Moscow – where have all the shoppers gone? - Monocolumn | Monocle


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19 November 2009

More St Moritz than Moscow, the Mercury Luxury Village shopping precinct has become the Russian capital’s one-stop spot for everything from a Maserati tune-up to Tom Ford suits and Balenciaga gowns. Located in Barvikha, Moscow’s answer to East Hampton and a 40-minute ride from downtown (that’s if there’s no traffic), the development is the showpiece of Mercury Group, Russia’s largest luxury retail operator.

Added to the via Montenapoleone mix of the tenant list are showrooms from Lamborghini, Bentley and Maserati and a smaller and much more intimate outpost of Moscow’s increasingly Barney’s-esque TSUM department store. The end result (despite the somewhat obvious name) is a 1km-long stretch of high-end luxury that steers surprisingly clear of ostentation.

In a city whose post-soviet architecture has been dominated by Turkish contractors churning out mid-rise pastiches (a word which gives these stylistic disasters perhaps too much credibility) and, more recently, Skidmore-style glass towers, the substance and precision of Luxury Village is a relief.

Comprising of two parallel low-rise wood and glass structures, separated by a pedestrian mall paved in clay bricks and punctuated by birch trees, the extensive use of wood harks back to Russia’s great (and rapidly disappearing) tradition of timber houses. But this is no twee ride down nostalgia lane. In reality the development owes more to the ability to bring in some of the best European architects and planners and, more importantly, the foresight of the Mercury Group not to interfere with their architectural intent.

However, to say that the atmosphere is unhurried is not just to refer to the crisp forest air or the general gentility of the place: Luxury Village suffers from a serious lack of shoppers. The stores are no doubt kept out of the red by high net-worth locals on shopping sprees and they also serve as showrooms for purchases made later on holiday in Nice or Dubai (for reasons that perhaps only Mercury Group knows, luxury brands enjoy a significant price premium in Russia). Maybe this is the hushed-environs in which the Gazprom-set prefer to shop, but in a city that has fast taken to big mall culture, the lack of traffic at Luxury Village neatly reflects the discord that has developed in Moscow between the IKEA-mad new middle class and the dizzyingly rich elite.

The retail strip has now been joined by a multi-purpose 750-seat concert hall at one end (opened by that oligarch playlist favourite – Elton John) and the Barvikha Hotel & Spa at the other. Continuing with the same striking design as the existing development, the hotel’s architecture and interior is by Antonio Citterio. With only 65 suites (the smallest being 58 sq m), the emphasis is on service, locally sourced food by Russian super-chef Anatoly Komm and the 2,000 sq m spa. Not surprisingly given the Citterio involvement, all furnishings are B&B Italia, linens are Frette and technology is Bang & Olufsen. And if that wasn’t enough, airport transfers are by Bentley. 

But this isn’t just a warehouse of the best that money can buy. With the imposing wood, glass and stone architecture as the backdrop, the feeling is of a Zen-like sanctuary but with the option of a well-mixed vodka Martini. Admittedly it’s almost too Architectural Digest, but hey, this tribute to ruler-edged precision makes for a perfect retreat from the distinctly raffish charm of the greater city.

In winter the Moscow temperatures give spa treatments or the lobby fire equal appeal. Or alternatively it’s straight to the bar to mingle with the Courchevel crowd on their own turf. Whatever the choice, the hotel and concert hall will hopefully bring more faces to this luxe wonderland in the woods outside Moscow.


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