Luxury Shopping: Moscow
Written by Oryx
US writer, Russian historian, and handbag enthusiast Jennifer Eremeeva has lived in Moscow for 20 years. US photographer and enthusiastic fashionista Lisa Shukov has made the Russian capital her home for eight years. Join them on a tour of Moscow’s elegant downtown shopping district.
There was a time when, if you had a hankering for retail therapy in Moscow, you headed out to the airport to catch a flight to Paris or Milan. How times change! A stroll through the centre of Russia’s capital city showcases Moscow’s myriad luxury boutiques and department stores, decorated in their finest for a season of gift-giving, which begins in late December and runs to International Women’s Day on March 8.
Economic prosperity and frequent international travel have fostered luxury brand loyalty for post-Soviet Russians and fuelled their appetite for cars, couture clothing and accessories, home furnishings, and jewellery. In the past decade, upscale retailers and brands have flocked to Moscow, where, perhaps somewhat to their surprise, they found the roots of a vigorous mercantile tradition still extant in Moscow. They certainly did not need to invent an elegant shopping district from scratch. One already existed.
Moscow’s merchant history
In the 19th century, St Petersburg, and not Moscow, was the capital of the Russian Empire. Removed from the bureaucracy, politics, and intrigue of the Tsar’s court, Moscow became Russia’s thriving commercial centre and, importantly, its railway hub. As merchant fortunes grew in the latter half of the 19th century, upper- and middle-class appetites for luxury goods became the basis of an ambitious retail building boom. The narrow streets around the Kremlin were transformed; market stalls gave way to the elegant façades of boutiques, selling furs, haberdashery, imported foodstuffs, wines and spirits, jewellery, watches, and luxury household goods.
A tale of two titans: GUM and TsUM
The culmination of the building boom was the construction of two landmark department stores. In contrast to Western-style St Petersburg, Moscow had always stubbornly retained its ‘Russian’ look and feel in both its dress and architecture, so it is not surprising that the popular neo-Gothic style, featuring aspects of medieval Russian architecture, prevailed in both buildings.
Running along one side of Moscow’s Red Square is GUM, today home to approximately 200 stores, including Cartier, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. GUM is a marvellous example of an enduring retail tradition: for centuries, rows of individual market stalls operated on the spot of the present-day building. Construction of a unified department store began in the 1880s and the ‘Upper Trading Stalls’ opened with much ceremony in December 1893. St Petersburg architect Alexander Pomerantsev successfully fused the soaring height of a European arcade with the organic layout of the original market stalls. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the store was nationalised, and re-christened ‘Gosudarstvennyi Universalnyi Magazin’ (State Department Store), but it is always better known by its Russian acronym, ‘GUM’. (Be sure to pronounce it correctly: it rhymes with ‘loom’, not ‘tum’.) During the Soviet era, GUM’s empty shelves and surly salespeople were a potent symbol of the stagnating Soviet economy. In the post-perestroika era, however, GUM has prospered and flourished under the private management of Russia’s luxury manager, Bosco di Ciliegi. Whether you are tracking down a hot new handbag or just window-shopping, GUM, re-christened yet again as the ‘Glavniy’ or ‘main’ department store, is a must-see in Moscow.
Nearby TsUM, or ‘Central Department Store’, has a similar history and an equally impressive range of premium goods throughout its six floors. TsUM was originally known as ‘Muir & Mirrieles’ and opened its doors at its current location, just opposite the Bolshoi Theatre, in 1906. After a major renovation in 2007, TsUM re-opened as Eastern Europe’s largest department store.
Tretyakovsky Proezd, Petrovka Street, Kuznetsky Most, and Stoleshnikov Pereulok
From TsUM, it is a short walk to an enclosed street, which is arguably Moscow’s most sumptuous retail location. Resplendent in its original 1870s neo-Gothic architecture, Tretyakovsky Proezd is home to Prada, Graff, Yves Saint Laurent, and Gucci, as well as the Bentley, Maserati, and Ferrari dealerships. Further up, elegant Petrovka Street, and pedestrian streets, Stoleshnikov Pereulok and Kuznetsky Most, are flanked with stylish boutiques including Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Loro Piana, and others.
Izmailovo and Arbat Street: antiques, books, and souvenirs:
If you are looking for something very Russian, head over to colourful Arbat Street, a delightfully unspoilt pedestrian thoroughfare lined with 19th-century buildings and stores stocked with traditional Russian arts and crafts. Talk to the pleasant English-speaking staff about souvenirs, such as matryoshka, or nesting dolls, lacquer-ware, delicate porcelain and ceramics from the Imperial China Factory, woollen scarves, amber jewellery, reproduction Fabergé eggs, and a charming array of Christmas tree ornaments. Book, painting, and print shopping are also popular on Arbat, as is antique shopping, but be aware that anything made before 1945 needs a permit from the Ministry of Culture to leave the country.
If time permits, and particularly if you are in Moscow at the weekend, a visit to Izmailovo Vernissage, Moscow’s sprawling outdoor souvenir market, is sure to delight. About a 25-minute subway ride from central Moscow, here you will find a wide range of souvenirs, bric-a-brac, and colourful people-watching experiences as you stroll through Izmailovo’s bustling stalls, drink tea from a traditional samovar, or sample some Central Asian barbecue.
Food and drink:
Downtown Moscow’s luxury shopping district is a compact area, but should you feel like taking a break, here are some of our favourite restaurants and cafés:
For fantastic views of Moscow and Red Square:
Conservatory Lounge and Bar, Ararat Park Hyatt Hotel, 4 Neglinnaya Street