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Sparkle, dazzle, flash: Moscow's gold-standard shopping
It's a gilded age for shoppers in Russia's capital. Here's where to find the shiniest nuggets
Quickest way to become a millionaire? Start as a billionaire then spend a couple weeks in Moscow.
That's a joke that floats around the Russian capital, which does in fact consistently scrape the ceiling on international lists of priciest cities. For nearly a decade its hotels have been the most expensive in the world, according to HRG Worldwide.
But the joke is more indicative of the ever-trending "Soviet era is dead" mindset that prevails among Moscow's brand-crazy denizens.
There are bargains, of course, to be found around the city. But amid the glitz and glamour created by the country's relatively newfound wealth, they often remain hidden in the shadows cast by the bright lights.
“Moscow shopping is outrageous,” says Arty Lavronenko, an English-speaking tour guide in the city. “Outrageous in the sheer variety -- there’s one magnificent store after another. And Russians don’t mind paying US$500 for a pair of shoes. Sometimes it even goes on the priority list ahead of rent. We’re making up for all that cabbage soup.”
Caviar for breakfast? A store where Tolstoy shopped in the afternoon? In Moscow, you'll find shopping experiences like nowhere else.
This whirlwind Moscow shopping tour should get your rubles jingling, and your shopping bags tearing at the seams.
Moscow’s equivalent to Rodeo Drive, Petrovka Boulevard glitters with every nonessential item at which a New Russian could throw a platinum card: diamond bangles, beads and breastpins, full-length sable coats, gold leaf antiques.
Gleaming taillights of metallic Bentleys light the way to the city's many malls -- from mid-market Atrium to the Barvikha Luxury Village -- which multiply as fast as the years in Putin’s political career.
Expected items are available and worth stocking up on: vodka (in literally hundreds of flavors), furs (Ekaterina is a good bet, it's one of Russia’s oldest furriers), rare Russian Orthodox icons (at churches and museums), Soviet memorabilia and caviar (although the last can sometimes be problematic to get the allotted 250 grams into your home country).
But thanks to Russia’s new wealth, plenty more exotic buys are here for the taking.
More on CNN: Insider Guide: Best of Moscow
GUM (rhymes with "gloom") stands for Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin and means Main Universal Store.
Its three parallel arcades attract fat walleted shoppers who are attracted by Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Ermanno Scervino, Etro and Articoli.
In 1928, Stalin appropriated the elaborate 19th-century shopping complex for office space and even briefly displayed the body of his wife, Nadezhda, here after her 1932 suicide.
Today, the only bodies in this glittery wonderland wear Chanel sunglasses, whether they need them or not.
3 Red Square, Moscow, Russia; +7 495 788 4343. www.gum.ru
Next door to the Bolshoi, TsUM rhymes with and rivals GUM in size and trendy European offerings from perfume, jewelry and furs to a Harrods-like food hall piled high with caviar, blintzes and berries dusted with sugar.
Flanking Petrovka Street in a historic, six-story building, this even tonier department store offers VIP shopping, lectures on modern art and regular appearances by such fashionistas as Naomi Campbell, Milla Jovovich and Victoria Beckham.
2 Petrovka, + 7 495 933 7300, www.tsum.ru
Opened more than 100 years ago by Russian millionaire Gregory Eliseev (even after being nationalized in the Revolution of 1917, it was still familiarly known as Eliseevsky), this neo-Baroque grocery store with crystal chandeliers and fin de siècle fittings was mentioned in Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina."
It’s the perfect stop for such classic Russian chocolates and candies as Zolotye kupola (golden domes), Slivochnaya Pomadka (cream fondant) and Mishka Kosolapy (pigeon-toed bears).
Tverskaya Street, 14, +8 495 650 4643, www.eliseevskiy.ru
Denis Simachev Shop & Bar
Yes, it’s a 24/7 watering hole, but this psychedelic building with the red and yellow swirls is also a boutique owned by one of Russia’s most successful fashion designers.
Other designers to check out are Valentin Yudashkin (he’s the guy who dressed Raisa Gorbachev), Igor Chapurin (made his name dressing Russian beauty contestants) and Ulyana Sergeenko (who showed right after Chanel at last summer’s Paris Fashion Week).
Thirty-eight-year-old Denis Simachev's star is rising fast (he’s a regular in Milan and at both Moscow fashion weeks) chiefly because of his disregard for convention.
Popular collector items include jewelry with symbols from the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, czarist naval uniforms and irreverent T-shirts embossed with Putin’s face or characters from Soviet-era propaganda.
Moscow 12, Building 2, Stoleshnikov Pereulok, + 7 495 629 57 02, www.denissimachev.com
Hotel concierges have been known to report that this sprawling, open-air market was closed a few years ago, but don’t believe them.
Granted, it’s five metro stops away from Red Square, but that’s exactly why it’s the best (cheapest) place for scoring deals on Russia’s famous lacquer boxes, nesting matryoshka dolls, fur hats, linens, amber, St. Basil snow globes and other must-have souvenirs.
Located near the estate where Peter the Great grew up, this flea market is best visited on weekends.
Prices negotiable, especially in stalls toward the back. Just follow the crowds from the Partizanskaya Metro stop.
73 Izmailovskoye Highway; +7 499 166 5031, www.kremlin-izmailovo.com
Tsvetnoy Central Market
Aka Hipster Central. Up and coming young fashion designers congregate at this modern, glittery monolith that has won countless design awards since opening in December 2010.
Known as the Freedom Area, the basement is run by local fashion bloggers who restock new vintage and underground labels as fast as they can find them.
Prices and extravagances go up as you ascend. The fourth level is noted for cutting edge designers such as Comme des Garçons, Band of Outsiders, Alexander Terekhov, Carven, Haider Ackermann, Kolor, Vilshenko and Zadig & Voltaire.
The fifth floor features an organic farmer’s market with everything from farm fresh milk to Georgian sulguni in braids, rolls or smoked balls.
Proceed to the sixth floor to have the food prepared and the seventh floor to enjoy it against a backdrop of panoramic views.
15, Building 1, Tsvetnoy boulevard, Moscow, +7 495 737 77 73, www.tsvetnoy.com
Ministerstvo Podarkov (Ministry of Gifts)
This network of artists’ cooperatives sells quirky everything from Yuri Gagarin pillows and clocks made from the packs of Belmorkanal cigarettes (named after the canal built by Gulag prisoners) to purses made from hollowed-out copies of Marx’s "Das Kapital."
Maly Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok Dom 12/27, +7 495 629 9732
Russian writer Vladimir Gilarovsky described this area as “Moscow’s belly.” It's often referred to as Manezh, rather than its proper name, Okhotny Ryad.
Before being reconstructed in the mid 1930s, the area’s Hotel Loskutnaya was a popular gathering spot for such Russian scribes as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
Today, this slightly more affordable mall with more than 100 shops has an errant fountain that splashes shoppers (protect those shopping bags) as they enter and exit from Alexandrovsky Garden.
This is where you'll find international brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Motivi and Zara and a 24-hour Internet café.
Trade Center Okhotny Ryad, 1 Manezhnaya Square, +7 495 737 8449, www.oxotniy.ru
More on CNN: World's most expensive cities for a hotel room