Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Artful Blogger Goes Shopping: TSUM, Moscow

Special to Retail-Details

Last week’s article on GUM in Moscow generated some unexpected intrigue. At least where the Blogger lives, there is a lack of awareness of luxury shopping in the Russian capital and readers have commented that thanks to the post, they have found their “new happy place”.

Although GUM is a luxury shopping mall, readers did ask about the leading luxury department store in Moscow, comparable to a Saks, Bloomingdales, Barneys or Harvey Nichols. Behold, TSUM.

Located in central Moscow not far from its chief rival GUM, TSUM (rhymes with “gloom” but far from gloomy) affords luxury shoppers an intimate and personalized shopping experience. Housed in a formerly drab state department store, it is now one of the ultimate shopping destinations not only in Russia, but in all of Europe.

Verber, with Naomi Campbell
One cannot understand TSUM without knowing something of the powerful woman behind it. TSUM’s fashion director is the mercurial Alla Verber, known as a long-time fashion power broker for Russia. In this interview for ABC News, no less than George Stephanopoulos compared Verber to the formidable Anna Wintour in terms of her clout. Trained in fashion and business in the West during the Soviet era, Verber returned to Moscow after the fall of Communism with a big idea: to bring the same luxury brands she loves into her beloved Russia. In an era when more democratically priced brands such as Levi’s and Calvin Klein were the most coveted designer clothes, Verber’s idea was unheard of, even at the end of the Soviet era. She spearheaded the revitalization of TSUM and shepherded it into its current form, which stands as a lasting testament to Verber’s love of couture and intense commercial ferocity. TSUM was spotlighted on the English-language site Moscow Out (via Russia Today) earlier this year, and includes an interview with Verber herself (the interview begins at 4:58).
TSUM at night
Verber’s socialite daughter Katia follows in her mother’s footsteps and makes her living as a buyer for Mercury, a luxury goods retailing conglomerate in Russia. (Verber is also a vice president for the Mercury group.) This article gives an astonishing look into just how mega-wealthy today’s Russia truly is, helps one understand the insatiability of their luxury consumer goods market, and explains TSUM’s critical role in the marketplace. For these women, the expression “dripping in furs” is more than mere phraseology and is actually an apt descriptor. For an even more jaw-dropping article on the super-league rich’s buying power, read this incredible piece on Russian luxury, which has extended far beyond the vulgar label of nouveau riche Eurotrash label that haunted the mega-wealthy in the mid-90s.

Cosmetics counter
Located next to the immortal Bolshoi Theatre, and originally built as a state-run department store in 1857, it was known for its horrid customer service and barren shelves, devoid of product of any kind. Cue ahead a century and a half, and TSUM now houses more than 400 luxury brands. Name any designer label and they carry it, as evidenced by this inexhaustible list of brands currently in the shop: Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Zegna, Hugo Boss, Yves St. Laurent, Miu Miu, Prada, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Lanvin, Balmain, Alaia, Chloe, Pucci, Cavalli, Tod’s, Vivienne Westwood, Badgley Mischka, Halston, Michael Kors, Nina Ricci, Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Burberry and Balenciaga. Some of the newer brands introduced into their store, according to their site, include Versace, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs and Nancy Gonzalez. No less than fashion icon Cindy Crawford was last fall’s TSUM spokesperson. Fashion is serious business now in Moscow, to the extent that the industry demanded the conception of Russian Vogue.

It’s not just the availability of couture, many of which are exclusive to TSUM within Russia, which attracts the glitterati here. It’s also the attention given to important clientele that gives the truly rich an experience to savour and revisit. This clip gives a glimpse into TSUM’s VIP shopping area, emulating the personalized service one expects at Barney’s, Selfridges or Holt Renfrew. Such a space provides the shopper with an oasis within the store away from the madding crowds within which to take their time mulling over the latest couture while sipping $500 bottles of champagne.

To show that they are serious about luxury shopping and know their customers intimately, TSUM’s VIP experience includes contemporary art lectures in order to educate their wealthy clientele in fine art. It is not by accident that a number of their best clients are also serious and internationally-renown art collectors. This is not for the faint of wallet.

TSUM Interior
In an effort to reach more shoppers and create brand awareness, TSUM has an impressive YouTube channel showcasing the most notable fashion shows that took place there in the recent past. At the time of this writing, they have uploaded 226 videos categorized into topics such as beauty products, couture and celebrity sightings. They also have a dedicated channel on their corporate site, TSUM TV, featuring interviews with designers, many of which are in English. Simply viewing the clips gives a great sense of the TSUM shopping experience.

Russia has become serious in its bid to join the online shopping extravaganza. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Russian shopping magnate named KupiVIP received $55 million of fresh capital, with the specific goal of cultivating its online presence and generating online sales for high-end retailers such as TSUM. As Russia is new to e-commerce due to its long-held practice of cash-on-delivery purchase methodology, the introduction of online retailing for luxury brands is an exciting venture. A recent Reuters article reports that although the luxury goods industry has slowed down, the market is now in an upswing.

You can click for more information on TSUM here. Be aware though that TSUM has not yet developed its English-language site, but visitors can navigate the site simply by following the names of fashion designers referenced.