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Jewellery by Artists: From Picasso to Koons, an exhibition organised by the culture and art portal

Destinations · Europe · russian federation · Moscow · Where to shop · Best Department Store


Author: Anothertravelguide.com0 COMMENTS

Like the city of Moscow in which it is located, GUM is a building with a turbulent history and a symbol of the vast changes that the Russian capital has experienced. Built at the end of the 19th century (1890-1891), it was the first department store in Russia. A more prominent location is hard to imagine - at the edge of Red Square, right across from the walls of the Kremlin. GUM was built on the site of the city's former upper trading stalls, a place where merchants had already been selling their wares for centuries. Since most of the stalls had been made of wood, they were subject to the ravages of occasional fires.

In 1888, a competition was announced for the design of the new department store building and architect Alexander Pomerantsev was declared the winner. The result was a magnificent example of the passage architecture that was popular at that time. The impressive building, which extends for almost a quarter of a kilometre along the eastern side of Red Square, encompasses three passages under an imposing glass roof. The department store's official opening day was almost like a national holiday, with a public prayer service also held in honour of the event.

Initially GUM housed more than 320 stores, which were called salons due to the ornate premises in which they were located and the superior products that they offered. GUM's sheltered passageways quickly became a favourite place for wealthy Muscovites to go on family strolls. It was the first place in Russia to instil fixed prices, and to display a public complaint and suggestion book. Inspired by similar department stores in Europe, GUM also sought to provide "added value" to its customers' shopping experience, regularly hosting concerts, art exhibitions and other events. However, the Russian Revolution of 1917 put an end to that golden age. After the Communists took power, they nationalized the department store and trade within it languished. Within a few years, GUM became a pitiful Soviet department store, most of whose space was occupied not by shops, but by various institutions.

GUM experienced a revival after Joseph Stalin's death under his successor, Nikita Khrushchev. The building was reconstructed and when it reopened in 1953, the long lines of shoppers had to be kept in order by law enforcement officers or "militsia". GUM became a popular "tourist site" (or actually, shopping site) for visitors from other Soviet republics suffering from a shortage of basic goods. Although the choice of products at GUM was not very large, it was still greater than in most other Soviet stores, during an era when "deficit" was a commonly used word. GUM's existence was briefly threatened again during the 1960s under Leonid Brezhnev, who believed that it was unbecoming for a merchant store to be located beside such "national treasures" as the Kremlin and Lenin's mausoleum. GUM was allegedly saved thanks to the protests of the wife of another top Communist Party official, resulting in a "top secret" decree that annulled the previous one.

Following the collapse of the USSR, GUM was privatized and changed hands several times. Then, in 2005, it was bought by the Russian luxury conglomerate Bosco di Ciliegi and transformed into a new shopping mecca. At breakneck speed, GUM went through the fashion trends of the nouveaux riches in the new Russia - from an obsession with such "flaunt your wealth" brands as Versace and Cavalli to discrete luxury like Jil Sander. Although today all of the main luxury fashion brands are still available at GUM, the choice of products differs from those that you will find at other European fashion department stores, both in the colour and design of the items on offer. In any case, once you cross the threshold of GUM, you won't have any doubt that you are in Moscow - a citadel of drastic contrasts and excesses. Locals still ironically refer to GUM as an "exhibition of prices", the joke being that most Russians still can't afford to buy many of the goods that are sold within the premises of this stately department store.
3 Red Square

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