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Moscow Is Emerging Fashion Capital

January 29, 2002

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MOSCOW (AP) _ Well-heeled shoppers stroll along pristine cobblestones as workers in hard hats put finishing touches on the newest designer boutiques at Moscow’s Tretyakovsky Proyezd, which boasts of being the ``shortest and most expensive street″ in the city.

It’s not surprising that Moscow hosts the world’s fanciest brand names, having long shed its image of Soviet dowdiness. What is surprising is that Moscow boutiques are among the most successful in the world for their designers in terms of sales _ and managers say the customers aren’t just superrich ``New Russians,″ but rather members of the growing middle class.

The Moscow boutique for men’s designer Brioni was No. 1 worldwide in sales among independently run stores, the company said, and not far behind company-run boutiques in New York and Milan, Italy.

Designers around the world ``all seem to be considering the Russian market a primary target at the moment,″ Brioni chairman Umberto Angeloni said from Rome.

Moscow sales for Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and Fendi all rank near the top worldwide for the three upscale chains, according to Mercury, a Russian company operating boutiques in Moscow.

One of label Max Mara’s biggest buyers is Russian company Bosco di Ciliegi, which operates 35 high-end stores across the country, including a whole row of boutiques in the famous GUM department store on Red Square.

At Tretyakovsky Proyezd, owned by Mercury, the Giorgio Armani boutique stretches over 3 1/2 floors behind a redone 19th-century facade _ one of the biggest Armani boutiques in the world. Inside, purses under glass cases give a museum-like ambiance to the sandstone-walled rooms.

A customer zips to the door of Dolce and Gabbana in her silver Mercedes before ducking inside for some quick browsing. Gawking construction workers, meanwhile, are finishing boutiques from Prada, Bulgari and Tod’s scheduled to open in coming months _ joining those from Gucci and Ermenegildo Zegna.

All the new stores mean Russians who typically jetted to Milan or London for weekend shopping sprees increasingly are shopping in Moscow.

``People don’t need to run around the world to buy clothes now,″ Mercury commercial director Alla Verber said. ``In their own country they have more than even Paris can offer them.″

Store managers quickly dismiss notions their customers are only ``New Russians,″ the superrich who are the butt of jokes about throwing money around to show off.

Instead, they say the success of high fashion here is founded in Russians’ love of style and helped by their inclination to spend rather than save after years of economic turmoil.

``In New York, if someone buys a coat for $10,000, it means they have millions,″ said Helen Yarmak, a Russian designer of high-end furs with boutiques in Moscow and on New York’s Fifth Avenue. ``In Russia, if somebody buys for $10,000, it means they can have just $5,000 and $5,000 loaned from friends.″

Bosco di Ciliegi says it targets the upper-middle class, or those earning $1,000-$1,500 a month.

Unlike big-city boutiques around the world catering more to tourists, 95 percent of Bosco customers in Russia are locals, commercial director Timur Guguberidze said. The company counts about 30,000 purchases at its stores every month.

Polls confirm Russians are willing to pay for labels. For example, consumers here are four times more likely to spend for brand names than consumers in Britain are, Russian polling company Comcon said in its annual survey of about 36,000 middle-class people.

About 20 percent of Moscow’s 12 million residents are middle class, which Comcon defines as having a monthly income of between $300 and $2,000 per person in a family. Russians also have more to spend on nonessential goods because of low apartment rents and utility costs.

The $25,000 handmade, red Armani evening gown may be out of reach for the average customer, but store managers say people might save for months to buy shoes or an accessory item. The $80 silver key holders and $150 silver hearts at Moscow’s Tiffany and Co. store were a big hit during the holiday season.

``Not everybody can afford something very expensive, but a lot of people can afford something from one of the companies,″ Mercury’s Verber said. ``If we would only wait for the New Russians today, I don’t know how far we would go.″

Crossing through Tretyakovsky Proyezd on her way back to work at the patent office, 39-year-old Irina Dartyan insists she would never shop here, even though she considers herself middle class.

``It may be for the middle class in some other country, but not for Russians,″ she said.

But over at the Kenzo store in GUM, 17-year-old Ilya Baklanov tries on a black suit priced at $865, a 40 percent markdown. His brother Yuri, 22, a student working for a Canadian company, is buying it for him as a present.

``No matter how much a person makes, he still tries to look as good as he can,″ Yuri Baklanov said.