the results would have been even better if I was not taken down by the foes with almost limitless power and connections. But I lost a battle, not a war because as you can see I am still in the business and this is the grain of truth you understand thanks to experience: 

In the hardest moments a lot of advisers suddenly appear around you – and each of them knows the only right way out of your crisis. But since you managed to create your business and make it successful thanks to your wisdom and intuition – continue listening to yourself in the first place, not to these other people. When you shift your focus it is very easy to get carried away by someone else’s ideas that will lead you to the collapse.

Mila Anufrieva in Guinea Bissau

How did a cancer diagnosis reevaluate your priorities in life? 

It absolutely did influence the reevaluation of my priorities: I had been told I had no chance for treatment and only 2 months left to live – and the first reaction was panic. But after I have found the surgeon who agreed to treat my illness, and after he succeeded I started wondering: ‘Why me?’

If I’ve received the second chance, it should have some purpose. And at this moment the most important thing is to understand what should it be. Having survived I started paying more attention to pleas and requests: when people approach me sincerely asking for something I do my best to help them out. It’s a pity that some try using it for their own benefits though. What is absolutely true is that surviving stage III cancer changed every aspect of my perception of life, of people, of everything.

Today you are taking care of orphans who would’ve otherwise become victims of trafficking and the criminal world. What do you hope for their futures? 

Coming to Guinea-Bissau was the result of accepting one of the requests I had received. I went there on a business trip but deep inside I had totally understood it would not be about business at all. So when I had been asked if I wanted to see these kids I instantly replied yes. I understood it’s the beginning of the new path: and if I make this step there’d be no way back.

So when I had seen these kids – so small and so fragile – everything turned upside down inside me. I can’t say for sure what would their future be, but their life was not easy at all. Having spent a reasonable amount of time in this country I notice that even though people there are very poor they try to organize their lives, to follow rules. But their poverty is the result of the situation that had been being created for centuries – so that African people lived specifically like that.

My mission is to help them: to feed, to educate – but strategically thinking my goal is to change their lives and the lives of people in Africa in general. To help them live the other way. I do sincerely want to dedicate my life to Africa, to changing the lives of as many children as I am able to – that’s why I created Mila4Africa foundation. I’ll do what I’m capable to help them discover their talents, to find a profession they’ll like and a job they’ll love. I believe that every gifted child must have the chance to prove himself.

But as a realist I understand that safety’s in numbers and I really need as much support as possible: I need more people in my team, more backing, more publicity and everything that would result in attracting the necessary attention to the problem. So if you want to help – feel free to contact me, to stretch a helping hand together with me to those in need.

What do you hope audiences will enjoy the most when they see your life story being played out on the big screen?

I feel that the very story of how I survived it all will surprise the audience because the hardest thing in life is to break out of the state you are in after a whole number of awful things happen to you. I don’t think that people neither would enjoy seeing how I earned a lot of money and how rich I had been at some point – it’s not a big surprise in our days, nor they’d be too impressed with the way situations are dealt with in Russia.

To me the most enjoyable thing is seeing how a person comes back to ‘normal life’ after a series of disasters: you have to learn to believe in yourself again, to believe that everything can be and definitely will be alright – this is what most of us find the hardest and the most enjoyable at the same time. You will see that in my story – and I hope it will help you to find powers in yourself to achieve any goal in your life.

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