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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In the Spotlight: Tales From 'Leaders' Wives'

This month’s Harper’s Bazaar gives eight pages to the luscious wife of the president of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva. It’s supposedly an interview about her opening a museum of modern art in Baku, but the emphasis is on photos of her swishing around in Dior and Lanvin, looking extraordinarily slim and young for a mother of three. She also faces a barrage of searching questions, such as, “Where did you buy your hat for when you met the queen?”

The glossy magazines seem to quite like this kind of “leaders’ wives” story — Tatler did an expose of Uzbekistan’s first daughter, Gulnara Karimova, in August — after all, the locations are good and the model provides her own jewelry. In this case, Aliyeva poses in a metal belt, bracelet and earrings from the Azerbaijan Historical Museum, no less. But if you want a searing analysis of the political situation in Azerbaijan, where Aliyeva’s husband Ilham took over power from his father Heidar in a controversial election, and has a son called Heidar in the wings, then look elsewhere.

Aliyeva says she was 19 when she had the first of her three children. Her two daughters Arzu and Leila went to school in London from the age of 9 and 11, and Arzu is still studying there, Aliyeva said. “At that time, my father-in-law Heidar Aliyevich Aliyev was president of Azerbaijan, and naturally we had a certain lifestyle.” She doesn’t say much about Heidar Junior, although she mentions that he got a swimming badge.

The daughters take part in the photo shoot in little black dresses, heels and lashings of dark eye makeup. They also reveal that they both wear the same dress size as their mother, and sometimes they swap clothes.

Leila speaks disparagingly of the way people dress in London — “put on jeans and trainers, and you’re ready” — adding that, “In Moscow and Baku it’s the custom to take your wardrobe more seriously.”

Leila is known as a Moscow socialite, since she is married to Emin Agalarov, an aspiring crooner who works with his father, the owner of Crocus City Mall. She also edits a glossy magazine for the Azeri diaspora in Moscow called Baku.

This month, in her letter from the editor, Leila waxes lyrical about the city of Baku — saying that it has “strong energy” and is even possibly “a portal to the astral spheres.” More prosaically, she recommends the local tomatoes.

Baku — the magazine — uneasily shares supermarket shelf space with a similar magazine for the Armenian diaspora, imaginatively titled Yerevan.

Strangely, the question about the hat for the queen prompted a brusque response from Aliyeva — after all it was rather ignorant of the journalist not to know that it wasn’t a state visit, and so a hat wasn’t required. But she opened up about her tastes in architecture and old carpets. Her husband, Aliyev, has reconstructed Baku, and Aliyeva said, “I can give advice, suggest a color range or shape — that’s my role.” Baku was always beautiful, she said, but “what we see today is already a subject of pride for all Baku residents.”

Asked whether she likes the country’s traditional carpets, Aliyeva explained, “I don’t have any weakness for material objects,” but on the whole she doesn’t. “Old carpets belong in a museum,” she says.

Aliyeva says she has got to grips with the Internet, thanks to her daughters.

Interestingly, a report on the photo shoot appeared on Russian gossip site Spletnik.ru last week, complete with hundreds of more or less bitchy comments from readers, including one saying that Aliyev rules a country of “paupers.” This week, the report had mysteriously disappeared from the site, although it was still visible on a cached version.