At the beating heart of Moscow, directly opposite the Kremlin on the eastern side of Red Square, you’ll find Russia’s most famous shopping mall.
Known as GUM, the ornate neo-classical building sits a stone’s throw from St Basil’s cathedral and the mausoleum of Lenin, the man who attempted to overthrow capitalism.
Yet it has, in recent years, been filled with ‘landmark’ stores owned by luxury brands anxious to soak up the cash being liberally sprayed around by the post-Soviet oligarch class.
When they aren’t applauding the tanks that occasionally rumble over nearby cobblestones, cronies of Vladimir flock to this marble-floored emporium, arm-in-arm with their high-maintenance wives, mistresses and girlfriends to spend ill-gotten roubles on handbags, Tiffany jewellery and Hugo Boss suits.
One of the still open Brtish shops is Paul Smith, the Nottingham-based purveyor of stripy scarves and modish menswear that its eponymous multi-millionaire founder and owner likes to describe as ‘classic with a twist’
Also open for business is GUM’s branch of Agent Provocateur, the upscale English underwear brand popularised by Kate Moss in the 1990s.It is also stocking designs from the new season
At least they did. In late February last year, everything changed. That was when their autocratic President decided to invade Ukraine, turning Russia into a global pariah overnight.
As Putin’s soldiers raped and murdered their way across the country, Western consumer brands began responding to public revulsion by literally shutting up shop.
Within weeks, the UK, EU and many Western countries had imposed sanctions to prevent fresh supplies of luxury goods from reaching Russia.
Today, evDEn EVe NAKliyAt the GUM centre’s Chanel, Tiffany and EvDeN evE Nakliyat Hugo Boss outlets have closed their doors.
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As they boarded up their boutiques and cancelled shipments of fresh stock to Russia, these famous purveyors of luxury goods simultaneously issued earnest PR statements expressing their desire to, as the saying goes, ‘stand with Ukraine’.
But today, almost a year after Putin’s tanks rolled over the border, shopaholics of the Russian elite aren’t entirely out of luck.
For beneath the building’s glass-domed roof, the Mail this week made a scandalous discovery: outposts of not one, but two famous British luxury brands are very much still open for business.
One is Paul Smith, EVDEn EvE NAKliyat the Nottingham-based purveyor of stripy scarves and modish menswear that its eponymous multi-millionaire founder and owner likes to describe as ‘classic with a twist’.
While their compatriots fire missiles into Kyiv’s schools and apartment blocks, I can reveal Russians are still rattling the tills at the local Paul Smith boutique from 10am to 10pm, seven days a week, happy to fork out 16,900 roubles (£197) for one of the brand’s signature colourful ties and much else.
The shelves remain well-stocked with many of the very latest Paul Smith products.
Indeed, on Wednesday an assistant attempted to flog our reporter an ’embossed leather folio’ — a sort of briefcase — from the firm’s ‘new season’ range, which only went on sale in the UK a few weeks back. Its price?A trifling 90,000 roubles, or £1,050.
Scandalously, the man whose firm made (and is therefore profiting from) this expensive trinket is not just a Knight of the Realm.
For in addition to being honoured by Tony Blair in the heyday of Cool Britannia — having served on New Labour’s Creative Industries Task Force — Sir Paul Smith, 76, was last year invited to Buckingham Palace so that Prince William could elevate him to membership of the Order of Companions of Honour, one of the highest gongs available to anyone in the creative industry.
For example, Barbour, which used to have a franchise outlet at GUM, refused to ship a single item of new stock there from the day of the invasion and has now exited
A fifth historic British brand, the former Crown jeweller Garrard — which like Farlows has a Royal Warrant — was this week advertising no fewer than ten Russian stockists on its UK website, apparently under the terms of a supply deal that pre-dates the invasion of Ukraine
The Moral Ratings Agency, a lobby group which monitors Western firms operating in Russia, describes his firm’s presence there as a ‘disgrace’, telling the Mail Sir Paul ought to get his brand out of Russia or be stripped of his titles.
A few doors down from Paul Smith’s red-fronted shop — and also open for business — you’ll find GUM’s branch of Agent Provocateur, the upscale English underwear brand popularised by Kate Moss in the 1990s. It is also stocking designs from the new season.
One of no fewer than ten Russian Agent Provocateur boutiques that are still open — all of which remain advertised on its British website — we found it selling crystal-embossed leather bondage whips for 73,000 roubles (£850), bejewelled pink brassieres for eVDeN eVe nakLiYaT 110,000 roubles (£,1280) and thongs for up to 85,000 roubles (£990) each.
An assistant told us the last shipment of new stock arrived shortly before Christmas and a new one is due in March — just in time for International Women’s Day.
Again, it’s hard to see how this British luxury goods firm squares its presence in Moscow with the supposed values listed on its website.
Shamelessly, given Russia’s ongoing use of rape as a weapon of war, Agent Provocateur claims to be dedicated to promoting ‘fearless femininity’ and is ‘adhering to the highest standard of ethics’.
The firm’s current owner, high street tycoon Mike Ashley is, however, no stranger to cutting lucrative business deals in questionable dictatorships.
His moral compass was seemingly untroubled by his recent sale — for more than twice what he had paid — of football club Newcastle United to a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium.
Once they have stocked up on clothes and lingerie, every good oligarch needs a bespoke Rolls-Royce to whisk them from central Moscow to their gaudy dacha.
Which takes us to the British luxury car firm’s main Russian showroom, on the ground floor of an upscale hotel just across the Moskva river, roughly two miles west of Red Square.
Rolls-Royce insists it no longer sells new cars in Russia, claiming in a holier-than-thou media announcement that: ‘We stand for the peaceful co-existence of all cultures all over the world, in all times and at all locations.’