PERHAPS THE ONLY REAL SURPRISE IS that it took so long to happen. After all, there are few things any show business marketer worth his cellular phone likes better than a proven formula. And what formula has proved more successful than Madonna's? So why not rev up the clone-crazy, sequel-happy hype machine and package someone in the blond bomber's image?

Well, meet Natasha Alexandrovna, 27, a raven-haired, pouty-lipped, Russian-born model who has appeared on the covers of European editions of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, as well as in more than 200 other magazines around the world. Now being frenetically promoted as a pop singer in America, she strikes her poses onstage at dance clubs these days wearing little more than net stockings, a shocking-red bra and a Soviet army hat. Not exactly traditional Russian dressing, but familiar enough to Americans to have sparked comparisons in the media to the divine Miss C.

"They always want to put you in a category in America," laments Natasha (in yet another show of homage, she too has dropped her last name) in a smoky Slavic purr. "But it drives me crazy because Madonna and I have nothing in common. OK, she's very sensual and so am I. But I think every woman is sexy if she puts her mind to it."

Despite mild protestations to the contrary. Natasha's Madonna-like mix of leather and lingerie—and her reliance on Russian kitsch—is just a touch transparent. She is managed by ubersalesman James Vail, who has engineered sponsorship deals for Julio Iglesias and the Rolling Stones. In 1989, Vail spotted Natasha singing in a Montreux, Switzerland, nightclub shortly after she had given up her $100,000-a-year modeling career because, she explain-, she was "bored." They have worked together ever since. "Natasha is somebody you can package into a star," says Vail. "She has that thing. That star thing." Veteran songwriter Ben Weisman agrees. "She can sing and project beautifully," says the man who wrote dozens of hit songs (including "Rock-a-Hula Baby") for Elvis. "Her voice has today's sound, and I can see her potential."

Like Madonna in her early years, Natasha has been embraced by avant-garde gays: Last year she sang at 20 gay clubs across the country, and "she has a big gay following," says Vail. "We don't mind," he adds. "It's chic to have that in the beginning."

Cynical or no, his tactics seem to be working: A collection of techno-dance tunes, Russian Revolution, Natasha's first English album, will be released by BGM Records on Feb. 15. A 30-country tour is in the works, and the 5'7", 110-lb. capitalist has a six-figure deal with PepsiCo to promote Priviet vodka in the U.S. Acting is also on her wish list; last year she had a bit part as a hoofer-for-hire in a low-budget film called Taxi Dancers (no release date yet). "I want to be bigger than life," she confesses. "To be my own woman. And of course to be very wealthy."

Though Natasha has cleverly made the most of her Soviet connection, when it comes to her background, it's not easy to separate fact from, well, PR. As she tells it, her childhood years in Leningrad were extraordinary: The family's main residence was a five-bedroom house on an estate that included stables and a swimming pool. There was a pied-à-terre in the city, a country house in Poland and another flat in Berlin. Trained as a mathematician, her mother, Alexandra, owned beauty salons in Russia, Poland and Paris. Her father, Slavic, who died in 1981, was a politician who used his position to become a remarkably successful black-market businessman.

By Natasha's account, the family, including her older brother and younger sister, moved to Warsaw when she was 11, and at 16, she defected to Italy by simply taking the train to Milan. "My father had been planning it for years, to get me to America by way of Italy. We had lots of friends there," says Natasha, who immediately began modeling and two years later, in 1983, moved to New York City. For the past four years she has divided her time between an art-filled condo in Marina del Rey, Calif., and a chateau near Montreux.

While one look at Natasha is enough to tell you she's no red square, she claims to have been living for the last year, as Madonna might put it, like a virgin. "When couples have good sex, a lot of times it destroys their relationship: They have obsessions, crazy energy, crazy jealousy. That has happened to me. So a year ago I said, 'Let me try celibacy.' " Though she still dates, she says she has stuck to her guns. How does she like it? "It's...different," she says with a laugh. "But the spiritual side is more important for me now." Madonna couldn't have said it better. Then again, maybe she wouldn't have tried.

CRAIG HOROWITZ
JOHN HANNAH in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • John Hannah.