Russia’s Luxury Mania: Stores Grab Real Estate To Build New Empires

When the going gets tough, Russians go luxury shopping — and right now there are just a handful of major retailers snapping up all the brands.

A few years ago, when the vice president and retail director of Mercury, Alla Verber, met Americans, she would tell them her goal for the brands (such as Jil Sander and Alberta Ferretti) she imported was to “build Madison Avenue along Kutuzovsky,” the eight-lane thoroughfare that is a 10-minute drive from the Kremlin where the company had a two-story flagship emporium called Moscow Trading House.

How time flies. Now Mercury has reconstructed a 19th-century arcade, called Tretyakovsky Proyezd, and transformed it into its own 107,639-square-foot luxury shopping lane a five-minute walk from the Kremlin. Here, housed inside the classical lemon yellow and white facades of historic Moscow, there is a seemingly endless array of perfectly appointed stand-alone stores, including a three-story Armani palace with its own VIP dressing area; a Graff diamond boutique with gilded Empire chairs, and a two-story Dolce & Gabbana store complete with zebra rugs and gilded mirrors.

In the apparel and accessories category, there are also stand-alone Prada, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, Brioni, Tod’s, Zegna, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co stores. Because Muscovites are developing an interiors obsession, Mercury has also opened separate Frette, Baccarat and Armani Casa boutiques. Meanwhile its Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley dealerships, opened last year, already have become the stuff of legend.

“I heard Mercury sold 12 Bentleys the first week they opened in Moscow,” British designer Paul Smith reported this summer. Smith, whose apparel already sells in multiple brand stores in Moscow and St. Petersburg, said he is impressed by how “the Russians and the Chinese are the world’s new big spenders. Moscow has 33 billionaires, more than any other city in the world.”

And, naturally, some of those billionaires frequent Mercury’s exclusive arcade. By day, Tretyakovsky Proyezd’s cobblestone thoroughfare is crammed with Mercedes SUVs disgorging shoppers hungry for Chaumet bobbles and Gucci handbags. By night, the place is thronged with partygoers decked out head-to-toe in Roberto Cavalli who come for dinner at Mercury’s stratospherically priced haute cuisine French restaurant called T-R-E-T-Y-A-K-O-V, or for parties the company throws to honor a visiting celeb, be it Giorgio Armani or Cavalli. The Cavalli party earlier this summer was announced by 30-foot advertising billboards posted around Moscow that said, in English: “Congratulations Roberto Cavalli on the opening of your new store!”
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