The notion of luxury in Russia has undergone and is undergoing major changes. Hence the outside world confronts many clichés and misunderstandings about the Russian luxury consumer.
Moscow is rightly considered the Russian epicenter of luxury, as about 90 percent of the country’s wealth is concentrated here. But cities like St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Saratov – let alone the former Soviet republics – are showing their own manner of developing and understanding luxury.
What does luxury mean today in Moscow? First of all, it is freedom to choose exactly what one wants. It is by no means limited to buying the latest collection piece from Bottega Veneta or jewelry by Chopard or Cartier. The most important element of luxury in Russia is the spirit of “more”.
For everyday luxury, there are surprisingly sophisticated shopping spots, from TsUM, one of the biggest department stores in Europe and known as the Barneys New York of Moscow, to the multibrand jewelry boutique Podium.
Most of the shopping areas are near the Kremlin, the historical heart of Moscow, and are European in design and layout, with the fashion brands ranging from the long-beloved Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana to the newly popular Joseph Altuzarra and Alexander Wang. The sophistication of buyers and consumers is growing by the day. There is a slim chance you’ll see a Russian woman clad in full-on Versace, as the Western cliché goes. But more likely is a cool mix of slashed J Brand jeans with a Rick Owens tank top, Chanel jacket, Rondini sandals and a Céline bag.
There is a visible interest in Russian designers, and the younger they are, the better. A personal relationship with the designer gives you a chance to look fashionable, sometimes edgy and also to show that you are in the know. A red cashmere cocktail dress by Teplov; a multicolored floor-length dress, inspired by the Russian avant-garde, by Nina Donis; beautifully cut crèpe-de-Chine dresses by Vardoui Nazarian — all of these make a bold statement.
A twist on luxury awareness and consumption is taking place in modern and contemporary art, spurred by the success of the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, started by Daria Zhukova.
Meanwhile, a recently opened arts center called Art Strelka already attracts some of the coolest members of the twentysomething generation. They listen to music performances or talks given by leading art dealers, curators, designers and philosophers. Is it luxury? Yes, in the way the young generation chooses to take it in. These are the people who will soon be deciding what to call luxury. At Art Strelka or the Garage Center it is less about the money and more about knowledge, ambition and a sense of belonging.
The “more” effect on luxury is also reflected in Moscow’s architecture, which has been a sore point for many years. Founded in the 12th century, the city has undergone dramatic changes. The crazy eclecticism allowed an ambitious young real estate developer, Vladislav Doronin of Capital Group, to erect his super-modern, elegant buildings in one of the oldest parts of central Moscow. It is pure luxury to be able to look out of your floor-to-ceiling windows in a 200-square-meter, or about 2,100-square-foot, apartment and see three charming churches, one monastery, Tsvetnoi Boulevard with the Moscow circus and a new department store, Tsvetnoy Central Market, that offers the best international and Russian fashion designers.
The economic crisis made people more conscious of their luxury spending. But it did not distort the belief of wealthy Russians that if you are going to spend money on anything, spend it on the best.
Aliona Doletskaya was the editor of Vogue Russia from 1998 to summer 2010.
Rumor — Aliona Doletskaya In Pursuit of POP Editor Position?
>> Founding Vogue Russia editor Aliona Doletskaya resigned from her position at the end of July — with her final issue of the magazine hitting stands for September 2010 — without delineating any future plans other than notifying Condé Nast International president Jonathan Newhouse that, in his words, she would like to "start a new life, probably to write a book or try her hand in a new field." Not much has been heard from Doletskaya since — save for a recent byline in the New York Times on luxury in Russia — but late last week, Derek Blasberg Tweeted, "In today's completely unsubstantiated rumors: Aliona Doletskaya, former editor-in-chief of Russian Vogue, is vying for the top gig at POP." Dasha Zhukova resigned from the POP position earlier this month. [@derekblasberg]