Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gum Moscow: The Department Store, Not the Chewing Gum

Special article for Retail Details.Guest Blogger, Ritchie Po of The Artful Blogger

GUM corporate logo
This year, Forbes magazine reported that 79 of the year’s billionaires live in Moscow, more than in any other city in the world: that’s billionaire, not millionaire. This statistic means that there is plenty of wealth going around than ever before and a sign that, 25 years after Perestroika, Communism has indeed gone the way of the floppy disk.

With such an abundance of luxury, it’s no wonder that some of the world’s most luxurious shopping is now done in Moscow, with the largest shopping centre being GUM Trading House. 
GUM (pronounced like “doom” with a “g”, but far more pleasant) is located in Red Square and close to St. Basil’s Cathedral, situating it in perhaps the single most prominent and immediately recognizable area in all of Russia. The acronym “GUM” is derived from the Cyrillic “ГУМ”, meaning “State Department Store”, and was originally built as a shopping mall with an astonishing 1,200 stores housed within its walls. During Stalin’s reign, it was initially converted into an office and it even displayed his wife’s body following her suicide in 1932. Grim. Eventually, GUM was converted back into a department store and became one of the few well-stocked shops in the nation, given its centrality and its location next to the Kremlin. (Yes, Lenin is likely turning over in his grave next door.) Of the many state department stores, the one in Red Square stands alone today and remains the most iconic.
GUM, in all its glory. Note original architecture preserved.
 Once the Soviet Union collapsed, plans were eventually in place to at first partially, and then fully privatize GUM. It is now owned and operated by the Russian luxury goods distributor and boutique magnate Bosco di Ciliegi.

Concurrent with the collapse of Communism, many Russian capitalists stepped out of the socialist closet and were eager to shop. Designers and shop operators, sensing a nascent new market on the verge of explosion, rushed to fill GUM with luxury goods to an eager public flush with wealth. 
GUM promenade, lit up at night

Fashionistas and even casual luxury brand admirers (such as this writer) are surrounded by a nearly obscene number of designer brands with stand-alone boutiques, such as Armani, Sonia Rykiel, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Dior, Hermes and Frey Willie. Luxury brand names populate their retail spaces with considerable amounts of haute couture, in addition to their second lines and prêt-a-porter collections. The Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin, whose haute couture works are so innovative and coveted that they have been on display both at Paris Fashion Week and at the Louvre, has one of his major shops here. 

Bosco Sport and Cheburashka, official mascot.
A joke often told by the locals is that GUM is really “the exhibition of prices”, as no one except the mega-wealthy can truly afford to buy anything there. That said, GUM also houses a number of more democratically-priced brands such as Levi’s, Guess, Calvin Klein Jeans and La Perla, for those who want the cache of taking home in one of GUM’s trademark shopping bags. Keep in mind that certain European brands that are more expensive for North American consumers, such as Paul Smith, are much more priced reasonably well here due to a lack of duties and taxes. Although this writer confesses to never having been to GUM, he readily admits that he would undoubtedly spend considerable amounts of time at Bosco Sport, the athletic wear line owned and operated by Bosco di Ciliegi and also designs all the outfits for Russian’s national and Olympic teams. He also can’t help but smile that the country's largest chocolaterie with a shop in GUM is named Krasny Oktyober, meaning “Red October” in English.

GUM dome, daytime
Despite having undergone several major renovations, GUM retains its original architecture and the dazzling, dramatic sky-dome roof along the main promenade that runs counter to, but never clashes with, its classical Russian architecture. The building boasts a considerable amount of steel and glass and always appears modern, despite its classic design.

To truly showcase its prominent location, it is best to see GUM in the winter months. Despite the deep freeze, crowds often form to view skating exhibitions performed on an enormous outdoor ice rink by the country’s numerous Olympic and world figure skating champions. GUM is particularly festive during the New Year, traditionally Russia’s single biggest holiday, and it is lit up year-round as evidenced by the thousands of lights that beautifully trade the long building’s unique architecture against the night sky. For an English-language video of GUM during the holidays, click here:

GUM - exterior view at night
As GUM is imposing in physical scale, despite its location next to Red Square, the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, plan to take almost an entire day alone to explore the mall, due to the nearly inexhaustible array of designers displaying their wares for some of the world’s richest shoppers.

The English-language news site Russia Today has a channel dedicated to the nightlife of the capital called "Moscow Out", hosted by British expat Martyn Andrews. He featured GUM a few months ago and mentioned that the best bargains on designer names can be had each January, after the New Year, and not on Boxing Day or in the week after Christmas. Click for a glimpse into GUM and into other shopping excursions in the Russian capital:

GUM is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. most weekdays and on Saturdays, and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is easily accessible via the gorgeous Moscow Metro. Simply take the red line to Okhotny Ryad, which stops right at the Kremlin.

GUM English site:


1 comment:

Jameson said...

I want to go...there's even a train from Nice now.