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Excuses, Excuses

It took me eight months. I had surgery; I stood frozen in time. I kept procrastinating. For this condition, one of my friends of the past even took a special medication to unfreeze her writer’s block to allow her to finish her doctorate. Maybe my next blog will be written in a blissful delirium.)

I kept reading about the most successful blogs. I realised, the most successful blogs were the blogs about how to write a successful blog. It kept me frozen for even longer.

And here I am my reader, in front of you. I came undone. I longed to write this blog for a very long time. In my previous blogs, I tried to protect you, from the gentle hands of the brands seduction. I tried to explain to you, that the trends/brands and what you are wearing should not define you. You define them, and you create your style.

But, who am I to tell you this? A hopeless fashion romantic? A believer in the miracles of individual operators and independent fashion brands? Well, I decided to write about the Rulers of the fashion world, about the brands. They also need to come undone).

Does It Matter Where It Is Made?

 

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Look at today’s woman and what do you see? The clothes which are more or less anonymous, the shoes which are more or less signature(less). Only her bag tells her story, her reality, her fantasy, her dreams.

From 1990-s, most of the fashion magazines were saying – “if you could not afford the new look every year, you can always update it with a new bag.” The new bags are being discussed now at the fashion weeks with the same intensity as Donald Trumps’ ascendancy to the presidency (God Forbid!).

Lots of luxury handbags are made in China. Top brands, brands that we carry. Brands that would vehemently deny that their bags are made in China. According to Dana Thomas, the author of the book “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre” during her visit to the factory producing those luxury bags in Chinese Province of Guangdong, she was sworn to secrecy about the names of the brands she saw and witnessed being manufactured. “Each brand makes the manufacturer sign confidentiality agreement. In turn, the manufacturer does not let the competition know which other brands he is also producing.”

The “brand’s team” is led to a separate part of the factory where only their “Made in France” bags are manufactured. “It is as complicated as keeping a slew of mistresses,” – Tomas says.

Most of the brands won’t admit to the “Made in China” truth. In reality, the luxury brands cannot openly move their production to China without damaging their image. The labour costs for manufacturing luxury goods are steadily rising in Europe. There are two solutions: to increase the prices and face not so happy shareholders and the customers or to move the production elsewhere where production would be cheaper.

Few of the brands would admit to their not so Paris romantic manufacturing roots. But even the purists of the luxury brands should understand that most of the hardware, primarily the locks, might come now from China (Guangzhou). The zipper might have the passport of Japan. The embroidery might be made in India or Northern China. The leather could come from Italy or “worse”, from Korea. We are citizens of the global village; our rooftops are touching each other.

Due to the labelling laws in Europe, the “Made In China” sticker has had an easy workaround. Imagine the bag produced in China, par the handle. Then this bag travels to Italy. On arrival of the bag, the Italian made handle is attached. Voila, it suddenly becomes legitimately “Made In Italy” bag. To continue the story, sometimes the tops of the shoes are made in China, and then the Italian made soles are attached to them in Italy to “elevate” those shoes to the Italian made level, so to speak.

But again, why is it so important that the brands are made where they claim to be made?

Firstly, the honesty factor is paramount for the consumer. When the consumer spends the equivalent of his/her monthly salary, on the branded item, it is imperative the brand treats the customer with the same respect.

Secondly, the consumers of the logos/brands are also buying into the history of the house, into the images of Audrey Hepburn, clad in Givenchy and carrying her forever Louis Vuitton bag. They are buying into austerity and purity of Miuccia Prada, not realising that Prada bags have been manufactured in China since 2005. Better than, they are manufactured in even cheaper “Made In Vietnam” factories now. They are buying into Donna Karan image of luxurious New Yorker, not realising that the luxury New York is now made in China.

Thirdly, when the cost to produce the item becomes lower when it is “Made in China”, so should the price of the final product, should it not? Not so. Dana Thomas mentions in her book after her visit to the factory in Guangdong finished; she travelled that night back to Hong Kong. The end of the journey and the end of the day took her to Harvey Nichols for a couple of drinks with her friends. In Harvey Nichols, that night, Thomas saw the same bag she spotted in the factory with a hefty price tag of $1200. This bag cost only $120 for the luxury brand to manufacture at that secret Guangdong location.

The lower are the costs, the bigger are the profits, the larger could become the volume of production. Our non-suspecting logo/brands consumers are no longer investing into the images of Audrey Hepburn or romanticism of the brand; they invest in a mass market luxury reality. Why is it still luxury? Because of the price tag? Because of the marketing? Because the brand consumers will still be following the brand, until the death do they part?

During the last three years, the sales of Louis Vuitton canvas bags fell dramatically in China. The Chinese started to call them “the bags for the secretaries.” Their appetite shifted towards more discreet and label-less bags from the other brands.

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Louis Vuitton Canvas Bag

My chosen menu of today is LVMH, Hermes, Lanvin and the outsiders such as Fung Brands. I am going to tell you all about how “Where Is It Made” works for each of them.

 

THE BRANDS

In reality, there are about ten biggest fashion corporations in the world. They make our lives impossible with day/night dreaming and longing. They force us to judge of who is who around us and even further, to make our life choices. If anything, we can blame the brands for our own partner’s choices.

For more than a century, the luxury fashion business, was, in reality, a conglomerate of family companies which produced beautiful items from the finest fabrics and materials. It was a niche business for the creme de la crema of the society. From the late 1980-s, business magnates started to invest in the fashion business and began to buy up these companies with the purpose to turn them into billion-dollar global brands producing millions of logo-embellished items for the middle market. The executives labeled this rollout the “democratisation” of luxury. The creme de la crema of the society descended to the middle class. And there is nothing wrong with it.

 

 

Luxury-chart

 

Let’s Talk About LVMH

About-Louis-Vuitton

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE is better known as LVMH. It is a French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, headquartered in Paris, France. Since Louis Vuitton family story had come to an end in 1987, we cannot not mention it here.

Louis Vuitton had been the maker and supplier of luggage to the rich and famous for more than 100 years. In 1987, the company emerged together with Moet Hennessy, thus creating the world biggest conglomerate Moet-Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). The 1980s were extremely successful years for Louis Vuitton. The marketing of the Vuitton name was extensive, and the brand was promoted in a very smart way.  In 1983, Louis Vuitton became the preliminaries sponsor of the America’s Cup. Three years later, the company created the Louis Vuitton Foundation for opera and music. 

Henry Racamier was the husband of Gaston Vuitton’s daughter Odile. He took over management of the company in 1977. Under Racamier management, the company started acquisitions of the companies with a reputation for top-notch quality. It purchased a major interest in haute couture house of  Givenchy and the champagne producer of Veuve Cliquot. Louis Vuitton’s acquisition philosophy was “to treat the brands with kid gloves”. It was respectful, it was discreet, it was never- ever greedy, nor it was aggressive. Since June 1987 and the $4 billion mergers with Moet-Hennessy, (company, specialising in the production of champagne, spirits, wines, and perfumes), Louis Vuitton expanded its investments in the luxury business. Louis Vuitton also allowed a narrow escape for Moet-Hennessy from the impending threat of takeover. The tandem respected the autonomy of each company.

 

“Never Set The Wolf To Guard The Sheep.”

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The happy marriage became unhappy only after a few months. The underlying issues were the size of Moet-Hennessy (three times bigger than Louis Vuitton). The size of Louis Vuitton shares shrank to a pitiful 17%.

Racamier was led to believe that Moet-Hennessy was trying to take over Louis Vuitton. Racamier needed an independent mediator to end the war and start productive peace. This person was the young property developer and financial engineer Bernard Arnault

By that time, in 1984, Arnault had already bought the Financière Agache, a luxury goods company, which was in control of Boussac. Since Boussac owned Christian Dior, and the department store Le Bon Marché, Arnault also became a CEO of Christian Dior and Le Bon Marche in a matter of days. Young property developer/engineer/independent mediator, he certainly, was not.

Hoping to stay within LVMH with the help of Arnault, Racamier soon saw, however, that Arnault had ambitions of his own.  The French bank Lazard Freres and the British liquor giant Guinness PLC came handy. Arnault secured for himself a staggering 45 percent controlling interest in LVMH stock.

An 18-month legal battle started between Racamier and Arnault. During this battle, even Chevalier stepped down, becoming just another fish in the catch. Nothing helped: not even Louis Vuitton’s strong performance, accounting for 32 percent of LVMH sales Racamier could not continue fighting since he did not have the support of Moet and Hennessy family against Arnault. Arnault, eventually, weeded out Vuitton’s top executives and began to bring together his fragmented luxury empire. In line with the Arabic saying, “if the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

 

LVMH Acquisitions

In 2013, LVMH released a fantastic video on the brands acquisitions

 

The Diagram of Acquisitions by LVMH.

Does it make the company the biggest elephant with the biggest appetite? Yes and no. Not many brands suffered as a result of those acquisitions. Hermes and their non-acquisition are a different story. R.M Williams should have felt they found a gold mine when acquired by LVMH…

The only major shareholder of LVMH is now Groupe Arnault. It is the family holding company of Bernard Arnault. The group controls 47.64% of LVMH’s stock,  (42.36% through Christian Dior and 5.28% directly). The group holds  63.66% of the voting rights (59.01% by Dior and 4.65% directly).  LVMH also has 66% of the drinks division, Moët Hennessy, with the remaining 34% owned by Diageo.

For a major shareholder like Bernard Arnault would it be easy to walk away from the stock exchange altogether? Not difficult, I would think since he would not need to sell the shares to himself. His dependence on the share price would be marginal.

In March 2015, Forbes estimated Arnault’s wealth to be $37 billion. As for the last year Arnault was the 13th richest person in the world and the richest in France.

Arnault promoted decisions towards decentralising of the group’s brands. I never saw a joint advertising of any of LVMH brands, except, on one occasion, the advertising of Beluti shoes and Krug champagne.

 

LVMH World Hehemony

 

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Among all the brands LVMH owns, the oldest of the LVMH brands is the wine producer Château d’Yquem, which dates its origins back to 1593.
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Berluti-Krug Advertising

Where is it made?

In 2012, LVMH launched the project called The Journées Particulières.

LVMH showcased the incredible “diversity of métiers and savoir-faire within LVMH Houses across the world.” (From LVMH News). The first two editions met tremendous success. Beautiful Haussmann lofts, beautiful workshops, the places, where the magic happens. If I were an LVMH customer, I would be entranced.

 

Journees Particulairies

 

But the truth is somewhat different. In 2004, at the luxury conference in Hong Kong, Bertrand Arnault categorically denied any possibility of LVMH brands produced in China. The same year, Celine moved production of its bags to China. A brown leather tag inside its Macadam bags said:
the design belonged in Paris”, but the “proud production” happened in China with the high attention to quality and detail.

It is also not surprising that since the acquisition, the following brands of LVMH at least partly moved their production to outside of France/Italy/USA:

  1. Kenzo
  2. Loewe
  3. Donna Karan and DKNY
  4. Mark Jacobs
  5. Givenchy

 

 

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Why would Arnault allow this? He could certainly afford the brands to be made where they truthfully belong. The answer is never simple. In my opinion, (and I would love to interview Monsieur Arnault one day), he never came from one of LVMH brands heritage background, not even from Christian Dior’s heritage(his first catch). Arnault looks at the brands and their acquisitions as the means to his success. If it does not require a heritage based production, so be it. If it does at the same time, require more marketing expenses to persuade the customer, that is indeed a heritage based production, so be it, too. It is nothing wrong with success, and it is nothing wrong with somebody being successful. The model works perfectly well. At the same time, if I were an LVMH customer, I would appreciate the Monsieur Arnault’s honesty.

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LVMH Chandon winery processing plant in Yongning County in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In Summary

I will never drink Chandon coming from China, or, for that matter, from any other of the countries outside France. I will never buy into the mass luxury market, champagnes, wines, and Belvedere excluding. LVMH won’t suffer as a result. The elephant of LVMH will survive no matter what. The “bag for the secretaries” might give way to a more luxurious bag, or might be deleted from Louis Vuitton production altogether. LVMH is the most successful fashion/retail company in the world. It sells the embellished aristocratic heritage to the masses. It sells the dreams of luxury to the middle class. That is LVMH formula for success.

Let’s Talk About Hermes

“A business generating nothing but profits is poor indeed.” –  Pierre Alexis Dumas, President of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès.

I must admit, I love Hermes. Thus, I have slammed the first nail in the coffin of my label-less religion.
I love Hermes for the different reasons. Not the least of them is the behaviour of the company in the times of the Second World War. It is blemishless, to say the least.

“We don’t have a policy of image; we have a policy of product.” – Former Hermes CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. With this leitmotif, the company has existed for almost 200 years. I don’t want to go into the brand history. It is well-known to my readers, and it is still “in the family”. I wished to underpin just another success story and “Where Is It Made.” in Hermes case.

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Hyundai/Hermes Collaboration

 

LVMH BID – The War of Handbags

 

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It Stays in The Family (Courtesy of Renauldon R.B. Press)

Hermes is the 10th most successful fashion company in the world, nine rows behind LVMH. The two companies, however, cannot be more different. To be fair, there is a similarity which might have started almost 200 years ago when both businesses were born. It lies in the production of objects associated with travel.

LVMH had started buying up Hermès shares in 2002, using the hedge funds who don’t want to disclose their purchases. After this had come to light in Oct. 2010, Arnault maintained that his intentions toward Hermès were “friendly,” but Hermès again saw Arnault as the wolf entering the role of a babysitter for their sheep. Then-CEO Patrick Thomas at the time said: “If you want to seduce a beautiful woman you don’t start raping her from behind.” In his interview in 2011 to WSJ, Thomas also made not so politically correct point about the two companies religious differences: The family(Hermes) is Protestant, and Protestants have a very different approach to money than the Catholics”.

In 2011, the 6th generation of Hermès founder Thierry Hermès finally got together and formed a holding company. They called it H51 in a genuine spirit of the Cold War, I believe. The company held 50.2% of the shares locked up for the next 20 years.

Though H51 stopped any takeover attempt by LVMH, the courts were abuzz with the “war of handbags” activity until 2014. Then the president of Paris’s Tribunal de Commerce brokered a deal. LVMH would distribute its Hermès stake to its shareholders before the end of the year. Since Arnault has had quite various business holdings within LVMH, Christian Dior needed to be involved. Bernard Arnault was left with a roughly 8.5% stake in Hermès. Arnault (LVMH) was not allowed to buy any more of Hermes shares for another 20 years. Regardless of this Dumas were not selling any of the family shares for that period.
As in the Russian proverb, the status quo allowed “for the wolves to be sated and for the sheep to stay intact.” For the next 20 years.

Where is it Made?

In a world of the luxury handbags made in China, Hermès still employs the great artisans in France, who make each of its famous Kellys and Birkins, individually, by hand. While most of its competitors buy rolls of pre-made fabric from China to print their silk scarves, Hermès weaves its fabric in Lyon from silk raised on its farm in the mountains of Brazil. While most of the Hermes competitors license perfume creation to the monster large laboratories that also make air fresheners, detergent scents, and food flavouring, Hermès has an in-house nose (Jean-Claude Elena) who meticulously creates each new perfume in his lab near Grasse, South of France. This attention to detail and dedication to integrity has given Hermes a license of trust by the customer.

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Making A Birkin

Hermès controls the production of 80% of the products it sells, using few carefully selected sub-contractors only in segments for which it lacks expertise, as in ready to wear (France or Italy), Watches (Swiss). Hermès still hand-produces in France most of its products maintaining its traditions and using the craftsmanship of its employees. It takes approximately 15 hours to produce Kelly or Birkin handbag.

Hermès does not market the Birkin at all. Instead, the company relies on the bag’s “exclusivity and prestige”, on the celebrities wearing the bag. In fact, Hermes does not have a marketing department. If the world knew how many bags came out from Hermes oven every year, the lights of excitement would likely dim. The only fact Hermès wants us to know about the bag’s availability is that you probably can’t get one.

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By the sources, Victoria Beckham owns 100 Birkin bags. No wonder, the waiting list is so long

The Secret of Success

Hermes is the It luxury brand in the world. The highest attention to detail in manufacturing, craftsmanship, brand exclusivity and family values – all of these contribute to the core of Hermes. The group is also a unique example of a successful premium business model. Its share price has been multiplied by 60 since 1993 and unlike other luxury brands, the group proved resilient during the crisis returning superior returns to its shareholders, who for 73% of them are heirs of the founding family. Hermes has always remained acutely desirable while being committed to the tradition of “making things the way the grandfathers of our grandfathers did.” At Hermès, any workable premium solution relies solely on mystique. After all, selling a commodity boils down ultimately to one thing: price versus the margin. Selling the beautiful objects that people already accumulated from so many other luxury brands? The objects which people don’t need but still desire? Like this cotton beach towel? It will make them poorer by $1,000. It is, I imagine, what Hermes would think, a small price to pay to belong.

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Beach Towel by Hermes 700 Euro
In examining Hermès’ ownership structure, FORBES states, that at least five family members now belong on the global billionaires’ list. Combined fortune for Dumas’ family now tops $25 billion–more than the Rockefellers, the Mellons and the Fords.

In Summary

In my view – I am a half way Hermes customer. I would never buy a Birkin or a Kelly. It is an inconspicuous mass luxury. Inconspicuous(as in no logos), but recognisable, mass market luxury nevertheless.
I love Hermes scarves, though, I think, they are worth collecting.
I love and love Hermes cooperation with the Parisian Designer Pierre Hardy. I also love Hermes ready-to-wear silly conservative clothes.
Hermes, however, is still playing cat and mouse with the customer. Why their prices are so high? Because they can! They can charge us, the gullible devotees. Their marketing is based on the fairy tale of exclusivity and very limited numbers. Hermes is a the quintessential “Hard To Get Bride” of the fashion world. At least, their heart is in the right place – they are remarkably honest about “Where Is It Made”.

Herms RTW Spring 2016

 

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Pierre Hardy Hermes Bag

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What Happens When The New World Buys The Old World

Does the world collapse? Does Almighty send ten plagues to punish offenders? Not really. In fact, it already happened.

Lanvin

Lanvin Packaging One-Blue-Shoe-Box-3When Taiwanese entrepreneur Wang Shaw first bought Lanvin in 2001, she was considered a pioneer. Lanvin is the oldest French Fashion house, dating back to 1905, with Jeanne Lanvin as a founder. She started making clothes for her daughter, Marie-Blanche de Polignac. The clothes were a big success and instantly came in demand by the circle of wealthy people for their children. After the children’s clothes success, Jeanne Lanvin continued as a designer for the grown ups. She became one of the most influential French designers during the 1920-1940s. After Jeanne Lanvin’s death, the house ownership went to her daughter. Marie-Blanche de Polignac was childless when she died in 1958, and the ownership of the House of Lanvin since went as a result, to a cousin, Yves Lanvin.

The ownership of the house changed hands from Squibb USA to Britain Middle Bank, then to Orcofi (Vuitton Family) and later to L’Oreal. During this period, the factory managed to stay in Nanterre where all perfumes (“My Sin” since 1924 and “Arpege” since 1927) were made and bottled. The real decline started since 1995 when L’Oreal took over ownership of the house. L’Oreal would appoint any available of the CEOs to be the head of Lanvin from the array of circulating CEO’s under its vast umbrella.

In August 2001, when Lanvin, the oldest French fashion house was still in operation, it was taken private again by investor group Harmonie S.A., headed by Mrs. Shaw-Lan Wang, a Taiwanese media magnate. I honestly think she did it for good luck because of the pure coincidence of the names. Come October 2001, and Alber Elbaz was appointed the Lanvin artistic director for all activities, including interiors. In 2006, he introduced the new packaging for the fashion house, featuring a forget-me-not flower color. In accordance to Suzy Menkes, it was Lanvin’s favorite shade which Madame Lanvin saw in the fresco “Fra Angelico.”

Fra Angelico
Fresco by Fra Angelico

 

The injection of Vitamin C (C, being capital) helped the brand enormously. It also helped that in May 2009 when Michelle Obama was photographed wearing a popular line of Lanvin’s sneakers while volunteering at the food bank. The sneakers were retailed at $540. On September 2, 2010, it was announced by H&M that Lanvin would be their guest designer collaboration for the Winter 2010 collection. On November 20, 2013, Lanvin became the official producer of Arsenal FC, a London-based football club.

On October 28, 2015, Lanvin announced that Elbaz was no longer at the company. According to Elbaz, his removal was “the decision of the company’s majority shareholder.” In accordance to me, he is primed to become The Designer of Christian Dior. It would be only politically correct for the company associated in the past with the Nazis and John Galliano to hire a Jewish, Israeli-born Elbaz. From one hand, in accordance to Charles De Gaulle. “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”. From another hand, “who knows?”

Where is it made?

Lanvin is made where it is supposed to be made – in France. The perfumes still come from Nanterre. Lanvin financials moved from red to black in 2008 for the first time in decades. Lanvin profits reached 15.3 million Euros in 2013. They fell immediately after Elbaz departure. They are still is in the black. Lanvin would still stay afloat with the firm hand managing it and under the guardianship of the Taiwanese owner. They will never move their production to China since the heritage is too important for Mrs. Shaw-Lan Wang.

First Heritage Brands and the Others.

 

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One of Valentino’s Intricate Dresses

Since Madame Wang made her first brave step, many non-European investors have followed the suite, spending hundreds of millions on the established European luxury houses in need of a makeover and a cash injection. They are Fang Brothers (Pringle of Scotland)Singaporean magnate Christina Ong (Mulberry) and Megha Mittal (Escada), Qatar Luxury Group (Valentino, Le Tanneur and Cie), Kazakh-born Goga Ashkenazi (aka Vionnet).

In 2011, William and Victor Fung of Fung Group (owner of global sourcing giant Li & Fung) joined their ranks, forming First Heritage Brands, a subsidiary of Fung Investments with the sole purpose of investing in European luxury brands to develop their international potential, especially in China. LVMH veteran Jean-Marc Loubier became the First Heritage Brands “Hunter”. He managed the acquisition of the French shoemaker Robert Clergerie, as well as Delvaux, the oldest luxury leather goods manufacturer in the world, both in 2011. The following year, the firm added ready-to-wear brand Sonia Rykiel to its portfolio, relaunching the label with a new artistic director and opening stores for company’s contemporary line, Sonia By Sonia Rykiel.

Where is it Made

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Delvaux Bag Le Brillant (From 1958)

remember when Delvaux was in financial trouble before the acquisition, everybody was wondering if their production would move to Vietnam since their then CEO Francois Schwennicke moved to live in Vietnam. Belgium was indignant – how could the “Hermes of Nothern Europe” be produced in Asia? But nobody raised a finger in Belgium to help the national icon. When Hong Kong-based, First Heritage Brands acquired Delvaux in 2011, Belgium was indignant once again. Belgium journalists were sure all Delvaux bags would now come from China. Not so. Delvaux is still produced at the factory in Arsenal, almost in the centre of Brussels. Robert Clergerie is still manufactured in Italy and France, only Sonia by Sonia is produced in China. I have a niggling feeling it was already produced there before the acquisition.

60% of Mulberry is still produced in the UK, with 40% of production outsourced to Turkey and China (the same factories Givenchy are using). Valentino is still made in Italy since Qatar Foundation invested in their factories too. Pringle of Scotland is not so lucky – it should be renamed as Pringle of China. Pringle of Scotland still holds a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Elizabeth II might not be aware it is Made in China.

pringle_river
According to Jean-Marc Loubier: “We are looking at companies with idiosyncrasies, product and know-how that haven’t been so well [leveraged] in the last 20 years, but have something to say in the future. We want to make them global.
Our analysis is that we are experiencing the second wave of the development of luxury consumption after its world massification. The early but important actors with their powerful and huge brands will stay and develop, but there is an interesting space and need for a new offer.”

In my opinion and in general, the newcomers care much more about the brand heritage; they still have a point to prove to themselves, to the whole world. Li & Fung are the main suppliers to the Walmart. First Heritage Brands are the world away from Wallmart. The New World Buyers keep their names hidden behind the brands they acquire.

Epilogue

Made in China, my reader, means what it means – made in China – it could be an excellent quality product, it could be a product of a Chinese designer of an excellent quality and beauty, it might be your sought after luxury product-pretend also made in China. The three stories are those of luxury. It is up to you to decide whether:

  1. You don’t care where your brand comes from as long as it is your brand of desire. God forbid you to see a photocopy (a fake) of the object of your desire.
  2. You don’t care how much you pay for the brand as long as it is made where it claims to be made, as long it is so exclusive that you won’t be able to spot it in the vicinity of 100 metres from you. Further afield, your bag uniqueness is not guaranteed.
  3. You don’t care whether it is a brand recognised by everybody, you care that you and your chosen brand make a unique tandem of class and style. In most of the cases, it will be produced in their birthplace.
  4. Just remember there is nobody there to judge you on your choices.

A Bientot

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Preface

 

 

It happened before A.D.)…

I had another life in the past, not in retail, not in interpreting, not in blogging, not in charity, but in IT. That was my primary call, not maybe the most interesting, but a primary call in accordance to my education it was…

In 1999 I left John Fairfax Pty Ltd, after 10 years of working there and started my work for Compaq/HP. Good money, pager, laptop, Cabcharges from Randwick to Castle Hill, Tandem Computers courses in Melbourne with the future trips to Houston (HP Kingdom) – the money was good, life was also good but stressful. My partner just started to make progress in his new online business, we were so busy, that we almost did not see each other. Rich we were not, but it was the life above the middle class level for us to enjoy. But, this life had its downside. If you knew many women working in IT/Computer Industry in Australia at the start of the noughties, you were clearly in the minority. It was very hard to penetrate the male dominated culture in the work environment. HP had a female CEO, but that was where equality really ended…

IT work environment
IT Work Environment

After 18 months of working there, I had enough. I had been working through 14 hours days, and no pay was enough to compensate for this slavery…Thankfully, I was made redundant in December 2001, just an hour before the office Christmas Party. I had to be accompanied out by a psychologist hired by HP, in case people would become suicidal. That was the rule for all System Managers – during the “heart to heart” with the manager, somebody else would wipe out your passwords and make sure you never existed.

I never failed in my life – it felt for me, like failing at the exams. At that moment, in my wild catasrophing imagination, I saw, all of my life pleasures not supported anymore, including Pilates classes, the cleaner, and going out. In short, all my privileges were to be annulled. Without my big chunk of a salary, we could not afford to maintain the lifestyle we enjoyed. On the following Monday, I went to the employment agency paid by HP, and found out that my position of one person was taken already by not one, by not two, but by three sturdy guys from the other system management areas of HP. It was called centralisation of the tasks and cutting the costs.The employment agency gave me an advice “if you want to stay in the industry, don’t rock the boat, but if, after 5 weeks (my payout by HP) you don’t find a job, you need to hire a lawyer.” In five days I found a job. It was like God (him/herself) answered my prayers all at once. The role offered, entailed less stress, fewer responsibilities and a better pay. I was to look after HP team working on their project for OPTUS, including looking after those three sturdy guys. One of them was particularly mortified, as the last time I met him, he asked me to make him a cup of coffee. He also confided) in me that he liked his coffee the same way he liked his girls to be – white and sweet…HP expressed their concern about my potential lack of objectivity, but my new employer clearly enjoyed the drama. Having re-established my new animal kingdom position and having restored my privileges, I took a deep breath and cut my losses. There were none, I retained the cleaner, my Pilates classes, we were able to go out as before, I had 3 remaining weeks before I started my new job. What would the normal person do in my circumstances?

Roma

We arrived

Together with my daughter we held a military type council, and decided where to go between NY and Italy. Without any further ado we went to Italy just for 10 days in a week’s time. We flew in to Da Vinci airport in Roma on the 11th of January .2001 It was a crispy winter morning, which completely eliminated the smog of Roma. On the first instant, we were enveloped by two distinctive smells in the air – one, of the aroma of coffee, and another one of the aroma of an almond paste used in cornetti (The Italian Croissants).

Ten years prior to this visit, we stayed in Roma for two years as refugees. The city itself, Italy and the Italians were very dear to our hearts, and still are.

The train from Fuimicino took us to Termini via the EUR (Mussolini’s Fascist Third Empire Project, to the centre of the city. The colours changed from teutonic greys and whites to the typical Roma’s pinks and browns and reds. It made the city look warm and feel warm.

EUR, Rome
EUR, Rome
Streets of old Rome
Streets of Old Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We reached our little hotel in via Del Tritone only to be told to wait until 2pm. We had cappuccino with “never ever bad” cornetti and had a huge walk. By the time we reached the hotel we were ready to sleep, only to wake up for the bowl of pasta in the nearby trattoria. The good thing about Roma, if you know it well, there are so many non-touristy places to go to for a bowl of pasta…Or for a slice of pizza.

Pizza al taglio, Rome
Pizza Al taglio, Rome
Cornetti with cappuccino
Cornetti With Cappuccino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Passatella, Rome
La Passatella, Rome
Bruschetta Romana
Bruschetta Romana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Il cibo e sempre buono a Roma quando si sa dove andare a mangiare.” You always eat well in Rome, when you know where to eat.

The Tea Rooms

We discovered in the next 4 days we stayed in Rome, that the only salvation from a bitterly cold weather was to hop from one café to another for a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee, or for a bathroom. If we hopped in for a bathroom, we then needed to buy another coffee and the cycle of coffee/tea/bodily functions/bathroom would become endless. It helped us to find out that the city was not only concentrated on its coffee, but on its tea as well. The culture of tea started in the late 19th century after the English tourists started to travel the world. The most famous Tea Room in Rome is called Babington’s after one of two English sisters and is made in the style of art nouveau – Italian Liberty. Before Babington’s arrival, the tea was sold in Italy only in the pharmacies.

The shop was founded in 1893 by Isabel Cargill and Anne Marie Babington, two English women, with the intention of catering for the many English-speaking people in Rome. At the time of the founding of Babington’s, tea in Italy could be bought only in pharmacies. Babington’s is located on the ground floor of an 18th-century building from which one can see the Spanish Steps, the staircase of the Trinità dei Monti church. Babington’s survived two world wars, the advent of fast food and various economic crises, and has become a favourite meeting place for the writers, actors, artists and politicians.

Cafe Babignton's
Cafe Babignton’s
Antico Caffe Greco, Rome
Antico Caffe Greco, Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most beautiful discovery for us was Caffe Greco near Babington’s. It is a historic landmark café, which opened in 1760 on Via dei Condotti, the most fashionable now, street in Rome. It is the oldest bar in Rome and within Italy only Caffè Florian in Venice (established in 1720) is older. The café was named after its Greek (don’t tell me!)) owner, who opened it in 1760. Historic figures including Stendhal, Goethe, Nikolay Gogol,  Byron, Franz Liszt, Keats, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Felix Mendelssohn, Morrissey, Wagner, Levi and even Casanova have had coffee there. The prices are above the skies,L’Antico Caffe Greco with all it’s connotations looks unmistakably, well… French, but is worth going there for the atmosphere, cakes, tea, history and …the bathroom…Nikolay Gogol and Casanova amazed me the most.  What were the most patriotic Russian writer and the most unrelenting heartthrob doing there?

Vatican, Saint Peter’s, Protestanism

We took a guided tour to Vatican. We were on the bus with the people from all over the world, mostly of them of the catholics. For the different reasons we loved the tour together. I personally, did not like the little gift shops, where the bus would stop every 5 minutes. Most of the stuff was badly made, some of the souvenirs were even made in China.

I should mention, it was our number “numerous” visit to Vatican. We have been there before. We attended the Christmas Mass in 1988, the audience with then Pope John Paul II. He blessed us in Russian language, he blessed the others and in the languages they spoke, and he knew, altogether, 28 languages. By the way, do not believe any greedy tourist sites.The Papal audience is free of charge! You only have to pick up the tickets from the Swiss soldiers, guarding Vatican.

The Pope shakes hands with the Swiss Guard
The Pope Shakes Hands With One Of The Swiss Guards

Vatican and St Peter’s will never stop to amaze me. The art, the faith, the soul behind the masterpieces, and of course, the history. It is breathtaking to say the least.

St. Peter’s Basilica took 120 years to complete due to the greed, corruption, fires and “comradeship” inside the Vatican. At one stage, the financing of the construction was helped with the provision of the indulgences.

A German Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, wrote to Archbishop Albrecht arguing against him “selling of indulgences”. He also included his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as The 95 Theses. This became a factor in starting the Reformation, the birth of Protestantism.

The Romans also have an expression about something taking ages to complete:they say – “Come La Fabbrica Di San Pedro”  – “Like St. Peter’s factory” But…by hook or by crook or by sheer faith something so divinely beautiful was created, that it is still beyond our understanding. Of course, Rafael and Michelangelo helped a lot too.

Christmas Eve Mass,Saint Peter's Basilica
Midnight Christmas Mass, Saint Peter’s Basilica

Sant’Anna Dei Palafrenieri, Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci

On that day, we went to Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri Church located beside the Porta Sant’Anna (Saint Anne’s Gate), an international border crossing between Vatican City State and Italy. It is located on the right hand side from the exit from St Peter’s square after the Vatican post office. By the way, all the letters sent from the Vatican post office, carrying the Vatican stamp, always reach their destination by some divine intervention. You have to trust me. I cannot guarantee Australian Post delivery considering the times we are living in. Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri (The Pope’s Grooms) Church is a very modest church still within the the territory of Vatican. It was built during two centuries, not due to the complexity of the architecture, but due to the squabbles in the Papal Court. Sant’Anna (Hannah) was the mother of Santa Maria, the grandmother of Jesus. In 1603, the Archonfraternity (Fraternity of the Papal Grooms) commissioned Caravaggio to paint a picture of Saint Anne’s for the altar. Painted in 1605-1606, the painting “Madonna and Child with St. Anne” was briefly (for one months) exhibited in the church of Saint Anne in the Vatican. It was subsequently sold to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and now hangs in his palazzo, presently the museum of the Galleria Borghese. The Cardinal displayed this picture only in his private gallery during his life. I believe, the Church tried to get rid of the painting in a hurry. It shows the darker side of the old Caravaggio and his quite violent nature…Before he died, Maestro had a death warrant issued by the Pope for murdering someone in a drunken brawl. The picture also shows

1) Sant’Anna as a wrinkled unkempt old grandmother

2) A little Baby Jesus stomping on a snake with his bare feet with two adults watching and supervising – where were the Children Protection Services?

3) A little Baby Jesus is portrayed with uncircumcised penis (was he not Jewish after all?)

4) Santa Maria is pictured with the biggest cleavage ever shown on the religious pictures. There were rumours at the time, Caravaggio’s model was a prostitute…

Caravaggio’s painting is very dissimilar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrayal of St Anne and Baby Jesus (displayed in Louvre). In Leonardo’s version, Jesus is playing with an innocent lamb, and Santa Maria is wearing decent clothes. She behaves like a good mother to Jesus, when trying to restrain Baby Jesus playing with an innocent lamb. On a closer look, however, Santa Maria is sitting on Sant’Anna’s lap. Why? Nobody knows. Sigmund Freud tried later to re-interpret the picture, as a perfect portrayal of Leonardo’s passive homosexuality. Also, in my opinion, Sant’Anna is dressed better and looks younger than her daughter, which is unnecessary.

In short, Sant’Anna was not an easy character to depict. But the real reason of our visit to the church, was the fact that the Father Confessor (Il Padre Confessore) of 10 years ago, spoke Russian and was originally from Odessa. We checked on him. We had a lovely chat, it was so comforting to re-discover our Rome…

 

St Anne with the Virgin and the Child Embracing a Lamb by Leonardo Da Vinci
St Anne With The Virgin And The Child Embracing a Lamb by Leonardo Da Vinci
Madonna And Child With St Anne by Caravaggio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interior of St Anne's church
Interior of Sant’ Anna Dei Palafrenieri, Vatican

 

 

The Walks Of Rome And How To Cross The Roads In Rome

My daughter and I completed everything in our itinerary in Roma in the first 4 days. We walked from Vatican to Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, to Basilica of San Giovianni in Laterano (all three Churches, belonging to Vatican, not to the State, but outside the international borders of Vatican). We also walked from Via Veneto, via Villa Borghese, via Villa Medici and finally ended our walk in Piazza De Spagna (2 minutes from our hotel in via Del Tritone). We went to the Botanical Garden which is the oasis of tranquility in a forever hectic city. We went to Colosseum and to the Catacombs both Jewish and Christian. I always thought, the catacombs were the hiding place from the religious persecution. The real reason behind the catacombs was quite benign and practical, the lack of burial space. The Roman authorities did not allow the people of monotheistic religions to bury their dead within the walls of the city. Only cremation was allowed, which people of the monotheistic religions considered pagan. Via Appia Antica, where catacombs are, is beautiful, the Catacombs are beautiful too. The last burial in there was in 1920. My advice: when walking in Rome beware of the absence of the pedestrian crossings, or rather of their presence, which does not change the drivers’s behaviours. They never stop to let you cross. The modern Romans are usually crossing the road when the priests or nuns do. It is a bad sign, apparently, to kill the clergy.

Via Appia Antica, Rome
Via Appia Antica, Rome

The Greatest Miracle Of The Roman Trip, 2001

We left our Sunday free of any itineraries. No reason… 11 years before we were saved by one remarkable woman from a Jewish charity called American Joint, when we were in the refugee camps. She saved us momentarily by one signature of her ballpoint pen when she allowed us to change from waiting for US to Australia (we waited for Australia afterwards for almost 2 years). She was also an inspiration for the eternal style of short skirts and thick tights and ballet shoes. I became blond because of her!) She cannot be named for certain reason, but for years, I tried to locate her. I called all of the caseworkers I worked for, in USA, UK and Australia, and no, nobody knew her whereabouts. On that Sunday morning, the 14th of January 2001, we went to the Great Rome Synagogue, which also served as a Jewish Museum.

Great Synagogue Rome
Great Synagogue, Rome

It was not like that 11 years before. The synagogue of 10 years ago, was just a synagogue and a centre of the old Jewish Ghetto.

A little bit of history: The Great Synagogue in Rome was not built when Rome was built, even though the history of Jewish community of Rome goes back to the 2nd century BC. The Jewish community of Rome is the oldest uninterrupted Jewish community in the world outside of Israel. The present synagogue was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist. The Roman Ghetto was demolished and the Jews were granted citizenship. The building which had previously housed the ghetto synagogue in a single building was demolished, and the Jewish community began making plans for a new and impressive building.

Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni (two Catholics), the synagogue was built from 1901 to 1904 on the banks of the Tiber, overlooking the former ghetto. The eclectic style of the building makes it stand out, even in a city known for notable buildings and structures. This attention-grabbing design was a deliberate choice made by the community at the time who wanted the building to be a visible celebration of their freedom and to be seen from many vantage points in the city.

Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto, Rome
Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto, Rome

The elderly lady, working in the museum as a guide, miraculously, recognised me, since we both worked together with the Soviet refugees. She could not give me “Rafaella”s phone number, since it was against all security rules, but she gave me another person’s phone number. Another person, could not help me either. Even though, she remembered me, it was all again, “against the rules”. She could not give me the phone number of an absolutely Catholic guard “Ferdinando” who worked for the Roman Jewish community for 30 years. They had to “protect his identity”. By the time I made all my calls,  my legs carried me across Ponte Fabricio (the oldest bridge in Rome) from the Ghetto to Trastevere.

We went to see Santa Maria in Trastevere:

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches of Rome. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, and much of the structure to 1140-43. T A Christian house-church was founded here about 220 by Pope Saint Callixtus I on the site of the Taberna meritoria, a refuge for retired soldiers. The area was given over for Christian use by the Emperor Alexander Severus when he settled a dispute between the Christians and tavern-keepers, saying,  “I prefer that it should belong to those who honour God, whatever be their form of worship.” The lesson is that every religion should remember being in minority and refrain from persecuting the other minorities…

 

Santa Maria In Trastevere
Santa Maria In Trastevere

We had a beautiful lunch at Enoteca Ferrara in Trastevere to kill the hunger and to kill the time to go to Standa (Italian version of Target with groceries) which re-opens every day after siesta at 3:30pm. Why? I don’t know!!! I was still pretty much convinced we would see “Raffaella” on that day.

 

Lunch At Enoteca Ferrara
Lunch At Enoteca Ferrara

It did not take us even two minutes to get inside  the warmth of the commercial kingdom to see “Rafaella” of 10 years after, trying one of the coats on sale there. We hugged each other – I hugged her so tight that I thought I would break her ribs (I am in no danger of my ribs ever threatened by hugging) My daughter maybe thought, I was a clairvoyant/who married a devil for one day. The meeting was incredible, since then I try to trust my gut feeling, instead of trusting my gut wrenching fear which overcomes me sometimes…I need to invent a gut listening stethoscope…

Friends Hugging (From Downy's Advertisement)
Friends Hugging (From Downy’s Advertisement)

We had a proper reunion with “Rafaella” two days after, when we discovered she had a new marriage and another beautiful girl addition to her two other daughters. We tried to bring everything Australian for this reunion, and discovered that a good Australian wine in Rome was much cheaper than back home even if we tried to convert the price in Euro and back three times. Phew, that was it for Rome, was not it? Venezia and Verona are coming next week!

My life miracles – Roma, Venezia, Verona

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luxury-consumption

An International consulting firm, Brain & Company, estimated that the luxury market was valued at $274 billion in 2014, and was set to grow even bigger to a whopping $280 billion by 2015. And just like only a small percentage of the world wealthiest people make up most of the world’s wealth, only a handful of the most expensive clothing designers make up the bulk of the luxury clothing market.

Along with being a form of expression, fashion has always been a way for people to showcase their status. Much like the size of your house or the price tag on your car, the designer that you are wearing says much more about you than just where you shop. It also says a lot about your level of income, your style and taste levels, whether you prefer funky cool, or sleek sophistication…

I picked up four Luxury Houses for my research. They are not chosen because of their income ladder, but in the order of my preferences… And here we start, with the House of Chanel…

The House Of Chanel

Chanel, Rue Cambon, Window Display

Chanel is a still a privately owned company. It is still owned by the brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who, in turn was the business partner of the couturière Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. From Bloomberg Business: “The pair keep their private lives – and their finances – are out of the spotlight to such an extent that their combined $19.2 billion fortune is more than double previous estimates.” “Chanel would rate at the very top of the industry,” Gilbert Harrison, chairman and founder of investment bank Financo LLC, said in a phone interview. “Given luxury companies are going for three to four times revenues you can easily get to a $20 billion valuation.” “We’re a very discreet family, we never talk,” Gerard was quoted as saying in an article in the New York Times in February 2002. “It is about Coco Chanel. It is about Karl [Lagerfeld]. It is about everyone, who works and creates at Chanel. It’s not about the Wertheimers.”

Lets talk about Coco Chanel for better or for worse! Somebody has to…

I must admit that my research might have resulted in a biased and one-faceted story, when describing this extraordinary and multifaceted personality. I have tried my best. I tried not to gloss Chanel’s personality over, but I tried to be objective at the same time…

The history of House of Chanel is very different from any movies ever made about its creator.

Early Years

Gabrielle, “Coco”, Chanel, came from very humble beginnings. She was born in the town of Saumur, in 1883, one of three daughters of a very sickly mother and forever unfaithful father, who worked as a travelling salesman.

After Gabrielle’s mother died, when the girl was only 11, the father deposited the girls to the orphanage house in Auvergne and was never seen again.

Gabrielle Coco Chanel

At the age of 18, Chanel went to a Catholic boarding school, where the nuns taught her how to sew. Chanel was able to find employment as a seamstress. When not plying her needle, she sang in a cabaret frequented by cavalry officers. Chanel made her stage debut singing at a café-concert (a popular entertainment venue of the era) in a Moulins pavilion, “La Rotonde”. She was among other girls dubbed “poseuses”, the performers who entertained the crowd between star turns. The money earned, was what they managed to accumulate when the plate was passed among the audience in appreciation of their performance. It was at this time that Gabrielle acquired the name “Coco”, possibly based on two popular songs with which she became identified, “Ko Ko Ri Ko”, and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”, or it was an allusion to the French word for kept woman, cocotte.

Coco Chanel With Etienne Balsan
Coco Chanel With Etienne Balsan

Life As A Courtesan

It was at Moulins, that Chanel met the young French ex-cavalry officer and the wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan. At the age of twenty-three, Chanel became Balsan’s mistress. For the next three years, she lived with him in his chateau Royallieu, near Compiègne, an area known for it’s wooded equestrian paths and the hunting life. It was a life style of self-indulgence, which only Balsan’s wealth and leisure allowed.

Chanel and "Boy" Capel
Chanel and “Boy” Capel

In 1908, Chanel began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. Capel, a wealthy member of the English upper class, installed Chanel in an apartment in Paris at Rue Cambon, directly behind Hotel Ritz and financed Chanel’s first shops. It is said that Capel’s elegant style influenced many of Chanel’s creations. The bottle design for Chanel No. 5 had three probable origins, the first two attributable to the sophisticated design of Capel belongings and the third one, to the aesthetics of an apothecary bottle. It is believed, Chanel adapted the rectangular, bevelled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles he carried in his leather traveling case, or it was the design of the whiskey decanter Capel used and Chanel so admired, that she wished to reproduce it in “exquisite, expensive, delicate glass. The affair lasted nine years, but even after Capel married an English aristocrat, Lady Diana Wyndham in 1918, he did not completely break off with Chanel. His death in a car accident, in late 1919, was the single most devastating event in Chanel’s life. She commissioned the placement of a roadside memorial at the site of the accident, which she visited in later years to lay flowers in remembrance. Twenty-five years after the event, Chanel, was quoted as saying, that “in losing Capel, I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness, I have to say”…6 years after Capel’s death, Chanel acquired a logo with two interlocking Cs, said to be dedicated to Boy Capel and herself….

Chanel with Grand Duke Romanov
Chanel with Grand Duke Romanov

No.5

After a three years stint in Deauville, Normandy seaside town, Gabrielle moved to Rue Cambon in 1918, where she settled there since. She sold hats and couture until 1919… In 1919, Chanel’s then lover, The Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich Romanov (known for being involved in the murder of the mystic peasant and faith healer Grigori Rasputin), introduced Chanel to Ernest Beaux, the Russian French Perfumer. Beaux was born to the French Perfumers in Russia, where in 1881 he became the Czar’s official perfumer. Since the Revolution, Beaux fled Russia and settled in an inland town near Cannes. Chanel met him there and asked him to produce a perfume “which would have everything in it and nothing in the bottle”. Her brief was laconic: an abstract of flowers, which would evoke the smell of a woman. Beaux presented his concoctions to Mademoiselle. She chose the fifth composition and called it simply, No.5.

Ernest Beaux - inventor of No.5
Ernest Beaux, the Creator of No.5

 

Chanel No.5 is still constructed of approximately 50 ingredients. The most important is jasmine, but there is also ylang-ylang, patchouli, dried leaf from Indonesia, that was used as a repellent in silk shipments. There is a healthy dose of Provence roses. For the flask, Chanel chose the most banal shape, the rectangular chemist’s bottle. Chanel launched the perfume quietly without any announcement. She wore it herself, spritzed in the dressing rooms. The rumour mill started working – “Mademoiselle Chanel has a new perfume!!!” Only then, Chanel put an order for Number 5 into production.

Happy Birthday Mr President
Happy Birthday Mr President

 

 Wertheimers, The New Era

 

Pierre WertheimerChanel in her 40-s

Theophille Bader, the founder of the French Department Store Galleries Lafayette, wanted to sell the perfume, but in order to do this, Chanel needed to expand her production. Bader introduced her to his friend Pierre Wertheimer, co-owner of Bourjois cosmetics company. In 1924, the deal was signed for Les Parfumes Chanel: Wertheimer got 70% for production of perfumes in his Bourjois factories, Bader got 20% for the finders fee, Chanel received 10%. It did not take long for her to realise she had been duped. She filed so many suits to no avail, that by 1928 Wertheimers hired a lawyer to deal exclusively with Chanel’s demands. Throughout the 20-s Chanel added few more perfumes to her perfume house: Gardenia, No.22, Cuir De Russie, but none of them could surpass the soaring popularity of No.5, which was named the best perfume in the world in 1929. By the 1930-s Coco Chanel was earning $4 million a year and reportedly, had assets of $10 million dollars.

les exclusifs de chanel collage
Exclusive to House of Chanel Collage of Chanel Perfumes

English Aristocracy

Chanel with Winston Churchill and His Son

In 1923, Chanel was introduced into the highest levels of British aristocracy. It was an elite group of associations revolving around such personages as Winston Churchill, aristocrats such as the Duke of Westminster, and royals such as Edward, Prince of Wales. It was in Monte Carlo, in 1923, that at the age of forty, Chanel was introduced to the vastly wealthy Duke of Westminster. The Duke of Westminster lavished Chanel with extravagant jewels, costly art, and a home in London’s prestigious Mayfair district. His affair with Chanel lasted ten years. The Duke, an outspoken anti-Semite, intensified Chanel’s inherent antipathy toward Jews and shared with her an expressed homophobia. In 1927, the Duke of Westminster gave Chanel a parcel of land he had purchased in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera. It was on this site that Chanel built her villa, La Pausa] (“restful pause”). When asked, why she did not marry the Duke of Westminster, she has supposedly stated: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

Chanel and Hollywood

It was in 1931 while in Monte Carlo that Chanel made the acquaintance of Samuel Goldwyn (most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood) The introduction was made through a mutual friend, her then lover, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, cousin to the last czar of Russia, Nicolas II. Goldwyn offered Chanel a tantalizing proposition. For the sum of a million dollars (approximately seventy-five million in twenty-first century valuation), he would bring her to Hollywood twice a year to design costumes for MGM stars. Chanel accepted the offer. Chanel said she had agreed to the arrangement to “see what the pictures have to offer me and what I have to offer the pictures. Chanel designed the clothing worn on screen by Gloria Swanson, in “Tonight or Never” (1931), and for Ina Claire in “The Greeks Had a Word for Them”. Both Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became private clients. Her experience with American movie making left Chanel with a dislike for the Hollywood film business and distaste for the Hollywood culture itself, which she denounced as “infantile”.Chanel’s verdict was that “Hollywood is the capital of bad taste … and it is vulgar.” Ultimately, her design aesthetic did not translate well to film. The New Yorker speculated that Chanel had left Hollywood because “they told her the dresses weren’t sensational enough. She made a lady look like a lady. Hollywood wants a lady to look like two ladies.” Chanel went on to design the costumes for several French films, including Jean Renoir’s 1939 film “La Règle du jeu”, in which she was credited as La Maison Chanel.

Coco Chanel in Hollywood
Coco Chanel Costume Design Hollywood

Another part of Chanel’s story are her “Channelisms” often attributed to her as Chanel’s famous expressions, which as we say in Russian, became the “winged phrases”. They are flying from one story to another, but they might not be by Chanel at all. Chanel was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married. At some stage in her life, she had a loving relationship with the poet Pierre Reverdy. After her romance with Reverdy ended in 1926, they still maintained a friendship that lasted for some forty years. It is postulated that the legendary maxims attributed to Chanel and published in periodicals were crafted under the mentorship of Reverdy, as a collaborative effort. A review of Chanel’s correspondence reveals a complete contradiction between the clumsiness of Chanel’s writing, and the talent of Chanel as a composer of maxims … After correcting the handful of aphorisms that Chanel wrote about her métier, Reverdy added to this collection of “Chanelisms” a series of thoughts of a more general nature, some touching on life and taste, others on allure and love.” In short, when you come across the expression “A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”, attributed to Chanel, it might not have been by Chanel, but by Reverdy…

Chanel and the World War II

When Nazis arrived to Paris in 1940, brothers Pierre and Paul Wertheimer had to flee to USA, since they were Jewish. Once settled in New York, they sent an American H. Gregory Thomas to Grasse to secure the formula and the ingredients to produce number 5 in the United States during the war. Thomas also helped Pierre’s son Jacques escape via Morocco and Portugal to New York. Thomas was later named the President of Chanel USA – he held this position for 32 years. In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops, at the same time, maintaining her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion and her 3,000 female employees lost their jobs. Chanel moved to a “house” across the road – to Hotel Ritz. Hotel Ritz at the time housed the German military headquarters. Chanel lived there with her young lover, the Nazi officer Hans Gunther Von Dincklage. World War II, specifically the Nazi seizure of all Jewish-owned property and business interests, provided Chanel with the opportunity to gain the full monetary fortune generated by Parfums Chanel and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5. The directors of Parfums Chanel, the Wertheimers, were Jewish, and Chanel used her position as an “Aryan” to petition German officials to legalise her claim to the sole ownership. On 5 May 1941, she wrote to the Vichy government administrator charged with ruling on the disposition of Jewish financial assets. Her grounds for proprietary ownership were based on the claim that Parfums Chanel “is still the property of Jews” and had been legally “abandoned” by the owners. “I have,” she wrote, “an indisputable right of priority … the profits that I have received from my creations since the foundation of this business … are disproportionate … you can help to repair in part the prejudices I have suffered in the course of these seventeen years.” Chanel was not aware that the Wertheimers, anticipating the forthcoming Nazi mandates against Jews had, in May 1940, legally turned control of Parfums Chanel over to a Christian, French businessman and industrialist Felix Amiot. At war’s end, Amiot turned “Parfums Chanel” back into the hands of the Wertheimers.

Chanel World War II
In 1939, because of the sudden outbreak of World War II, Coco Chanel closed Maison Chanel. “This is no time for fashion” she said.

Declassified, archival documents unearthed by Hal Vaughan (former US secret service agent turned writer) in his book “Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” reveal that the French Préfecture de Police had a document on Chanel in which she was described as “Couturier and perfumer. Pseudonym: Westminster. Agent reference: F 7124. Signalled as suspect in the file” (For Vaughan, this was a piece of revelatory information linking Chanel to German intelligence operations). Vaughan establishes that Chanel committed herself to the German cause as early as 1941 and worked for General Walter Schellenberg, chief of SS intelligence. At the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 owing to incurable liver disease and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg’s medical care and living expenses, financially supported his wife and family and paid for Schellenberg’s funeral upon his death in 1952.

In September 1944, Chanel was invited for questioning by the Free French Purge Committee, L’Epuration. The committee, which had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity, was obliged to release her. According to Chanel’s grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home she said, “Churchill had me freed” The extent of Winston Churchill’s intervention became a subject of gossip and speculation. It was supposedly feared that if Chanel were ever made to testify at trial, the pro-Nazi sympathies and activities of top-level British officials, members of the society elite and those of the royal family itself would be exposed. Some claim, that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to protect Chanel. Finally induced to appear in Paris before investigators in 1949, Chanel left her retreat in Switzerland to confront testimony given against her at the war crime trial of Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor and highly placed German intelligence agent. Chanel denied all accusations brought against her. She offered the presiding judge, Leclercq, a character reference: “I could arrange for a declaration to come from Mr. Duff Cooper.” Chanel’s friend and biographer Marcel Haedrich provided a telling estimation of her wartime interaction with the Nazi regime: “If one took seriously the few disclosures that Mademoiselle Chanel allowed herself to make about those black years of the occupation, one’s teeth would be set on edge.”

Vaughan’s disclosure of the contents of recently de-classified military intelligence documents, and the subsequent controversy generated soon after the book’s publication in August 2011, prompted The House of Chanel to issue a statement, portions of which appeared in myriad media outlets. Chanel Group “refuted the claim” (of espionage), while admitting that company officials had read only media excerpts of the book.

“What’s certain is that she had a relationship with a German aristocrat during the War. Clearly it wasn’t the best period to have a love story with a German even if Baron von Dincklage was English by his mother and she (Chanel) knew him before the War,” the Chanel group said in a statement.

Photo Collage of Coco Chanel in Hotel Ritz and of Her Dashing Nazi Lover Baron Von
Photo Collage of Coco Chanel in Hotel Ritz and of Her Dashing Nazi Lover Baron Von Dinclage

In an interview given to the Associated Press, author Vaughan explains the trajectory of his research. “I was looking for something else and I came across this document saying ‘Chanel is a Nazi agent’…Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I came across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy.” Vaughan also addressed the discomfort many felt with the revelations provided in his book: “A lot of people in this world don’t want the iconic figure of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, one of France’s great cultural idols, destroyed. This is definitely something that a lot of people would have preferred to put aside, to forget, to just go on selling Chanel scarves and jewellery.”

Chanel after World War II

During the period directly following the end of World War II, the business world watched with interest and some apprehension the ongoing legal wrestle for control of Parfums Chanel. Interested parties in the proceedings were well aware of Chanel’s Nazi affiliations during wartime, if made public knowledge, would seriously threaten the reputation and status of the Chanel brand. Forbes magazine summarized the dilemma faced by the Wertheimers: it is Pierre Wertheimer’s worry how “a legal fight might illuminate Chanel’s wartime activities and wreck her image—and his business.”

Ultimately, the Wertheimers and Chanel came to a mutual accommodation, renegotiating the original 1924 contract. On 17 May 1947, Chanel received wartime profits from the sale of Chanel No. 5, in an amount equivalent to some nine million dollars in twenty-first century valuation. Further, her future share would be two percent of all Chanel No. 5 sales worldwide. The financial benefit to her would be enormous. Her earnings would be in the vicinity of twenty-five million dollars a year, making her at the time one of the richest women in the world. In addition, Pierre Wertheimer agreed to an unusual stipulation proposed by Chanel herself. Wertheimer agreed to pay all of Chanel’s living expenses—from the trivial to the large — for the rest of her life.

cococ-chanel-in-her-studio-1954chanel-and-suzy-parker-photo-by-richard-avedon-jan-1959

 

In 1945, Chanel moved to Switzerland where she lived with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, eventually returning to Paris in 1954. When No.5 sales began to lag in the early 1950-s, Pierre Werthemeir paid a visit to then 70-year old Mademoiselle Chanel at the Beau Rivage hotel in Lausanne. Within a few days she was back on the Rue Cambon, planning the relaunch of Chanel Couture. Her 1920-s reminiscent collection in the era of Christian Dior New Look design was simply dismissed. The crowds snickered and simply laughed. “It was a fiasco and one of the cruelest experiences I’ve ever witnessed “, film director Franco Zeffirelli recalled. Chanel, the ultimate survivor, was not to be swayed. “I want to go on, to go on and win”, she told Pierre Werthemeir. He agreed. He also financed Coco Chanel’s hopes. Chanel did go on and her collections became stronger and stronger. It took only one year for Chanel to achieve her ultimate success and to become the Queen of Fashion again. Her success in in fashion boosted the perfume sales and Mademoiselle’s position in the company. In 1954, Wertheimer negotiated his final deal with her: the family would pay all Chanel’s personal expenses, for her Rue Cambon headquarters, her taxes till the rest of her life in exchange for the full control of her name for perfume and fashion. As she had no heirs, upon her death, the family would receive all her royalties too. The same year Pierre bought off remaining 20% from the Bader family. When Chanel died in 1971, Werthemeirs became the sole owners of the company. They still are.

The End of a Turbulent Life

As 1971 began, Chanel was 87 years old, tired, and ailing, but nonetheless stuck to her usual routine of preparing the spring catalogue. She had gone for a long drive the afternoon of Saturday January 9 and feeling ill went to bed early. She died on Sunday, January 10, 1971 at the Hotel Ritz where she had resided for more than 30 years. Her funeral was held at the Église de la Madeleine; her fashion models occupied the first seats during the ceremony and her coffin was covered with white flowers – camellias, gardenias, orchids, azaleas and a few red roses. Her grave is located in the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery, Lausanne, Switzerland…

White Camellias, Chanel's favourite flowers - Coco Chanel's Grave in Lausanne
White Camellias, Chanel’s favourite flowers – Coco Chanel’s Grave in Lausanne

Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel’s Legacy

Chanel Show

Chanel’s legacy as a person and as a designer will live with us forever… As early as 1915, Harper’s Bazaar raved over Chanel’s designs: “The woman who hasn’t at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion … .” Chanel’s ascendancy was the official deathblow to the corseted, restrained female silhouette. The frills, fuss, and constraints endured by earlier generations of women were now passé; under her influence—gone were the “aigrettes, long hair, hobbling skirts. Her design aesthetic redefined the fashionable woman for the post WWI era. The Chanel trademark was a look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and unencumbered sportive confidence. Chanel’s philosophy was to emphasize understated elegance through her clothing. Her popularity thrived in the 1920s, because of her innovative designs. Chanel’s own look itself was as different and new as her creations. Instead of the usual pale-skinned, long-haired and full-bodied women preferred at the time.

French couturier Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel (1883 - 1971) at her home, Fauborg, St Honore, Paris.   (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
French couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883 – 1971) at her home, Fauborg, St Honore, Paris. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)

Jersey’s Fabrics

Chanel’s initial triumph was the innovative use of jersey fabric, a machine knit material manufactured for her by the firm Rodier, and traditionally relegated to the manufacture of undergarments. Chanel’s early wool jersey traveling suit consisted of a cardigan jacket, and pleated skirt, paired with a low-belted pullover top. This ensemble, worn with low-heeled shoes, became the casual look in expensive women’s wear. Prior to this, jersey tended to only be used in hosiery and for tennis, golf and beachwear. It was too “ordinary” to be used in couture and its weave was difficult to handle. Chanel’s introduction of jersey to high fashion worked well for two reasons. First, the war had caused a shortage of other materials and second, women started to desire more simple and practical clothes. Her fluid jersey suits and dresses were created for practicality and allowed free movement. This was greatly appreciated at the time because women were working for the war effort as nurses, in civil service and in factories. Their work involved physical activity and they had to ride trains, buses and bicycles to get to work. They desired outfits, that did not give away easily and could be put on without the help of servants

chanel-linton-tweed-840x1024

Chanel Suit

The Chanel tweed suit was built for comfort and practicality. It consisted of a jacket and skirt in a matching Scottish tweed and a blouse and jacket lining in jersey or a silk crepe. The jacket had the piping and gold buttons. The tweed she used was supple and light. She did not stiffen the material or use shoulder pads. She also cut the jackets on the straight grain, without adding bust darts. This allowed for quick and easy movement. She designed the neckline to leave the neck comfortably free and also added pockets that could actually hold things. On most other suits, pockets were just for show. For a higher level of comfort, the skirt had a grosgrain across the hips, instead of a belt. More importantly, meticulous attention was placed on detail during fittings. Measurements were taken in a standing position with arms folded at shoulder height. She also conducted crash tests with models where they would walk around, hop on a platform as if they were stepping on an imaginary bus, and then bend over as if they were getting into a sports car. She wanted to make sure women could do all of these things while wearing her suit, without exposing unwanted parts of their body that might catch the eyes of men. Each customer could get repeated adjustments until the suit was comfortable enough for her to perform her daily activities with comfort and ease.

 

Chanel Camellias

 

The Camellias

The camellia had an established association with Alexandre Dumas’s literary work, “La Dame aux Camélias” (”The Lady of the Camellias”). Its heroine and her story had resonated for Chanel since her youth. The flower itself had become identified with the courtesan who would wear a camellia to advertise her availability. The camellia came to be associated with The House of Chanel, making its first appearance as a decorative element on a white-trimmed black suit in 1933.

Chanel Camellia Sneaker
Chanel Camellia Sneaker

The Little Black Dress

After the jersey suit, the concept of the little black dress is often cited as a Chanel contribution to the fashion lexicon and as an article of clothing survives to this day. Its first incarnation was executed in thin silk, crèpe de chine, and had long sleeves. Chanel started making little black dresses in wool or chenille for the day and in satin, crepe or velvet for the evening. The dress was fashionable, yet comfortable and practical because it was stripped of all excess. In 1926, the American edition of Vogue highlighted such a Chanel dress, dubbing it the jargon (little boy look). They predicted it would “become sort of a uniform for all women of taste”, embodying a standardized aesthetic, which the magazine likened to the democratic appeal of the ubiquitous black Ford automobile. Its spare look generated widespread criticism from male journalists who complained: “no more bosom, no more stomach, no more rump…” The popularity of the little black dress can be attributed to the timing at which it was introduced. The 1930s brought in the Great Depression Era during which women desired affordable fashion. Chanel quoted, “Thanks to me they can walk around like millionaires.”

 LBD

Jewellery

Chanel introduced a line of jewellery that was a conceptual innovation in design and materials incorporating both simulated and fine gemstones. This was revolutionary in an era when jewellery was strictly categorized into either fine or costume jewellery.

Basque Diamond necklace by Paul Iribe for Chanel
Basque Diamond necklace by Paul Iribe for Chanel

In 1933, designer Paul Iribe collaborated with Chanel in the creation of extravagant jewellery pieces commissioned by the International Guild of Diamond Merchants. The collection, executed exclusively in diamonds and platinum, was exhibited for public viewing and drew a large audience.

Costume Jewellery Chanel-Goossens collaboration
Costume Jewellery Chanel-Goossens collaboration

Starting in 1953, Goossens worked with Coco Chanel to design jewellery to accompany her fashion designs, mostly through presentations where she would guide his inspiration. Chanel herself loved to blend the rich with the poor and Goossens’ creations were entirely in keeping with that approach. Notable work during his tenure at Chanel includes silver and gold plaited pins set with emeralds, moon earth pendants, and crystal Byzantine crosses. Goossens would create original pieces for Mademoiselle Chanel made of real gold and genuine stones, which in turn were copied as imitations designed for fashion shows and presentations. These models ultimately served as the basis for Chanel’s costume jewellery designs.

Chanel/Goossens Famous Bracelet
Chanel/Goossens Bracelet

Goossens continued his work with the house of Chanel after its founder’s passing, and collaborated with her successor Karl Lagerfeld throughout the 1980s and 1990s to create costume jewellery for Chanel’s ready-to-wear and couture collections. Chanel bought Goossens’ company in 2005.

Chanel quilted bag

Chanel Early quilted bag made from Jersey
Chanel Early quilted bag made from Jersey

Identifying a need to liberate women’s hands from the encumbrance of a hand held bag, Chanel conceived of a handbag that would accomplish this stylishly. Christened the “2.55” (named after the date of the bag’s creation: February 1955), its design, combined with Chanel’s creative inspiration, evoked the memories of her convent days and her love of the sporting world. The original version was constructed of jersey or leather, the outside featuring a hand-stitched quilted design influenced by the jackets worn by jockeys. The chain strap was a nod to her orphanage years, reminiscent to Chanel of the abbey caretakers who wore such waist chains to hold keys. The burgundy red uniform worn by the convent girls was incorporated into the bag’s interior lining.

Karl Lagerfeld's version of Chanel's 2.55 bag
Karl Lagerfeld’s version of Chanel’s 2.55 bag

The bag design went through a reincarnation in the 1980s when it was updated by Karl Lagerfeld. Known as the Classic Flap, the bag retained its original classic shape, with the clasp and chain strap differing from its initial form. Lagerfeld worked the House of Chanel logo, “CC” into the rectangular twist lock and wove leather through the shoulder chain.

Epilogue

I tried to create a true homage to a great designer and to a great business woman. I tried to be as objective as I could. 

The history will never see such a great and, as I love to say, multifaceted input in fashion, design, perfumery, textiles, innovations, as the one, created by Chanel. Should I say I admire this lady? How can I? She was an anti-semite and a Nazi-symphatizer, to put it mildly. At the same time, I admire her for her fashion greatness, for her art, for her business qualities in the same way I would admire Leni Riefenstahl?…( Or maybe more, because Coco Chanel’s talents were much bigger and her horizons and aspirations were much higher…

I do, however, reserve my judgement for the current owners of the House of Chanel.

There are two aspects I wished to mention – I do believe that Pierre Wertheimer was in love with Mademoiselle Chanel, or he was at least fascinated by her survival skills.

Pierre Wertheimer died six years before Coco Chanel passed away, putting an end to an intriguing and curious relationship of which Parfums Chanel was just one, albeit pivotal, dynamic. Coco Chanel’s attorney, Rene de Chambrun, described the relationship as one based on a businessman’s passion for a woman who felt exploited by him. “Pierre returned to Paris full of pride and excitement (after one of his horses won the 1956 English Derby),” Chambrun recalled in Forbes. “He rushed to Coco, expecting congratulations and praise. But she refused to kiss him. She resented him, you see, all her life.”

For the current owners of The House of Chanel – I would like to tell an old legend…

There is a very famous Latin Expression,”Pecunia non olet”, or “Money does not stink”. Roman Emperor Vespasian imposed a Tax on public urinals in Rome’s Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) system. The buyers of the urine (tanners) paid the tax.The Roman historian Suetonius reports that when Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell (sciscitans num odore offenderetur). When Titus said “No,” he replied, “Yet it comes from urine”…The phrase Pecunia non olet is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.

The owners of Chanel are very private Jewish people. Chanel did everything in her power not only to survive but to prosper during the Nazi occupation… If she could betray the Jews she would…indirectly though.  The Jewish owners of the company did everything they could to gloss her not so glorious past over. It makes their behaviour incredibly opportunistic. And money does stink… In my only humble opinion. There will be more research and more disclosures and more beautiful actresses will be hired to play Chanel in more glorious and more romantic movies to counterweigh those disclosures. But for how long? I think it is a high time to stop this charade – it will only benefit the company.

I started dreaming Chanel…It is not healthy. Therefore,

     Fin…

Chanel Fashion Show 2012
Chanel Fashion Show 2012

 

 

 

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Day 5. Dublin-Galway-Dublin

Monday.

So, as it was decided by my brand new Irish friends, the day before, at Max’s restaurant, that I “needed” to go to Galway. Only ‘2.5’ hours drive. Since visiting Ireland twice afterwards, and since visiting Armenia 4 times, I know now, that the definition of time for my beloved nations is a bit skewed, to say the least.

I was in deep pain the night before, but being a responsible person, I did not take any painkillers and did not take them with me. The car I hired, was an innocent Nissan Micra with an automatic gearbox, GPS, and no air-conditioning. They explained to me that I was plain lucky to get an automatic in Europe. According to the car rentals, “the air-con should be on my next wish list, but it never gets hot in Ireland”. Why on Earth, Europeans, make it hard for themselves all the time?

Irish Village Spring
Irish Village Spring

The drive to Galway took me 3.5 hours, only because I tried to fight with the navigation system in order to pass the most picturesque Irish villages…Mind you, I always fight with the navigation system, only to discover it is right after all…

When going through the villages, I thought, why are they so beautiful, clean, taken care of? Why in Russia are they so neglected? Oh, well, where do we start?

When I finally arrived to Galway, I thought – wow!!! Is it what people say in their blogs all the time? But honestly, it was wow!!!I saw a medieval, bright, non-English looking town, something which would be born out of the marriage of Belgium and Spain.

A little bit of history 🙂

Galway Main Street
Galway Main Street

Galway is the second largest county in Ireland. Physically, it is divided into two distinct parts; the eastern two thirds are flat, with many small lakes and rivers, while the western part of the county includes the area known as Connemara, with its rocky bogs, fjords, and magnificent mountains. The west of the county has the largest remaining Irish-speaking population of any county in Ireland.

The town of Galway was first recorded in 1124 when a fort was built there. However, the town was founded in the 13th century. In 1170-71 the English invaded eastern Ireland and in 1232 a baron named Richard de Burgh took this area and created a town. After 1270 walls were built around Galway.

In 1396 Galway was granted a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). Galway was made a royal borough. For centuries, Galway was ruled by 14 families, known as “the tribes” of Galway. The mayor and the leading citizens usually came from these 14 families. They were the Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Deane, French, Font, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris and Skerrett families.

In the Middle Ages Galway was an important port. The main import was wine. Exports included wool, skins and leather. The leading citizens of Galway were definitely English in their manners and customs. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the English kings gradually lost control of Ireland, except for Dublin and the surrounding Pale. However, to a large extent, Galway was an island of ‘Englishness’.

St Nicholas Church Galway
St Nicholas Church, Galway

The Church of St Nicholas was built in 1320 after Franciscan friars arrived in Galway in 1296. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach).

Lynch window inside the Church commemorates James Lynch Fitzstephen who, it is said, hanged his own son for murder in 1493.

Lynch Castle, Galway
Lynch Castle, Galway

The Spanish Arch (called Spanish, due to the Spanish merchant ships docked in the quays there) was built in 1584, and Lynch’s Castle, the mansion, was built around 1600. Browne Doorway is all that remains of the merchant’s house built in the early 17th century.

Spanish Arch, Galway
Spanish Arch, Galway

At the beginning of the 19th century the population of Galway was about 5,000, but it actually fell during the 19th century. The whole region suffered severely in the potato famine of 1845-49 and there was a considerable loss of population.

During the 20th century Galway was revived. By 1950 it had about 21,000 inhabitants. Galway was still a busy port. Exports included farm produce, wool and marble. Industries in Galway in the 20th century included iron, milling, furniture making and hat making.

At the end of the century modern industries such as engineering, IT and electronics began to replace the traditional industries in Galway.

In recent years Galway has undergone an economic boom and the population has grown rapidly. Today the population of Galway is 78,000…

Coloured Houses of Galway
Coloured Houses of Galway

I did not have much time in Galway, but I went to see the Church of St Nicholas, walked along the river, where I noticed many coloured doors and thought, that the drunken husbands needed those doors anywhere in the world.

It is a very smart “husband capturing” invention. Imagine, your drunken treasure stumbles in the night through somebody else’s door and the story suddenly unfolds to the depth of the unknown. He could be lost there forever!!! He could stumble 3 years later through your doorway once again! No need to imagine, the door trapping worked wonders.

I negotiated little tiny medieval streets in the city centre. I went to buy Aran sweaters and scarves… I went to McDonald and was served there by the speaking perfect Russian Latvian girl.  I did not even flinch – my heart was healed by then fully and completely, and I had nothing against anybody speaking Russian to me…I also made few purchases in Demora boutique, where I met the lovely owner Diedre Morahan. We also exchanged our very valuable opinions on fashion industry and retail industry…

Demora Boutique, Galway
Demora Boutique, Galway
Giants Causeway
Giants Causeway

It was time to drive back. I could not go to Giants Causeway, (you can see America from there)), to Carrick-a-Rede rope Bridge (not for the faint hearted), to the Old Bushmills Distillery – the oldest Whiskey Distillery in the world (since 1608)…To miss the latter one was unimaginable for me, but I had very valid reasons – I needed to go back…

And only then, my fun and games began!!!) Remember Nissan Micra, the air-conditioning or the lack of it? It was a combination of three factors – +32 Celsius, white nights and the navigation system, which I faithfully obeyed at the time.

Motorways Map of Ireland
Map, Ireland, Motorways

Naturally, it ordered me to take the highway (M6). My little bug had to drive with the speed limit of 120km per hour for the mighty 154 km…Feeling hot, tired, sleepy with no “Stop, Revive, Survive” detours along the road, – I …fell asleep at the wheel. The next thing I remember, was a huge thump, smell of the tyres burning and the smoke coming out from the car. I hit a concrete barrier along the road… Completely awake, I managed to drive the car for another 10 metres, before I jumped out with my bag and the sling…I assessed the damage – as much as a non-mechanic could do. The tyre was burned irrevocably, the “left wing” of the car was gone and the car was not drivable. I found the spare tyre inside the car, and that was the end of me. I stared at it as with the expression, as we say in Russian “Like a sheep at the new gate”. Imagine the flock of sheep coming home and seeing a new gate?

Sheep Staring/New Gate
Sheep Staring at the New Gate

Well, I needed to stop somebody to help me to change the tyre. 8pm, blinding sun and the trucks flying by with a speed of light. None of them was stopping. I thought – what about the kindness, openheartedness and friendliness of the Irish people? Just before I demoted the whole nation from Category A to Category Z, a sleek Mercedes stopped abruptly in front of me. The driver looked Richard Gere 20 years ago, but I was no Julia Richards just at that very moment. No tall boots, no long legs, no saucer size eyes and no lips to land a helicopter on…I was Rosa, myself, but also scared and frantic on the top of being Rosa, myself. My Irish Richard Gere gave me a diamond smile (good dentists in Ireland) and changed the tyre like it was a normal thing to do when one wears a Zegna suit and a tailored shirt…He also told me that nobody could drive faster than his/her guardian angel could fly. A catchy phrase, but so true to the core, indeed…I could not help, but notice, that my guardian angel’s car had an air conditioner.

Richard Gere/American Gigolo
Richard Gere/American Gigolo

On my spare tyre I drove back to Dublin with the speed of 80km per hour and tried not to pay much attention to the rowdy truck drivers honking at my snail speed and at my grieving car.

When the staff in Dylan saw my car, my sling, my xanax free state, they treated me with the dinner on the house, with the wine and you name it, what on the house too. The amok survival feeling gave way to the waterfall of tears. I was so happy to be alive…

Day 6. Dublin – KLM – Moscow

KLM Crew
Friendly KLM Crew

Tuesday.

The morning was quite a non-event. I went shopping for antique Victorian jewellery, bought an amazing chain with a pendant for an amazing price, which would have made London antique sellers to become colour green with envy…

Antique Jewellery Shops. Dublin
Antique Jewellery Shops. Dublin

Lingus was really difficult to negotiate with a sling – I think, Irish survival skills and the history of the nation, toughened the service to the point of disregarding people with the slings and the crutches…

No shopping and really bad food for the connection corner of Schiphol (Amsterdam to Moscow). Stupid really, because the Russians are huge spenders in every corner on the planet with the cash register…Had to eat  bad food, thinking loudly “I am fat anyway”, and thinking quietly that the bad food makes you fat anyway.

Boarded a plane taking me to Moscow. Was so ready. My sling and my injuries were taken care of with lots of champagne and lots of beautiful Dutch smiles. By midnight, when we crossed into Russian territory, the pilot of the business class cabin appeared with the pancakes, generously served with nutella and condensed milk. The stewardess told us (to all of the 6 business class survivors) that this pilot loved to do it, because he loved Russia. At this stage I was not surprised with anything. I was not even questioning who was flying the plane at the time.I loved Russia too…I was so ready to land with my healed heart and a very sore shoulder…

Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport

The Aftermath

Days later I called my rabbi and told him the story. He also told me, there was, apparently, a spiritual belt between Jerusalem and Ireland. It explained everything. What else would have propped me up to the heavens and lowered me kindly to the Planet Earth? Would be either the spiritual belt or my Guardian Angel.

Few months later, I had a complicated surgery on my shoulder performed by the grandson of the Father of Space Research Sergei Korolev, Andrey Korolev, the chief orthopaedic surgeon of Moscow. The spiritual belt magnetism continued.

Since then, I travelled to Ireland twice…I went on the famous Literary Pub Crawl, I went to see the “Lord of The Dance” with the legendary Michael Flatley. I found out why the Irish flag had Orange, Green and White colours. Not because the Red colour was bleached out by the sun:)

I visited, however, another Ireland. The magic of “anything happens” simply disappeared. I think, it was for the better, was not it?…

Michael Flatley. Lord of the Dance
Michael Flatley. Lord of the Dance

 

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I would guess, that 80% of Australians visited Ireland. At least, anybody, who has Irish roots.
I can assure you that everybody discovers their own Ireland. I can assure you, it stays in your heart forever.

Day 1

Moscow – Dublin. Thursday
I went to Ireland from Moscow to heal my wounded heart (very long story)). To be as far from Moscow in Europe as possible… Just for me, the aviation authorities created a route, which took 7.5 hours flying time from Moscow to Dublin. Connecting via Amsterdam (KLM + Lingus), I arrived to Dublin at 10pm.

Dylan Hotel

My beautiful Dylan Hotel was just in the middle of the city, and I could not think of anything better than to toast my arrival with a small champagne bottle from the bar. My healing started on a high note – Vivaldi was playing Primavera in my head. Life started anew. Bugger the broken heart. On this note I fell asleep and slept like a newborn baby, even better, I would say.

Dylan Hotel Bedroom
Day 1. Dublin. Friday

I woke up at 10am in the morning, missed my breakfast and went to take a bath.
I was feeling thin, luxurious and beautiful.
I will spare all the intimate details, but, in short, while I tried to reach the rule the bath buttons with my left arm, I performed a split on the marble floor. I could never perform a split, not even when my parents unsuccessfully pushed me for the world championship in artistic gymnastics)…
I was bruised, scratched all over and sore. To cut the story short, I decided this little accident should not to take over my life and my trip. The hotel gave me all the gauze and disinfectants they had in their storage room.
I hobbled a bit, then took it in my stride and commenced my shopping. Grafton Street, in a capsule, is a little High street and is peppered with the shops like H&M, Mark and Spencer, Mango and the others, with the welcome exception of Brown Thomas, the best department store in Ireland.

Grafton Street Dublin

Second floor in Brown Thomas is dedicated to the Irish designers, where I chose overalls by Mary Grant (still wear them) and the bag by Pauric Sweeney (a famous prodigal son of Ireland) and a very famous bag designer in the world).

I went upstairs to the rooftop café to have the best bangers and mash, and suddenly, everything around me became quite blurred in one moment. At that moment I was taken to the emergency and was diagnosed with quite severe trauma in my poor left shoulder. At least I collapsed after my shopping was finished. And once back in a saddle, equipped with not so fashionable, and lets be honest, ugly, blue, hospital grade sling, I was still determined to live up to my planned schedule.

The opening of a new restaurant at Brown Thomas, Grafton Street. 10.05.1961
That night I went to the Abbey Theatre to watch a play (Bookworms) about an unfortunate Book Club meeting which ended up like Polanski Movie “Carnage”, but in a funnier, Irish way.

Abbey Theatre 1904

I was driven back to the hotel, by the most melancholic taxi driver, who managed to scare me with many stories about the damaged left shoulders of the other people.
Dinner/tapas in my Dylan hotel – Dylan Bar, the handsomest Irish man was playing on the piano under a dangerous degree of intoxication. The songs were by Sinatra, the twang was recognizably Irish, I was in heaven mix of the painkillers, Italian wine and the crowd much more alive and lets say, less snobbish than in Sydney…Met a lovely couple from Northern Ireland, discussed potato famine, and forever admirable Princess Diana.

Dylan Hotel Room

Bruised and confused back to bed – no reading before sleep…

Day 3. Dublin. Saturday.

In the morning, wearing blue Akira dress, remotely matching my sling, I started my excursion around Dublin and Derby.

Blue Akira DressShoulder Sling

I was driven in the limousine by the 10 years older driver/guide, who unashamedly flirted with me. Painkillers, champagne, and feeling beautiful in the eyes of an older Irish flirt, dulled my senses and dimmed my memory. The only vividly remembered part of the rich Irish history was an explanation behind cheerfully painted doors in Dublin. Are you ready for this? The reason behind cheerfully painted doors was for the drunken Irish husbands to determine which house was theirs in the dark of the night. No more and no less

Dublin-Doors
He drove me to Curragh Racecourse, in the county of Kildare.The name “Curragh” comes from the Irish (Gaeilge) word Cuirreach, meaning “racecourse”. The first recorded race on the plain took place in 1727, but it was used for races before then. The first Derby was held in 1866, and in 1868 the Curragh was officially declared a horse racing and training facility by act of parliament.  We also went to see the rich and famous houses, including those of U2(s)…

Ladies Kildare racesthe hourse who won

That night I went to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard at the Gate Theater. Arcadia is a dazzling comedy of mystery and love, with all the qualities of a gripping literary detective story. Must say that Dublin theatre performances are superb and a lot of Londoners travel to Dublin to see them.

Arcadia Gate Theatre
That night I had dinner at Chez Max, a very traditional French restaurant, where I had the most beautiful foie gras cooked on the bed of an apple puree and served with pommes frites…(No Peta readers please()

Needless to say that 10 minutes into the meal, I was invited over to share a bottle of champagne with a family celebrating their father’s birthday. They could not stand a sight of a single woman having dinner on her own on Saturday night. Of course, the conversation veered into the history/religion/politics. Potato Famine and the history of suffering and the abuse copped from England all mixed up with a certain admiration for the Queen and Princess Diana.

Over the course of this lively conversation we all decided that I needed to hire a car and go on Monday to Galway. Just like this. Never drove in Ireland, but what the heck?

chez-max

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Day 4. Dublin. Sunday

Forget the guides, and the slings, I threw away my sling with the wild abandon of the feminists of the 60-s, throwing away their bras. I also took a double decker bus around Dublin. Discovered, the audio guide had all the languages. The driver offered me one in Russian before I even opened my mouth.
It was a day spoiler (just for a bit). Got off at the Grounds of the Trinity College. It was so beautiful that even I, who suffer from the adult version of ADD), stayed there for a few hours.

exam-hall-interior-Trinity
A little bit of history:

Trinity College was founded after the Reformation, in 1592, on the site of the confiscated Priory of All Hallows. For centuries, Trinity College was owned by the Protestant Church. Free education was offered to Catholics, provided they accepted the Protestant faith. True to the Russian saying, “The only free thing in life is the cheese in the mousetrap”.
As a legacy of this condition, until 1966 Catholics, who wished to study at Trinity had to obtain a dispensation from their bishop or face excommunication. Despite it’s 16th-century foundation, most of the buildings standing today, were constructed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Trinity’s grounds cover 47 acres.

Book_of_Kells

Trinity College is most famous, though, for it’s splendid library. The Long Room houses Ireland’s largest collection of books and manuscripts; it’s principal treasure is the Book of Kells, generally considered to be the most striking manuscript ever produced in the Anglo-Saxon world and one of the great masterpieces of early Christian art.
The Books of Kells is a beautifully illuminated version of the Christian Gospels dating from the 9th century. It was once thought to be lost — the Vikings looted the book in 1007 for its jewelled cover but ultimately left the manuscript behind.
In the 12th century, Guardius Cambensis declared that the book was made by an angel’s hand in answer to a prayer of St. Bridget. Scholars think, instead that the Book of Kells originated on the island of Iona off Scotland’s coast, where followers of St. Colomba lived until the island came under siege in the early to mid-9th century. They fled to Kells, County Meath, taking the book with them.

The Old Library
The most famous page shows monogram, (symbol of Christ). The most famous students of Trinity include the likes of Francis Bacon, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Moore, Oscar Wilde, Jawaharlal Nehru to name the few…

Oscar Wilde

 

Jawaharlal Nehru
Graduates from the Trinity College

 

After Trinity College, off to the Whiskey Factory excursion (Old Jameson Distillery). Love my whiskey, travelled to Scotland and loved Scottish Whiskey, but the Irish one seduced me with its soft and velvety and very elegant taste. Wait until I write about Scotland, maybe I will change my tune)
The Old Jameson Distillery is located on the original site of Jameson Distillery in Bow Street in Dublin. This distillery, founded in 1780, was Ireland’s most famous distillery for nearly 200 years, until its closure in 1971, when distilling of Jameson Irish Whiskey was transferred to the Midleton Distillery. For many years the Bow Street Distillery lay abandoned, but today, once again, it is a hub of activity, welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Old-Jameson-Distillery1The Old Jameson Distillery has recreated, on a smaller scale, the old distillery, and although no distilling actually takes place here, it is an excellent way to understand the how and why of whiskey. Every step of the distilling process has been recreated, from malting and storing barley, to mashing and fermentation, to distilling and maturation. The tour ends with a complimentary glass of Jameson for everyone and for a lucky selected few, a comparative whiskey tasting which compares and explains the differences between Jameson Irish whiskey, Scotch and Bourbon whiskies. After which, I thought, Bourbon – never!!!

jameson-tour
There is a very good restaurant on site, the 3rd Still, The menu is both diverse and contemporary, the atmosphere relaxed and friendly and it offers a bird’s eye view into the bustling lobby below. In fact, if you peer over the balcony of the 3rd Still, you can see into the original foundations of The Jameson Old Distillery which were purpose-built to bear the formidable weight of the enormous whiskey vats.
Back to the Hotel, That’s where I ended my day feeling happy, but with suspiciously throbbing shoulder
To be continued with the Day 4 and 5…Trust me, it is worth waiting for..

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I adore getting a good bargain and fighting for the best price. I remember 2 hours of negotiations/bargaining/haggling in Jerusalem markets for the beautiful Persian rug. I joked with the owner and promised to become his third wife. That cemented the deal.)

I also remember buying jade in Beijing for the best price. It happened in Panjiayuan market. The seller would write the price, I would write back, as a rule of thumb, half of the price. The seller would get enthusiastically upset, I would go opposite direction and then we would agree on somewhere in the middle. The deal was done, everybody was happy. That is a market behaviour.

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Here, however, I would like to talk about us, Australians. in Australia we started to negotiate in the shops where the prices are set and are usually non-negotiable. This phenomenon struck me as being specifically ours, Australian.

In Russia people get their VIP cards with the discount applied to them. VIP cards usually allow them to participate in certain events or to shop/get special benefits with certain partners, participating in the VIP program. VIP cards are also accumulative, and in many cases people can get as much as 20% off the new stock and some gifts together with purchase. To have this privilege though, the clients must spend around 3k to start climbing VIP ladder.

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I have been living in Australia for the last 25 years and I did not start seeing this “negotiating” culture until 5 years ago.

Before then, there were no “Start of Season Sales”, “Mid Season Sales”, “Clearance Sales”, “Last Chance Clearance Sales” with David Jones and Myer coming down to 70% discount even before the main sales would start, on the 26th of December and on the 1st of July.

Now the word “Sales” adorn the walls of those once respectable department stores almost permanently. What can we expect from the customer service of once being famous for its customer service David Jones? During big sales campaigns the clothes are strewn all over the floor, the sales assistants would rather talk with each other instead of cleaning the store.

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In France, Italy, Spain, Germany, for example, the sales are state regulated, they start end of June (summer sales) and last for 6 weeks. The same goes for winter sales. After the sales stop, and they have to stop in accordance to the law, the items on sale, become immediately full price items. It would be illegal to sell them with the discount. During the period of sales, discounts very rarely go below 50%.

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Following our shopping giants erratic sale behaviour, our customer would naturally expect the same in one of the most affluent suburbs in Australia from the independent boutiques and operators.

“With luxury cars lining its streets, upmarket eateries and luxury brands filling the shopfronts Suburb X is, where the rich show off their wears. It’s a place to be seen. The 3,235 taxpaying residents in the this Sydney suburb make an average individual’s taxable income $141,544 for 2013 financial year.”

I had a customer who bought a bag only after I gave her 10% discount. She came back 4 times, she photographed the bag, she went back to Bondi Junction to find out whether they had similar bags or whether it was cheaper to buy from there. Since they did not have similar bags, she bought the bag from us. I asked her, why we are like this in Australia – our shopping behaviour is noticeable in any city of the world. The customer said something out of the blue – a) we don’t like to show off, b) we have to be sure the goods are not made in Bangladesh, c) we have different priorities.

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Bangladesh set me off clearly). I asked her, – if the bag, was indeed, made in Bangladesh, would you fly there to get it cheaper? Not an easy question to answer).

Our other customer was contemplating buying a dress already discounted and beautiful at the same time. She sent her photos to the whole family living in many parts in the world. She went to think to a café nearby and to have a lunch ($38 dollars) and to think. She finally bought the dress. Maybe the price of the lunch was the final persuasive blow.

I have a customer who would cry if 5% discount was not applied to her purchase. I asked her, why was it so upsetting. She told me that discount was a sign of respect and that David Jones and Myer had sales and discounts all the time.  And here we go…

Despite of many sales conducted by the big players, the last Christmas retail results were quite disappointing for the big players and for the retail sector in its entirety.

Of course, in Australia, we have 1.5 seasons, Hobart excluding…Of course, our dentists are charging us in diamonds, or in carats measurements of the diamonds, of course, our private schools cost us half a million dollars per child for the duration of their school education, of course, our housing is one of the most expensive in the world, of course, our cars attract the biggest taxes, unless they are made in China or Japan…Its all true, but, so many other countries have it much worse, and yet, people living there, would allocate much bigger part of their budget on fashion. Maybe we are not scrooges and discount seekers after all, maybe, we just do not like to dress?

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We toss our working clothes come the weekend and then we are dressed in the same old, same old as the weekend before? Would we eventually stop caring and start dressing only for Xmas parties, and three ceremonies in life like baptisms, weddings and funerals?

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I had a client who was in the middle of fighting a life threatening illness… She bought lots of clothes and jewellery. She told me, that she was saving up all her life and never spent money on herself, only on the family and the house. She said, it was one of her greatest regrets. Life deserved celebrating, she said.

I agree. Clothes can make us beautiful or can make us ugly, they can lift us up and drag us down, but it is in my only limited humble opinion…

‘Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.’ – Virginia Woolf

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Please note, my blog is a result of several years of research and it is based, sometimes, on fictitious characters and fictitious situations.

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Does it make sense when somebody wishes you Happy New Year and Merry Xmas?

Of course it does!

Does it make sense when somebody wishes you ONLY Happy New Year and nothing else?

In Russia, or in the ex-USSR, it does. Since 1917, Bolsheviks had a hard time re-writing the culture and traditions.They could not eliminate Christmas altogether, therefore they created New Year (two in one) – New Year with Christmas traditions, without baby Jesus and nativity scene.A little bit of history)

Traditionally, New Year’s Day in Russia fell on September 1, which ended Russia’s tax year. In 1700, in an attempt to westernize the country, Russian ruler Peter I moved the holiday to January 1 according to the Julian calendar. Therefore Christmas fell on the 7th of January (if you translate Julian into Gregorian calendar and New Year fell on the 14th of January by the same logic. Russia was 13 days behind the world, but the proper sequence of events was preserved.

The New Bolshevik Russia started using the Gregorian calendar in 1918, leaving the Church, which kept its Julian calendar by 13 days behind.

Between 1919 and 1937, the Bolsheviks banned public celebrations of New Year’s Day, calling it a bourgeois holiday. It became a non-labor day again in 1947. The Christmas traditions became adopted as New Year traditions. Santa Claus with its Russian equivalent of Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden girl) slowly became adopted into New Secular Year traditions.

The Christmas Eve became New Year Eve. The presents were left under New Year Tree (read Christmas Tree) or exchanged at 12am on New Year Eve. Christmas itself, on the 7th of January became a non-event. Communism won, but so did secularity. The New Year was embraced and celebrated by everybody religion withstanding. For better or for worse, Jews, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Catholics celebrated New Year with a real gusto. Even Ramzan Kadyrov (a President of Chechen Republic, the one who approves Isis) remembers with nostalgia the Grandfather Frost, who turned out to be his uncle coming from the next village to bring the children presents.

Which religion are we talking about anyway? The “Opium for the Nation” (Definition of Religion by Lenin) was abolished in 1917. If Communism as an idea gets buried forever, deservingly so, I want to have only one thing left  – New Year celebration as a unifying celebration.

I would love to celebrate Hanukkah, but having had no Jewish religious upbringing, I am also a stranger to my own celebrations. My religion was interrupted through three generations. I don’t know Hebrew and believe me, English translations of Hebrew prayers, don’t make sense. If I were back in Russia, I would be like a fish in the water – New Year and no mistakes, lots of room to wiggle, no traditions to understand. There was also a tradition in USSR enjoyed by every kid from the age of 5 till the age of 13. There were New Year performances in the theatres, Houses of Culture, local clubs. At the end of the performance the kids were given little presents containing chocolates, mandarins!!! (in the middle of winter), waffles and many other yummy treats.

But I am in Australia and that’s how it is. We give presents for Christmas for our Christian friends and for New Year for our Russian friends. At the same time I appreciate the fact that we are so free to celebrate anything we want, that every religion has its niche here.

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One strange thing about Australian New Year is the hot weather. For the first year in Australia I resented the hot weather, I missed winter, frost, snow, the atmospheric feeling of a “proper” season. Having lived in Moscow from 2005 till 2012, I realised there was no proper season. Who would miss the Moscow fireworks only seen from the Red Square or from the tall buildings around, which are not many. Who would miss the snow treated with special salt to make sure the snow looked like an undercooked porridge? Who would miss obligatory ceremony of taking off their shoes and putting on the “tapochki”/slippers when entering Moscow apartments for celebrations.

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But I still miss Russian New Year – the hot beautiful food, the numerous TV shows lasting for 24 hours, the presents given by Grandfather Frost (The Most Non-Drunk Male at Midnight – pretty hard task) and the children promising this Grandfather Frost that they would behave so well next year, that they deserved all of the presents given to them by Most Non-Drunk Male at Midnight. Russians or rather ex-Soviets do the same here and we enjoy it very very much. Having Russian TV handy is a good and cheerful help.

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Since our parents died and there is no 1st of January lunch and dinner visits (soon I will start stealing my granddaughter for the 1st of January), 1st of January for the last 4 years feels for me like a 24 hours long flight on the plane. No care in the world, you feel you are in a certain time capsule where everything is taken care of.

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I start my 1st of January with a splash in the swimming poo

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ALGHERO

We flew to Alghero from NYC in August 2003 and left behind the biggest and fattest Jewish wedding celebrations, which warranted the biggest and strictest 100 years of dieting.

We also left behind the biggest blackout in NYC, one of the biggest in history.

We flew red eye to Heathrow, then to Rome. From Rome, the small flying device looking more like a dragon-fly, than a serious flying device carried us to Alghero, in Sardinia. I remember coming in and out of the deepest sleep during the flight. I remember the schoolchildren screaming English words in my ear (I guess to impress us), I remember one of them tapping me on the shoulder and saying very softly : “Guarda, this is very, very, very fantastico!!!” And “fantastico” it was. The bluest skies and the bluest water and the most picturesque coast were approaching us with the speed of light(dragonfly). I have never seen anything more beautiful.

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We picked up our hired Polo. Out of habit my husband started to drive on the left side of the road. The driver on the opposite side of the road was from UK (the chance of one in million), he was also driving on the left side of the road. We were pretty lucky. After giving each other the wild stare of the instant survivors, we switched the sides and went to the meeting point to pick up the keys from the landlord who, in accordance to our Sardinia “matchmaker”, spoke perfect English. No English, of course, but after my “perfect” Italian we finally understood the directions of how to go to our villa. Villa it was not, it was a very rudimentary house with one bedroom and a tepid shower. We had 5-6-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The only thing we knew, when we woke up, that we were in the deep of the night with no hope to eat anywhere. We drove our Polo to the city centre and were pleasantly surprised that at 1am all restaurants were open and bustling with life…

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When we woke up the next day and saw the garden with all possible fruit and vegetables and whatever God created in 6 days (read the Bible), after our landlord/ (ressa) brought us clean towels and pots and pans, I decided the Garden of Eden was here, forget the tepid shower.

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We spent our first full day in Alghero.

Three rules in Sardinia concerning food:

1) The breakfast (murzu in local dialect) – Expect almond cakes, pastries stuffed with panna, local honey, artisanal yogurts, pecorino made from Sardinian sheep’s milk, prosciutto e salsiccia, and of course proper, grown-up coffee to wash everything down

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2) The lunch (pràngiu) finishes early and you feel that at 1pm you don’t want to eat anyway after such big breakfast. Don’t be fooled by the current state of your stomach…

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3) The restaurants open for dinner (xena) at 8pm. By this time you are ready to eat a whole pig, a whole fish or both of them stomach permitting.

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There is a reason we stopped in Alghero and not in Porto Cervo  even though Porto Cervo is more famous by its luxury, aristocrats, and Berlusconi/Putin duet happening annually.

Therefore a little bit of history:

Alghero pronunciation: [alˈɡɛro]; Catalan L’Alguer, pronounced: [ɫəɫˈɣe], locally: [lalˈɣe]Sardinian: S’Alighèra; Sassarese: La Liéra), is a town of about 44,000 inhabitants in Italy. It lies in the province of Sassari in North Western Sardinia.

The name Alghero comes from the medieval Latin Aleguerium, meaning stagnation of algae. The Catalan Language is co-official in the city, unique in Italy.

The area of today’s Alghero has been settled since pre-historic times. The so-called Oziere culture was present here in the 4th millennium BC; while the Nuragic civilization was present in the area around 1500 BC.

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Due to its strategic position in the Mediterranian Sea, Alghero was built around a fortified port, founded around 1102 by the Genoese Doria family.

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The Doria ruled it for centuries, apart from a brief period under the rule of Pisa (1283–84). In 1353 it was captured by the forces of the The Crown of Aragon under Bernardo di Carbera in 1372, following several revolts, the indigenous Sardinian and Genoese population was expelled, and Alghero later grew in numbers because of the arrival of Catalan colonists. In the early 16th century Alghero received the status of King’s City (ciutat de l’Alguer) and developed economically.

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The Aragonese rule was followed by invasion of the Spanish Habsburgs. Their dominion, ending in 1702, brought some stylish elegance to the city. In 1720 Alghero and Sardinia were handed over to the Piedmont based House of Savoy. Around 1750 a wide channel was excavated to improve the defensive position of the peninsula. In 1821 famine led to a revolt of the population, which was cruelly suppressed. At the end of the same century Alghero was de-militarised.

Since then, Alghero has become a popular tourist resort. It is interesting that Sardinia was the last country and Alghero was the last town in the world to submit to feudal law, several years before it was abolished all over the world.

In Alghero, a dialect of Catalan is spoken, introduced when Catalan settlers repopulated the town after the Crown of Aragon conquered the city from the Genoese in 1353 and subsequently expelled the indigenous population,

We travelled a lot around Alghero – swam in the cleanest beaches in Mediterranean sea – my best recommendation is Santa Caterina di Pittinuri beach near the little town of (you guess) of Santa Caterina di Pittinuri.

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Forgive me Australia, we have the best beaches, but they are too cold for my frozen European body. Santa Caterina beach is the warmest, the cleanest the “I want to stay here forever” beach. We had the best gelato in the town, for which we had to climb up 300 stairs (hate climbing) to reach the fortress gates. Mind you, most of the towns in Sardinia are built like fortresses due to many attacks from numerous neighbours.

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We also drove to Tharros – a hometown to Phoenician settlement.

From the 8th century BC, Phoenicians founded several cities and strongholds on south west of Sardinia; Tharros, Bithia, Sulcis, Nora and Karalis Cagliary. The Phoenicians came originally from what is now Lebanon and founded a vast trading network in the Mediterranean. They settled along the South Western coasts. Sardinia had a special position because it was central in the Western Mediterranean between Carnage, Spain, the river Rhone and the Etruscan Civilization. The mining area around Iglesias was important for the metals lead and zinc. The cities were founded on strategic points, often peninsulas or islands near estuaries, easy to defend and natural harbours. The cities were administered by Plenipotentiaries, called Sufetes.

After trying to absorb all this information, we asked our guide where we could have some dinner (6pm)?, he looked at us as we were indeed early Phoenicians. He said, that everything in Tharros opened after 8pm after siesta.

We decided to drive to Oristano , did not see much because of the ever growing hunger and decided to go back to Alghero. When we stopped at one of the petrol stations (AutoGrill) we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of coffee and the food. By the way, any petrol station in any point of Italy has excellent coffee.

Also, as a matter of interest, Sardenia does not have autostradas (toll roads), only motostradas (toll free roads), where the speed of driving is very undefined. Driving on the right side of the road was our prerogative anyway.

Next day was dedicated to Porto Cervo. We were dying to know what was there, which was not anywhere else in Sardinia, what makes Putin kiss Berlusconi with the ardency of a young lover and stay there for weeks…

We drove there for 4 hours and discovered that it was – Nah, nyet, really nothing.

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Porto Cervo seemed like a small portion of KitchenAid mix of Beverly Hills and Monaco, even cafes were scarce and shops, well, in Double Bay they are definitely better. There are no sidewalks there, hello Palm Beach!) The villas, real villas were behind high walls and to really appreciate the city we simply had no chance.

A little bit of history):

Porto Cervo (Italian pronunciation: [ˌpɔrto ˈtʃɛrvo]) (Deer’s Port in English) is an Italian seaside resort in northern Sardinia.

It is a fraction of the area of Arzachena. Porto Cervo village is the main centre of the Costa Smeralda. It was built by Prince Karim Agha Khan, together with the other investors. Porto Cervo has a resident population of 421 inhabitants. In a study released by the European luxury real estate brokerage Engel & Völkers, Romazzino Bay in Porto Cervo is the most expensive location in Europe. House prices reach up to 300,000 euros per square meter. In 2011 Costa Smeralda had the second, the 4th and the 6th most expensive hotels in the world, the Pitrizza, the Romazzino and the Cala di Volpe Hotel. In 2012 the Hotel Cala di Volpe, which is featured in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy who loved me is listed at number 7 on World’s 15 most expensive hotel suites complied by CNN Go in 2012. The presidential suite of the hotel billed at US$32,736 per night. And we are saying Intercontinental in Double Bay is expensive)!

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After such uneventful day (we did not even meet Berlusconi) we returned home to pack – next day we were flying to London, only to discover that we had people in the “villa”. There was a family of our landlords, cooking for us a farewell dinner.

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They were very disappointed that we could not eat their local delicacy roasting suckling pig, so they made the most delicious pasta con vongole instead. There were lots of cheeses and fresh figs, local wines and of course, limoncello, (a must to bring from Sardinia along with the local coral jewellery).

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Mama, Papa and two kids spoke to us in a mix of Sardinian dialect, Italian and English. The food and the wine dissolved any language differences…Cicadas were singing in the background. The trip was ending with the saddest feeling that we needed another 3 days to fully enjoy Sardinia. Is it not the best trip, then? The one, which makes you want more and more? Very, very, very, Fantastico!

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This is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth, and virtually any building in the large historic center, threaded with canals dotted with baroque bridges, can be considered an attraction—and indeed, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a magical city, with a long list of major attractions. Its Hermitage Museum, housed in the Winter Palace of the Romanov Dynasty, is both one of the world’s greatest and oldest collections of art, treasure, and antiquities, and one of its most beautiful buildings.

If it was my first time to visit St Petersburg, and I did it now, in 2014, as a foreigner, I would say wow!!! – “Such a beautiful city, placed in the middle of a very different looking country. It is a Venice of the Northern Europe, no more and no less!”

Summer and Winter Gardens, Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, it is a Disney Land of the 18th century Europe, no more and no less.

I was born in USSR in 1960 when St Petersburg was called Leningrad. In the annals of history we studied, St. Petersburg had been the capital of Russia. The Government was overtaken by The Temporary Government in February 1917, the city was renamed Petrograd in the proper Russian way. It was later, overtaken by the Bolsheviks on the 25th of October 1917. It was renamed Leningrad to commemorate the most loved leader of the working people. Is that it for the history of St. Petersburg?

I will tell you the story from the point of view of a very little girl who grew up in USSR, who was familiar with the officialdom of the history of the country, who knew nothing better, than to trust in the open and to doubt in hiding, who learnt studiously the history and tried to discover the facts behind the lies.

Leningrad to me, was a dream, to finally come true. When I was 12, my school chose the “chosen” ace kids to go to Leningrad school for an exchange for two weeks. I don’t know, what my city of Belgorod could offer for this exchange, apart from the warm weather, but an exchange it was.

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We went in a bus via the outskirts of Moscow (Moscow Outer Circle Road), through one of the oldest cities of Russia, called Novgorod (New City, no more no less, of 1220 AC), and straight to the city centre of Leningrad. The ride lasted for two days. When we approached the city centre of Leningrad and we saw the most beautiful cake/bread shop, we behaved in all honesty like a herd of wild tigers let free by Putin into China (not so long ago). The people in the queue asked us whether we were from Moscow, in the same way people from San Fransisco would ask a rude misbehaving person in a supermarket queue, whether he was from New York. We settled in the old school gymnasium, and after two days of riding on the bus, we fell in the thick of the sleep slumber. Straight on the floor mats which was a plenty. For 5 consecutive days we had dozens of excursions all of which, tried to reconcile the history for us with the history of communism, via the history of Peter The Great, who built the city on the swamps in 1703, via Decembrist movement (first aristocrats-rebels) in 1825, via the serfs liberation reforms in 1861, via the first failed revolution in 1905 and via the second successful revolution in 1917…Via relocation of the capital to Moscow and via the siege of Leningrad which lasted 3 consecutive years – from 1941-1944 inclusive. These 5 days gave me my first sense of pride – I saw the most beautiful city in the most beautiful country in the world.

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These 5 days inspired me for the rest of my life to look for a beauty in my life, to find a place to live, which was not anymore offensively ugly. Forget Western Siberia, and Belgorod (a little after that, I lived in Moscow, Roma, Vienna, and …Sydney).

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My second visit to Leningrad happened during perestroika, in 1986. It was in January, in the coldest January since 1941. Coincidentally, it was 45 years since the start of the siege of Leningrad. I was sent to study some obscure accounting software for some obscure computers made in USSR. It was bitterly cold in the dormitory of the University of Finance where we all stayed. But it was the time of perestroika, and the genie of the evil spirit of Stalin was let out the bottle. Leningrad, once again, became the vanguard of everything progressive. We went to the concerts of “Time Machine” (Mashina Vremeni – prohibited in Moscow), to the lectures of Vitaly Korotich , the editor of “Flame” (Ogonyok), the most readable and the most progressive weekly edition in USSR. The old age communists whistled and booed him at this lecture.

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We listened for the first time to the Poem “Babiy Yar”, prohibited since 1960-s and read by the Soviet poet Evtushenko. And look, we were not arrested. It was another country, elevated by hope and by love to “thy” neighbour.

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My third visit to Leningrad happened after Putin came to power. He is also from Leningrad. By that time, the city was called St Petersburg. It was a rather neglected city, aged beyond belief, but nevertheless beautiful. It gave away an impression of past glory and not so much of the future. The new cafes and coffee shops, however, were bursting with life and witty interiors. The canals were frozen, the winds were strong, the bridges were the same – I counted them again and again. But the Hermitage desperately needed renovation and the buildings looked like they also needed a facelift.  The main feeling was that the decadent, progressive city evolved into a city chained and waiting to be released when the time was right.

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Yet again it became the city of Gogol and Dostoevsky, depressed and physically unwell.

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Since the early noughties, St Petersburg became more radicalised, more homophobic, more racist…For the Russian people to become racist, there needs to be a heating from inside to the point of explosion. When there is no steam outlet there, the kettle whistle never whistles. It is called displacement in psychology.

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A little bit of history:

Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter The Great, on May 27 1703. Between 1713–1728 and 1732–1918, Saint Petersburg was the imperial capital of Russia. In 1918, the central government bodies moved from Saint Petersburg (then named Petrograd) to Moscow. It is Russia’s 2nd largest city after Moscow with 5 million inhabitants..

Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Western city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. The Historic Centre of the City constitute UNESCO protected cultural site.(8000 monuments are UNESCO protected). Saint Petersburg is also home to Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world.  Louvre and Hermitage are still competing for this title.

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Peter the Great was interested in seafaring and maritime affairs, and he intended to have Russia gain a seaport (“window to Europe”), so it could trade with maritime nations. He needed a better seaport than Archangel, which was on the White Sea to the north and closed to shipping for months during the winter.

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During its first few years, the city developed around Trinity Square on the right bank of the Neva, near the Peter and Paul Fortress. However, Saint Petersburg soon started to be built out according to a plan. By 1716, Domenico Trezzini, had created a project, where the city centre would be located on Vasiliyevsky Island and shaped by a rectangular grid of canals. The project was not completed, and is evident in the layout of the streets. In 1716, Peter the Great appointed Jean Baptiste Alexandre De Blonde as the chief architect of Saint Petersburg.

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In 1725, Peter died at the age of fifty-two. His endeavours to modernise Russia had met with opposition from the Russian Nobility —resulting in several attempts on his life and a treason case involving his son. In 1728, Peter II of Russia moved his seat back to Moscow. But four years later, in 1732, under Empress Anna Of Russia, Saint Petersburg was again designated as the capital of the Russian Empire. It remained the seat of the Romanov Dynasty and the Imperial Court of the Russian Tsars, as well as the seat of the Russian government, for another 186 years until the October Revolution of 1917.

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In 1825, the suppressed Decembrist Revolt against Nicholas I, took place on the Senate Square in the city, a day after Nicholas assumed the throne.

The Revolution of 1905 began in Saint Petersburg and spread rapidly into the provinces.

On 1 September 1914, after the outbreak of WW1, the Imperial government renamed the city Petrograd, meaning “Peter’s City”, to remove the German words Sankt and burg.

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In March 1917, during the February Revolution, Nicholas II abdicated both for himself and on behalf of his son, ending the Russian monarchy and over three hundred years of Romanov Dynastic Rule.image

On November 7, 1917 (Julian Calendar, October 25), the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace in an event known thereafter as the October Revolution (there was not much to storm, to tell you the truth), which led to the end of the post-Tsarist provisional government, the transfer of all political power to the Soviets, and the rise of the Communist Party. After that the city acquired a new descriptive name, “the city of three revolutions”, referring to the three major developments in the political history of Russia of the early 20th-century.

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During World War II, Nazi Forces besieged Leningrad following the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The siege (“blokada”) lasted 872 days, from September 1941 to January 1944.The Siege of Leningrad proved one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of a major city in modern history. It isolated the city from most supplies except those provided through the Road of Life across Lake Lagoda. More than one million civilians died, mainly from starvation. Many others were eventually evacuated or escaped, so the city became largely depopulated. My own father’s auntie survived the siege, but died 10 days later from the consequences of food deprivation. Shostakovich dedicated his longest and the most famous 7th symphony to Leningrad and the people living under the siege. It was completed in December 1941 and is called Leningrad.

In 1960 they opened Piskarevsky Memorial with the words engraved at the entrance:

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“From the 8th of September 1941 till 22nd of January 1944, there were 107185 bombs dropped on the city from the planes, 148478 of live ammunition, 16744 people were killed, 333782 wounded, 642803 persons died from starvation.”

There is a permanent heartbeat of the metronome upon the entrance to the cemetery. The diary of Tatiana Savicheva whose whole family died from starvation during the siege, is displayed in two pavilions of the cemetery. The diary is eerily similar to the diary of Anna Franck. Maybe all human suffering is eerily similar?

The wars and revolutions, this city lived through, makes it one of the most suffering city in the world. And yet, the soul of Leningrad is not destroyed.

It might have hardened, but it lies in waiting for the winds of freedom coming its way…See you soon, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth…

My love, my youth, my dream

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Life offers to us the chores and also little things we enjoy. Shopping is one of those little things. It is up to us to make it a chore, a source of anxiety or of a marital discord.

But…there are circumstances, when this little joy could be killed by the background noise of the relationships and “its complicated”☺ matters. I would only try make an attempt to generalise what I know, the cultures I am familiar with. Generalisation assumes a bias of error, lets say, of 20%. Generalisation assumes offence, which is not intentional here, but nevertheless, an offence, for which, I apologise.

I only tried to write on behalf of the married and single women because I have been both…I only tried to write on behalf of two cultures I know. It took me the whole month to wrap it up in a non-emotional, non biased☺ form and shape… Without a further ado…I will try to describe the shopping habits in Russia and Australia. Generally, there are ways we shop and they could be categorised as

1) Couples shopping – married (first wife), de-facto

a) Russia: Generally, Russian men could be stingy but they would be  embarrassed to admit to it. Usually, during husband/wife shopping, the  stronger part would whisper to the wife, of how difficult the life is, and that  he might lose his job tomorrow, that they (the family), would not be able to  go on holidays in Turkey, that the mortgage payments would be made  impossible because of this single shopping bag, that life would stop and  sun would never shine again.

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b) Australia: Generally, Australian men would tightly hold their wives’ hands when passing the shops. Some would think it is out love, some would think it is out of control☺ Sometimes, the wife is “allowed” to enter the shop on her own, without a wallet… 5 minutes after inspecting the goods she would come back with a line –“ I will come back when I am on my own.”

Sometimes the women would just fly in and come out with – “I have a table waiting (at the café)”; “my hairdresser’s appointment is in 5 minutes” (I know perfectly well, that this particular hairdresser could wait for another 10 minutes). The best excuse I ever heard was – “I left my 1 year old at home – he is there by himself!” I did not know whether to call a  police, or just let it go as the best invented excuse ever☺. I took a second  option.:)

As much as Sydney is a champion of excuses, it is, at the same time, a champion of expenses. To afford a decent rent or a mortgage in Sydney, a couple or a single person would have to earn 100k per year. There would be no dreams of going to Turkey with the expenses like this. I tend to agree with the husbands, – only if they did  not whisper – “How many shoes, bags, dresses, would one person need?” In my opinion, it is a very wrong thing to say to your wife…

Well, well well, after all of the  obstacles tackled, and the the holy of the holiest is reached in the form and a shape of a cash register,– the husbandless (for 1 hour) wife would say, – “Please do not wrap it, I will put it in the boot of my car/in my bag and will  bring it home unnoticed”. Sadly, I have been there, and I have done this. There are beautiful exceptions, though in every  culture… I noticed, that most Asian Australians would usually shop together and the husband would help to choose the clothes for his wife. He would insist on buying more than she would choose. Do they buy more than the others? I think, the result is still the same, but the backdrop of the  marriage is different…

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2) Couples shopping – second marriage

For all cultures, however, when the couple is in their second marriage, at least one of the partners learns the mistakes of the first marriage, one of the partners will mellow, and will become more generous towards the other half, and will finally realise that not everything should be about control. Hard lesson though…

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3) Shopping with the mistress

a) Russia

Generally, Russian men could be stingy, but they would be extremely embarrassed to admit to it at the presence of a mistress. They would not be able to tell a mistress that they might lose their job tomorrow, that this long awaited business trip to Paris would not happen, that the diamond ring in Place Vendome would be lonely without its rightful owner. In most circumstances, mistresses have their own credit card. In most circumstances, Moscow shop managers have separate files for the wives and the mistresses. God forbid them to have the wires crossed over ever…

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b) Australia

In Australia we are much more moralistic than in Russia…I am sure, affairs do happen, but the blatant shopping in the same city?!!! Never…, but let me think…:)

4) Shopping overseas with your better half.

a) Russia

Generally, Russian men are very generous when overseas. The credit card payments are far away, Bacchus is pouring champagne even for breakfast, lots of mistakes could happen, but restraint is not one of them…

b) Australia

When we go overseas, we are all penny pinching, wives including. The savings on Chanel bags are heavily outweighed by the price of the tickets… Sightseeing, excursions thats where we are generous – we need  it, we live so far away…En plus we are a very curious nation…

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5) Shopping overseas with your sinful half

a) Russia

The sky would be the limit. There are no immediate family in the vicinity of 5000 km, the phone is not working properly, the time difference and the roaming charges allow only for 5 minutes calls to immediate family. The diamond ring in Place Vendome finally claims its rightful owner.

b) Australia

We are led to believe it does not happen ☺

6) Shopping with your girlfriends – the same for all the cultures

Usually, young and unruly girlfriends culture is no Sex in the City. Beware when shopping with the friends. Will they tell you the truth? Maybe…If its an ugly straightforward truth. None of us could be Natalia Vodianova, therefore, the truth is almost always not pleasant. The truth gets better by the age. We soften up and become kinder to each other.

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7) Single women shopping on their own;

a) Young women working hard and still living with their parents.

Usually they are very generous to themselves, life is young and good, there is always somebody to prop them up without any judgement passed;

b) Women working hard and living on their own.

The lesson learnt is very hard – when living away from the parents, expenses become exponential, she would become very careful with the money and with her spending habits.

c) Single and successful women.

The spending is limitless. There is no control from anyside. She has lost weight, she has joined the gym. Every time she tries on things she thinks about sending her selfie to her ex…☺ Does she? Maybe not, she just found her main object of desire, – herself.

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That was my weak attempt to generalise our shopping behaviour. It does not matter whether the country has more of the feminist history, than the other (Russia has had women working in the mines, women performing brain surgeries, women-famous mathematicians for the last 120 years). The question of co-dependable spending is quite complicated. I had a young Saudi Arabian woman in the shop, who shooed her husband out and told him to get some coffee and wait for her outside. He was smiling. Go figure! I think the answer still lies in the areas of control, quantity of money, and wisdom to know that money is not the solution to all the problems, …but the true love is.

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When we first visited Korean Fashion Week in Seoul in 2009, the experience was similar to Taipei Fashion week of 2014, with the only exception that Seoul is a major hub city in the world, and Taipei is more provincial and quaint.

We were met by the interpreter in Hotel Rivera, which is pronounced by Koreans as Ribera, to do with [b] and [v] sounds mixed in Korean language.

It was an OK hotel, but predominantly Korean speaking, which did make our life a bit difficult. We did not know that the interpreter was like a spy for the fashion week). They had to report how many shows we missed and why. At the time it was important to see the shows, more important than to do a buy. On the following morning, the bus picked us up and we went to the location.

In 2009 Seoul (Soul Fashion Week) was held in the Seoul Trade Exhibition & Convention at Hangnyeoul station, the event comprised the Seoul Collection (a catwalk show featuring leading designers in Korea), Generation Next (featuring selected promising local designers), and Seoul Fashion Fair (with a focus on the presentation of only13 designers). There were lots of delegates who were invited season after season and who did not buy anything. It was a free trip, free accommodation (I should not have whinged). We were real buyers, we tried to buy and we could not. In the front rows apart from the buyers and the press (VIP seats) were the faces of pensioners (free tickets) and officials who were nodding off during the shows. I must explain that in Korea the first seats are given to the pensioners and disabled, the second turn goes to the children, the third turn to the tourists and only then to the ordinary Koreans. As much as this feels fair, as a general rule, officials were a bit out of place at Seoul Fashion Week. Unfortunately, the government suits who were sitting in big boardrooms then and commanded large amounts of money for Seoul Fashion week, generally liked to engage in promotion for promotion’s sake. Unfortunately, the government officials, preferred girly, pretty, feminine fashion, of 50 years ago), and there was nothing for us to buy for our style women’s fashion. The problem was even deeper than the style of fashion itself.

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The problem was with the sizing and the prices too. Korean designers were eager to sell abroad, but for exuberant prices. You could feel it was their only chance to get ahead. The only brands suitable for western women were at the time Kuho (Chiel industries-Samsung), Time and Mine, System (LG), which did not participate in Seoul Fashion week, but were widely available at the luxurious department stores.

We found few brands among men’s fashion, namely Songzio and General Idea.

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In general, Seoul Fashion week was exclusively for Korean speaking people at the time. There were Korean celebrities, Korean press, none of the English speaking media including the bloggers were invited.

A little bit of history:

Korean fashion industry has been on the international scene for a long time, but as an export industry since after the Korean War. Many from the fashion industry already know that South Korea has been a major exporter of high quality textiles for decades already. It is still very slow in producing top end designers well known on the world runways.

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You must remember, that until the early 1990s, South Korea had essentially lived under military dictators, the 1st of them, Park Chung Hee, had banned fashion shows outright after his takeover in 1961 as part of austerity measures designed to weed out as negative elements of bourgeois society. South Koreans are still wrestling with the challenge of untangling the civil society from government control.

Since our first fashion week in Seoul to the last one in Spring 2014, a lot of things have changed. The buyers and press, are now staying at W hotel, the shows are at DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza), one of the most futuristic locations in the world. The male and female designers are plenty, the government officials decided to share the fashion week with the KFDA (Korean Fashion Designers Association).

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But…for the likes of Anna Vintour or Emanuelle Alt to come to Seoul Fashion Week…It needs to be enough knowledge spread there by medium-level fashion media outlets doing stories on Korean designers and the street. And to get to that level, Seoul fashion Week needs to have enough English speaking bloggers and journalists doing stories on Korean fashion and “Soul” fashion week to generate the basic information in the “ether”. The biggest problem for the Korean fashion industry is the same problem as for the country as a whole. South Korea is a pretty insular culture, both online and offline. There is a lot of information about Korean fashion designers on the Internet, most of it in Korean. Korean cultural assumption is such that non-Koreans do not care about Korea anyway. Even the international events information is mostly in Korean. Combined with the fact, that Korean language is one of the most difficult languages in the world, Korea is still the country with the big Non-English speaking padlock on the outside, and with the most hospitable people on the inside.

“Soul” Fashion week, in my opinion, deserves to be one of the 5 major weeks in the world. It only needs to be “seasoned” with the English interpretation.

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I always thought, if another week would have to be added to 6-7 days of Paris Fashion Week, I would had needed direct champagne line going straight to my head, feeding my brain 24×7. That and the constant buzz, and, sometimes purely Brownian motion of designers, buyers, fashionistas, journalists, bloggers, people to be seen and people not to be seen ever…All of this creates the feel of madness after which one needs to sleep for few days, somewhere, in the soundproof room…

The fashion week usually starts with preparation. Your PA would make your appointments and would also make few mistakes, resulting in you flying from one arrondissement to another within a minute.

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It usually continues with arrival to Paris, naturally…As much as anybody dreams Paris, Aeroport Charles De Gaulle is a bit of a shock and would be better fit for the city like Moscow. Warsaw or Berlin,  than for the City of Lights. It is plain and  grey. It could be sunny and hot, it could be rainy and cold, it could snow outside, inside of this airport the colour is always grey. If it was intended to turn off the visitors, it did not work…

Upon the exit from the airport, the reality throws you another curved ball – Parisian Taxi Driver…Parisian Taxi Driver will not speak any English and will not take credit cards. When you give him a big tip, he will say “Thank you” in English without a tinge of an accent. You spend 10 Fashion week seasons dreading taxi drivers in Paris, and Paris in all totality, until you come up with a unique idea of hiring your own driver. You quickly realise that this decision is blessed by heavens. It changes your impression of Paris forever, for the better. You start to smile and notice that the world is smiling back to you.

Designer showrooms…

The first morning of the fashion week starts from 5 minutes before the appointment, because you sleep in. Forget the breakfast, nobody in Paris has breakfast anyway and here you go.

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5 appointments per day mean 2 hours spent on each appointment. You have to really concentrate on the sizes, silhouette, the preference in colours for Russia or Australia. Sometimes you really have to concentrate, because your designer friends give you so much champagne) Sometimes, you have to interrupt the appointments for the fashion shows of the designers you buy or are lured to buy.

Fashion Shows…

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The fashion show is an animal on its own. It is a good manner for a designer to start later. The more important this designer feels about him/herself, the later is the show. Rick Owens shows usually start 1.5 hours later, John Galliano (before his famous escapade), used to start 2 hours later than scheduled. It is interesting that Junko Shimada shows were always on time (and she is one of the famous remaining couturiers in Paris). It is imperative to be sitting and to be seen in the front row. For the buyers and bloggers it is not a problem. There is also the pressure to be photographed and not to look exhausted or fat)… It starts to take its toll at the end of the day. Champagne is always handy and it comes handy before or after the show.

Trade Shows…

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To make the story really complicated there are very important shows outside the designer showrooms and outside the designer shows. They are called Trade Shows and they are split between Tranoi and Premiere Class. Tranoi is owned by the owners of L’eclaireur (chain of the very good concept stores in Paris), by Hadida family, namely by Armand Hadida. It takes place in Palais De La Bourse and in Carousel Du Louvre.  Tranoi started in 2002. You need two full days to visit those locations and to make the orders.

The other Trade Show is called Premiere Classe and its usually held in Jardin Des Tuileries. It is very good for the buyers of shoes, bags and accessories. Champagne is served during lunch, afternoon tea and, I am afraid for breakfast. Premiere Classe started in 1989…

Two Fashion Weeks Per Season…

To make the story even more complicated, there is another fashion week in Paris end of June/start of July and end of January/start of February. It is for Haute Couture and Men’s collections. I am afraid, that people who attend four of those fashion weeks in Paris are completely champagne dependent.

A Little Bit of History…

Long before Fashion Weeks became, what they are today, fashion reigned, as you may have guessed, in the salons of France. The concept of the fashion presentation dates back to 1858, when Charles Fredrick Worth first developed the concept of showing his clientele a pre-prepared selection of original designs (a collection). Furthermore, he shocked high society by showing his designs on real, live women (models) for all to view. Both were highly novel ideas at the time.

In 1868, Worth helped create the Chambre Syndicale de la Confection et de la Couture pour Dames et Fillettes, a trade association whose mission was to develop the French fashion industry. One of the most noteworthy functions of the association was to legally regulate the phrase “haute couture” – meaning it could only be used by registered members of the Chambre Syndicale. The organisation also set a minimum number of looks for those designers who were granted membership.

The tradition of bespoke fashion presentations in private residences or in a designer’s salon for aristocratic clients continued in France into the 20th century, securing France’s reputation as the fashion capital of the world. As the trend grew, the presentations became more and more grandiose, engaging all of the senses in a full experience of photography, music, sophisticated staging and sets. Designers started calling them fashion “fêtes”, and thus, the basis of the modern fashion show was set. As the world looked almost exclusively to Paris for fashion inspiration, international fashion magazines from around the world filled their pages with chic styles being shown at these fêtes.
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The course of fashion history changed, however, in 1943. With World War II at its height, fashion journalists were unable to travel to Paris for fashion inspiration, with the shows being cancelled due to the Nazi occupation in France. In an unprecedented maneuver, a fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert seized this opportunity to divert the attention of the fashion industry from Paris to America, in order to enhance the reputation and prestige of local American designers on the international scene. She invited all of the journalists to New York instead, arranged shows, and advertised that “Press Week” was coming to town.

There are Main Four Fashion weeks now – three of them preceding Paris (New York, London, Milan). For the buyers, Paris fashion week is still the best venue, since almost everybody from New York, London, Milan shows comes there with their collections.

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Paris is a very hectic place at the time, and if you are a tourist, just wait for another 5 days to feel fully welcome in this beautiful city. All decent brasseries and restaurants are fully booked and the Right Bank is teeming with all fashion week characters. The places to be seen and eat well are Les Flottes in Rue Cambon, Le Meurice Restaurant in rue Rivoli, Les Jardins Du Marais in uber trendy Le Marais. The places to drink champagne and to be seen doing so are Costes Hotel, Pershing Hall, Experimental Cocktail Club, where you can say goodbye to mojitos and margaritas, since it is a proper mixology bar.

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That’s not it, of course, for Paris fashion week. I failed to mention the friendships you forge, the encounters with people from all over the world. Paris fashion week is a like a little World Global village of like minded people. I dread it every time, I miss it all the time…

A bit thirsty now, in desperate need to reach for this long stemmed glass of perfectly cold champagne…

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We, humans, come into this world with certain branding – family name, ethnicity, nationality, religion. Then, some of us, attend private kindergarten, private school, prestigious University… Most of us enter corporate life, or join a family business. We go to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples. We get admitted to the hospital, we die at the end of our life. All of the stages in our life are accompanied by the new flag, new branding, new logo. Even the funeral agencies have logos(…

Logo is not only an artistic image – logo has the power to put us where we want to be in the society, in the world. I am not talking about golden arches of MacDonald, not about so called identification logos.

When we are in public schools (I apologise for the English/Australian discrepancy), the meaning of the logo is more about our own achievements (especially, when we get to selective schools). Private school logo says more about achievements of your parents. Whatever it is, its still a club where the entry is regulated by the tickets stamped with the logos.

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I studied the history of fashion logos for some time, and was not surprised to learn, that the founder of Gucci, called Guccio Gucci worked as a lift operator in a very famous Savoy in London at the beginning of the last century. He came up with the idea that even the rich people in Italy then needed something to enter the club they were not allowed to enter – the aristocracy club. Thats how famous Gucci’s monogram was created – it instantly infused his clothes and accessories with aristocratic flavour.

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Most certainly Ralph Lauren from Odessa immigrant family in Brooklyn would have many dreams about polo games and polo clubs. Maybe their doors were closed for him too?

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Coco Chanel, of poor childhood, with lots of dreams and aspirations.. Maybe, she also knocked on the doors which did not open for her? It seems that the founders of great brands dreamt about something they could not get – their logo might have represented the ticket to the sacred places of their dreams.

Therefore in my opinion, people who buy logos are buying tickets to the theatre of their dreams, sometimes to the theatre of life, to the club closed to them. The logo consumers are sort of saying – “the only items which are value for money, have logos, because they place us in accordance with the price we pay. Therefore, Guess and Coach will put us in the gallery in this theatre, Gucci or Chanel might give us a front row.” This ticket has a price, but there is no price tag for the place on the stage, or in the holy of holiest, behind the curtain, among the people we worship and want to be like them. Does it not make them wannabes?

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In the post soviet Russia, logos have had the mental price tag for many historical reasons, mainly for the absence of its own aristocracy, for the absence of its own self esteem. Russia, therefore, became one of the biggest consumers of fashion logos in the world. Even the layers of post soviet society started to get its shape in accordance to the money paid for the entry tickets.

Meanwhile, all over the world September 11 became the historic landmark for the fashion consumers, because it marked the start of anti-logo movement. Suddenly, it became unfashionable to be glitzy rich, to look like nouveau riche and to wear expensive logos. The new wave of consumers started to boycott the logos, willing to dress not in accordance to the brand, but in accordance to their own taste. Bottega Veneta for example created the motto – “When your Initials are enough”.

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Many of self sufficient people realised, that wearing logo, also meant free advertising for the logos. Those people started the movement, called now “Discreet Luxury”, they wear cashmere sweaters and expensive shoes sans logos, while they can afford very expensive yachts and private planes. They could buy art, they could do whatever they want to do.  Even if they cannot afford any of the above,  they could still afford to be themselves. This movement in the world faces many obstacles, due to enormous advertising budget the logo brands allocate to all channels of media.

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The future of Discreet Luxury movement depends on the proportion of people with individual taste, with their own opinion. What matters, these people have emerged, their discreet society is becoming bigger, their presence is becoming more noticeable, the membership in their society is becoming more and more prestigious.

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It is very difficult to write now about Russia, without mentioning political situation surrounding Russia and Ukraine, but I will. I won’t mention politics, because Moscow, as one of the most beautiful cities in the world deserves my love and admiration. My story of Moscow is not politically clouded.

I was born in the city of Kursk, grew up in the city of Belgorod (size of Newcastle but with pollution of 100 times more than in Newcastle). We had asbestos factory, 5 nuclear stations around, we even had Vitamin A pollution from the vitamin factory.

I have never been to Moscow until I reached the age of 14. My school organised a trip to then Leningrad via Moscow. We stopped in Moscow for 15 minutes to buy Fanta and to allow the driver to have his long awaited cigarette. I remember, that we stopped on the outskirts of the city, the night was lit by the windows of “very tall buildings” and by the huge streetlights – anything was bigger and taller, than in Belgorod. I did not see a city, I saw mirage. At the age of 15, during summer holidays, I fell in love with a very cute Moscovite. All factors combined, I promised to myself to make everything possible to get an entry to one of the Moscow Universities. To cut the story short, I did. 5 years passed, and my husband and I had to leave Moscow, since Moscow was the city closed to people from other regions (see “propiska”). Since then, I saw Moscow only in my dreams, I was desperately, hopelessly in love with the city, with my own mirage.

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25 years passed since I came back to Moscow from my homeland Australia to start our own Cara&Co, to get a second education, and to re-start my life there in some sense. I did not recognise the city. All of the streets were renamed back from their communist names to the original pre-revolutionary names. It clashed with my geographical cretinism and, voila!, I found myself in the city, completely unknown to me. It was again, a mirage, based on my amnesia.

As Heraclites said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

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I lived in Moscow from 2006 till 2012. I can only vouch for my own experience.

I will start from few postulates:

1)   Moscow never sleeps. It is a very entertaining city. Forget New York, which sleeps sometimes, – if you want to go to the nightclub in Moscow, the alcohol supply won’t stop at 1 am (makes Sydney stupidly provincial), you can go to the movies at 1am, you can sit on a beautiful veranda in the restaurant at 1am, and nobody, would be washing the floors around you, to show, that your time is over.You can have manicure and pedicure at 1am, a bit more expensive than in daytime, but you can. You can sit with your friends at 1am and leave their place at 4am, because Russians are incredibly conversational people, and they don’t need to drive their kids to netball on Saturday morning). The fitness centres close at 1am and open at 6 am. The nightclubs are abundant, and are one of the best in the world.

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2)   Moscow is a very old city – the first reference to it dates back to year 1147 when Yury Dolgorykiy met Svyatoslav Olgovich. The original Moscow Kremlin was built during the 14th century. It was reconstructed by Ivan,The Third, who in the 1480s invited architects from Italy, such as Petrus Antonius Solarius, who, in turn, designed the new Kremlin wall and its towers, and Marco Ruffo, who designed the new palace for the prince. The Kremlin walls, as they now appear, are those designed by Solarius, completed in 1495. The Kremlin’s Great Bell Tower was built in 1505–08 and augmented to its present height in 1600.

Moscow ceased to be Russia’s capital when Peter the Great moved his government to the newly built Saint Petersburg on the Baltic coast in 1712. After losing the status as capital of the empire, the population of Moscow at first decreased, from 200,000 in the 17th century to 130,000 in 1750. But after 1750, the population grew more than tenfold over the remaining duration of the Russian Empire, reaching 1.8 million by 1915.

3)   Moscow is still a very Russian city. Usually, when the foreigners praise St Petersburg, as much more beautiful city, Moscow, however, IS a Russian City, The Mother of the Russian cities (“Мать городов русских”). St Petersburg was built mostly by the Italian Architects, based on Peter the Great idea to create a European city. St Petersburg, somehow, does not have the same feel of Russianness, that Moscow has. Moscow has incredible examples of the early Russian church architecture like St Basils Cathedral, where the history mentions the name of the architect, Ivan Yakovlevich Barma (Varfolomey). Legend held, that Ivan The Terrible blinded the architect so, that he could not re-create the masterpiece

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There are incredible examples of Russian/Soviet modernism architecture, evolving later as the Soviet constructivism. There is a very distinct parallel in those styles with Art Nouveau, and Art Deco in Western Europe and USA. At the same time there is a distinctly Russian /Soviet difference.

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The finest examples of this are of Yaroslav Railway station (by Fyodor Schectel), Church of Saint Martha (Aleksey Schusev), Moscow Metro (first stations like Mayakovskaya and Belorusskaya were based on designs of Alexander Deineka), The Government House, aka “Dom na Naberzhnoy” by Architect B. Iofan, TSUM by architect Roman Clein.

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The architecture course in France is taught and based on the early examples of Soviet Architecture, with the best names in mind like Vladimir Tatlin, Nikolai Nikitin, Roman Klein, Aleksey Schusev.

4)   Moscow is a fashion savvy city. Russian women have, as I always put it mildly, so called “garbage bin syndrome”. They would rather be seen dead than without proper makeup and proper attire, even when they take the garbage out. Nothing like Australian celebrities, wearing approaching their death sentence garments, caught by paparazzi, when picking up the morning newspaper.) Moscow shops have all brands imaginable on the planet. Moscow does not have giant shopping malls, the ones I was writing about before, and invading Sydney, but it has very good shops and boutiques and department stores.

GUM:

William Craft Brumfield described the GUM building as “a tribute both to Shukhov’s design and to the technical proficiency of Russian Architecture toward the end of the 19th century”.

The glass-​roofed design made the building unique at the time of construction. The facade is divided into several horizontal tiers, lined with red Finnish granite, Tarusa marble, and limestone. Each arcade is on three levels, linked by walkways of reinforced concrete.

It is still open nowadays, and is a popular tourist destination for those visiting Moscow. Many of the stores feature luxury brands from all over the world; locals refer to these as the “exhibitions of prices”, the joke being that no one could afford actually to buy any of the items displayed.

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TSUM:

TsUM is one of the most fashionable and trendy places in the city, and the largest fashion department store in Eastern Europe. It carries more than 1000 brands of fashionable apparel, perfumery, jewellery, as well as “TsUM Globus Gourmet” gastronome, a fusion restaurant, a cigar room, a café, and champagne-bar “Veuve Clicquot”.

TsUM new seasonal collections appearance is supported by sound advertising campaigns with world-famous fashion stars, Milla Jovovich, Naomi Campbell, Natalia Vodianova, Malgosa Bella, and Cindy Crawford.

The world-renowned designers participate in TsUM events, introducing to the guests and clients of TsUM their newest collections in person.

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Tsvetnoy Central Market is a mall located in a newly built 5-storey building near the Tsvetnoy Bulvar metro station. It’s one of the trendiest places in the city, a real hipster paradise. The more you go upstairs, the more expensive and extravagant the boutiques get, and there is a food market on top.

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Stoleshnikov Pereylok, Tretyakovsky Proezd, Petrovka are the areas where the best concept stores are located, Podium, Kuznetsky Most 20, 3.14 (Pi), Luntz, Leform.

Below are Miroslava Duma – a socialite, famous blogger, and aspiring designer(on the left) and Vika Gadzinskaya, the most famous Russian designer. Her creations are in Colette, The Other Stories(H&M) and many other famous stores in the world.

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5)   Moscow is a very cultured city

With 50 museums, I mean museums-museums (not just the History of Buttons Museum)), with around 100 art galleries, with 80 State Universities in Moscow alone, with so many theatres and world renowned directors like Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia is still an epicentre of all things cultural. My favourite place, when I lived there, was the Catholic Church (Metro Belorusskaya) where Sunday concerts of different varieties, all of incredible finesse and perfection were held, and where the tickets would cost you only 50 roubles (1.6 AUD). Our Australian Ambassador gave away to me this well hidden secret. My Sundays became very memorable.

I must admit at the same time, there is a Vodka Museum in Moscow…)

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6)   Moscow is a very corrupt and very bureaucratic city. I have had my business in Moscow. Russia is proudly ahead only of Nigeria and Bangladesh in the corruption ladder, depending on who is making the order.

One has to oil the wheels every time, when one wants anything to happen. That’s why so many Western companies in Russia have an army of brokers and middle people to handle all of the awkward situations. To start and register a company in Australia takes you one week, to do the same in Russia takes about 6 months. Go figure.

I left Moscow in 2012 to start my business in Sydney. I left a very successful business there and the rest is history. I still miss Moscow, not as a mirage anymore, but as a city, where I forged many friendships, the city where I lived a non-stop social life, and where the sparkles were not only in champagne, but in the pure atmosphere of the city. I miss Moscow, as one misses a very good friend, maybe a bit unstable and manic, but a friend, nevertheless.

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Suburban Mega Malls could be coming to your neighbourhood.

http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/8889119/suburban-mega-malls-could-be-coming-to-your-neighbourhood

I think, I became addicted to the Current Affair on Channel 9, or, rather, when I hear the word “shopping”, while having my first glass of wine (two is the limit)), when Current Affair is on, my ears strain, like the ears of a wolf, hearing the bleating of the sheep in a distance. My eyes start seeing red, and as far as my muscles are concerned, they are ready to run a marathon.

The program starts – the head of AMP shopping, the editor of “Shop till you Drop” Magazine, together with all the shopping experts from Australia assure us that huge mega malls would be the future of Australia. Soon, we might have skating rinks inside these shopping mega malls and swimming pools and whatever we can imagine to make us to spend a day or two there… well, the prototype would be Dubai and Durban.

Those experts also mention, that the best international brands like Uniqlo and H&M would be joining forces to become part of those new developments. The prices would be low and affordable. Images of Zara, Chanel, Gucci, H&M and Uniqlo are filling the screen to confirm the variety. The narrator of the story cheerfully says, that one could buy the best quality things in Uniclo for negligent prices, and get the whole evening outfit in H&M for 100 dollars. Australian consumer would finally have an access to the best brands on the planet.

I am getting confused – and I did not even finish my first glass of wine:

Are Chanel or Gucci going to drop their prices to match those of H&M and Uniqlo to become low and affordable? Or Chanel and Gucci are not going to be part of those mega malls?

Since when, Uniqlo and H&M became the best quality international brands? My cashmere sweater from Uniqlo lasted me exactly two days, before it started to peel. In my opinion, it is a disposable fashion, not comparable with the quality of the best international brands…

Who is the judge of what are the best brands for Australia to have an access to?

As a matter of interest:

Is LOWE coming to Australia?Is COS coming to Australia?Is Chantal Thomas, coming to Australia, perhaps?

Are Petit Bateau, Roberto Verino, “The Other Stories”, Dries Van Notten, Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Hussein Chalayan, Kenzo, Goyard, Pomellato constitute the part of the best brands invasion?

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No, of course not. High Street Fashion is coming to Australia and, please, don’t tell us, they are the best brands in the world.

The program also mentions, that the best restaurants and the best food imaginable would be present in the future malls. From my own experience and my own knowledge, four hatted restaurants left Westfield Sydney shopping centre, since this centre opened its doors in 2010. I would confidently say that none of those restaurants would be brave enough to repeat the shopping mall experience.

Since Westfield is going to follow AMP in its giant mall construction race – new Miranda Shopping Centre, I have only one question? How do we know where we are in those malls without going simply mad?  Are we in Miranda? Macquarie? Bondi Junction? Why do we need the repetition of a much of a muchness?

Why don’t the best shopping destinations in the world have those giant malls?

Why none of the mega malls are present in New York, Seoul, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Madrid, Tokyo, Milan, Rome, London?

Because they are soooo yesterday…

I understand the bit about Durban and Dubai. It is almost nothing to do there, outside of those malls (I hope I am forgiven).

But why Sydney, with its beautiful blue skies, with its three days of rain and its three days of cold weather per year, why Sydney deserves this mega mall invasion? Why not to support what we have, and try not to lose what we tried to build for many generations?  Why should we lose historical Transvaal Avenue in Double Bay with its little white cosy houses/shops (120 years old) like Belinda, Marni, Mihal Negrin, newly born Timaginarium…

Why should we lose Macleay Street with Becker and Minty and Macleay on Manning and Grandiflora in Potts Point?

Why should we lose Darling Street, veering through Rozelle and Balmain? It has so many shops and cafes of beautiful variety? Is Mosman destined to die? Does William Street in Paddington have its use by date?

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Please understand, I am not against giant shopping malls, designed for people living in remote areas. I am against the giant shopping malls, so close to what we call Sydney CBD.

I am against the shopping malls, which negate individuality, and promote uniformity.

I am against the shopping malls, which push local unique operators out of business.

There is always another way to do it – for example, there is another shopping centre in Sydney, designed by Japanese architects in Central Park, Ultimo – it is functional, compact, and it is simply nice.

None of the local traders suffered as Central Park shopping mall appearance…

Uniformity is USSR – I don’t want to go back there luxury or no luxury…

Well, it seems that my affair with the Current Affair is not finished yet.

To be continued…)

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Across from the Jewish Ghetto, across the river Tiber, pass Isola Tiberina lies an area which only Romans know and only Romans visit. It is called Trastevere.

It holds for me the most of Rome’s magical secrets, and every time I visit Trastevere, something magical happens.

A bit of history:

In Rome’s Regal period (753-509 BC), the area across the Tiber belonged to the hostile Etruscans: the Romans named it Ripa Etrusca (Etruscan bank). Rome conquered it to gain control of and access to the river from both banks, but was not interested in building on that side of the river. In fact, the only connection between Trastevere and the rest of the city was a small wooden bridge called the Pons Sublicius (Latin: “bridge built on wooden piles”).

In fact, Trastevere is one of the oldest regions of the city. The area is so specific and so isolated, that it has its own dialect/accent, and its inhabitants are called Trasteverini.

Of course, the bridge connecting two banks of the river is now made of stone and is called Il Ponte Garibalde. Garibalde withstood and attacked the French hiding in Trastevere.

When we lived and worked in Rome, and tried to survive in order to get to the wonderful shores of Australia (legally – we were refugees from USSR then), I saw this area first from the main street (Viale De Trastevere) and spotted a house with no glass windows and, obviously no inhabitants, with the huge marionette dolls and skeletons sitting peacefully on window ledges. Their legs were swaying slowly from the wind. It was a bit macabre sight, but I did not have a chance to see Trastevere then.

12 years passed and we went to Rome with my daughter. On one glorious Sunday we ended up having a lunch in Trastevere.

By then we have been living in Australia already for 11 years, and since we left Rome I did not have a chance to say goodbye to the nicest American Joint caseworker, who looked after us for two years while we were in refugee camps. I had a niggling feeling that we would meet her that day. I had a niggling feeling we would meet her in Trastevere. And we did, after lunch, just like this on the street.  The skeletons were still there…

I went to Rome 4 years later and rented “la cantina”, (a cellar), which promised a lot on the internet, and turned out to be a very dank, smelly and dark place with a room upstairs representing a bed and nothing else. The water was temperamental and no washing machine existed as a device of civilisation. I was so depressed that only ventured out to have a cornetto and cappuccino and dinner in the nearest trattoria. Until I discovered a Laundromat on the corner of my street, and met there a wonderful Australian lady, who worked for Caritas Vatican and was about to fly to Thailand to help the locals with medical supplies and food amidst the terrible floods. I also met there an owner of car repairs shop, who looked like our Aussie bikie, albeit with the Roman nose. He made the best cornetti and the best cappuccino. He also had two huge Dobermans who would kiss and lick everybody in vicinity in a very Italian dog way. Something must be happening with the dog breeds, after they get Italian citizenship. I started going on my own for lunches and dinners and not every time, but quite often, the owner of my favourite trattoria would drive me on the back of his Vespa home.

 

La Dolce Vita does exist.

As for more formal review, Trastevere does not have your usual brand shops and luxury restaurants, but it has many artisan places with unique choices and many little restaurants, which are simply unforgettable.

My favourite shop there is Roma Store Profumi on via Della Lungaretta 63.

It seems that all other perfume stores in Roma have the “usual” name brands — Bvlgari, Prada, L’Occitane, etc. But this shop has better selection with: Laboratio Olfattivo, Eau D’Italie (of Le Sireneuse fame), I fell in love with two different Eau D’Italie scents…

For shoe shopping it’s the best to go to Joseph De Bach

You won’t find a more unusual shoe shop anywhere. DeBach, a native of Tripoli who now lives and works in Rome, makes fantastic clogs, sandals and wedgies for men and women. Leather is stamped with comic strip art, with metallic patterns. Heels are made of iron in unlikely shapes- curves, curlicues. It is as much a gallery of shoe art as a store. Check it out when window shopping, if nothing else. The address is Vicolo del Cinque, 19. Open evenings only from 7:30 pm

Fabrizi is in via Lungaretta 98 – there, you will find Italian leather goods in snakeskin, crocodile and calf. The shop has exquisite purses and accessories, as well as a collection of interesting jewellery. Its run by the same family since 1954.

The best dinner in Trastevere I had, was in Enoteca Ferrara in Piazza Trilussa 41,

This is a wine bar with tables on three levels and a lovely back garden for warm weather dining. The two wine lists (one huge book for whites, one for reds) provide for a full evening reading. Some visitors come to Ferrara to buy a bottle or a little gastronomic treat from the in-house deli, some for a pre- or post-dinner glass of wine, others opt for the full-on restaurant experience. The cuisine is undeniably creative, with a tad bit of Slow Food approach. The crowds happily drinking beer on Friday night make this little piazza disappear– they are not from Ferrara, they are from the pub next door. It is still a huge difference between the ruddy crowds behaviour In Roma and in Sydney. I wont tell which one I appreciate more. Whatever you decide to do in Trastevere„ be assured ,that it’s a little Rome inside Rome and it’s a place like nowhere else. Its so much to write about, but…En plus, I forgot to check my skeletons…

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When I first entered the holy grail of Potts Point it was in 1994 – Holiday Inn was on Macleay street, where Icon Building is now. I was supposed to be studying Project Management course there, but instead I was studying Potts Point.

For 4 days we had coffee breaks at the hotel with incredibly bitter burnt coffee, and I tried to see the glimpses of the suburb, which has taken my heart since and never let my heart go. There were tree-lined streets (like in Europe), there was an incredible Bookshop, which, unfortunately, closed its doors only a month ago. At the time, it had the books translated from all the languages from all over the world. The shop reminded me the bookshop in Verona in Piazza D’Erbe. There were little cafes with an outdoor chairs (like in Europe) and rather roguish looking pubs on Darlinghurst Road. I walked to Woolloomooloo and saw, – OMG – Navy Ships in the middle of the city. After visiting Sebastopol in Ukraine (sadly Russia now), which had about 10 military zones, before you could spot any ships, the feeling of openness was amazingly liberating. The whole buzz was of European city, patchy somewhat, but still of European city.

Of course, there was the City, 5 km away with its skyscrapers and dusty palm trees.

The City had no feel of Europe and no buzz.  It had sterile looking office workers, lunching strictly between 12pm and 14pm, and dispersing back to their suburbia every night.

I thought to myself – what would persuade my then family to move to Potts Point? Nothing would….

I tried… I moved there after my divorce…(I must say, that divorce its not a liberation – it is an opportunity to make your own decisions without consulting the other half, for all right and wrong reasons)… and I intend to stay here, I think, until eternity. My second coming to Potts Point happened when my friend Maree told me to visit one of the shops there. Maree’s opinion mattered the most (she had a beautiful perfume shop in North Sydney at the time). Only because of her, I first entered the kingdom of Macleay on Manning. I became addicted to its Limoges cups, to Fornasetti plates (the real ones), to little cards, and candles and cute presents, which looked like gifts from Paris in Vaucluse (where I lived then).

I became addicted to their owners Rod and Jill, too). Then Arida spruced up in the lower end of Macleay, followed by Bekker and Minty across the road from Macleay on Manning, followed by Blood Orange in Elizabeth Bay.  Forgive my historical chronology, if I made an omission there and then, but Potts Point became a shopping Mecca with a twist. Even the little laundry with a duck image in Elizabeth Bay, which looked so Dutch, was like an omen – I felt compelled to move there. In all honesty, its not my Russian community area, it does not have big houses with the swimming pools, it does not have this comfortable Australian dream/suburbia feel. It has a feel of all night Parisian entertainment maybe in not so glamorous arrondissements.

It is a perfect suburb, my Potts Point, for its great restaurants and great shops but it has very little space for development and growth. The car owners are treated like pests and are surrounded by Tow Away signs at every mm of the Potts Point. When you find a parking space, or if you are in the luck, and don’t get a ticket, if you parked illegally, you feel as fortunate, as you would be feeling, when winning 1 million dollars lotto.

The car drivers are persecuted in Potts Point as the dogs are persecuted by Woollahra Council – Parsley Bay, for example has signs – Dogs Are Totally Prohibited – fine $500.

With so much to give to Sydneysiders, in terms of culture, shopping and food, Potts Point started shrinking back to the embryo it has been before…Something needs to be done, the long awaited cinema needs to be built, the watershed between Kings Cross and Potts Point need to be eliminated. The undercover parking next to Woolworths needs to be built, something urgently needs to be done to Potts Point to allow it return it to its own glory, and at the same time to make it livable for the residents, and accessible to the visitors. As for me, I will be around I will wait.

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When I first went to Paris on my own for two weeks only, I went to contemplate life, to make decisions, marriage including. It was in August, 2003 – the year when Paris was liberated 60 years ago from the Nazis. Well, Paris was a free spirit and even loved the Americans. My Russian accented English was welcome everywhere.

In general, the easiest way to “survive” Paris is to go for the “prescribed walks” during the daytime, the hardest way to survive is to go for dinner on your own. Not because it is Paris, it is because going for dinner on your own in an unknown city it’s a hardest thing to do for a woman… That was my thoughts and anxieties thrown together.

That’s how thought a woman, who never had a dinner on her own in her own life since her brain started to develop…

It put my life strictly into perspective and made me think that marriage was the best invention in life…

 

Nevertheless, it was August, and the asphalt was melting. My little apartment under the roof did not have any air-conditioning. And it was melting too. Drinking wine and eating cheese under this hottest roof for the 4th day in the row would have killed my Paris spirit forever. My prescribed walk (I lived in Bastille) told me to go to Brasserie Bofinger. En plus I decided to try steak tartare. I took a book with me (I needed it as much as a fur coat on this balmy evening).  I took a plunge and …

Forget the steak tartare, I entered the most beautiful restaurant institution in Paris. Of course there were no tables available, but flirting in English with a Russian accent gets you anywhere in France…I got the best table under the most beautiful ceiling, Art Nouveau could ever invented (please forgive my naivete, I was mesmerised). The waiter did not leave my side and …of course…I decided on oysters Fin De Claire number 4, and on (Please God, if I have to burn in hell, could you make the temperature there a bit lower) Foie Gras steak on apple puree and brioche. I also ordered Bourgogne and I drank (wow) two glasses of it.

I was in heaven, I also justified to myself that the ducks are fed in the same way, as all Jewish children are, by force (from my own experience)…Since that “fatal” evening I was eating out on my own in Paris every day. My fear was unleashed…

A little bit of history…

 

In 1996, when the French restaurateur Jean-Paul Bucher announced he was buying the great Parisian brasserie Bofinger, in a narrow lane just off the Place de

la Bastille, the regular customers reacted furiously. In a city where its great brasseries are regarded not merely as restaurants but as grand historic symbols as rich in heritage as any museum or opera house. They are temples to the French way of food, which must surely never be allowed to come under the control marketing men. Despite this, over a 30-year period, Bucher has purchased nearly a dozen in the French capital for his Flo restaurant group, including famous names like La Coupole and Terminus Nord (been there, they are wonderful too).

 

Bofinger was opened in 1864 by FrÀdÀric Bofinger, a refugee from war-torn Alsace on France’s north-eastern border with Germany. The first Bofinger was tiny: little more than a bar that served draught beers – it was the first establishment in Paris to do so – and charcuterie. It soon became fashionable and has remained that way, as it has expanded and grown, through four different owners, including one of the Rothschild family.

Today it occupies almost the entirety of the rue de la Bastille, its brilliant red awnings decorated with an over sized gold ‘B’. The whole of the interior is now a protected national monument. But the crowning glory is the intricate glass dome above the central dining room. Upstairs there is more rustic room, named after the Alsatian artist whose Teutonic landscapes decorate its walls.. Bofinger seats 300. Each day a staff of around 100 – 30 of them in the kitchen – serve 800 diners. One of the most important things about Brasserie Bofinger, it is always busy. My sometimes, beautiful eyes and my English Russian accent secures me the table almost every time. If my luck ever stops, I will go for a plastic surgery)…

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The 24th of June, 7pm, Current Affair,  Channel Nine: “The Shopping Revolution Heading Down Under”.

I am not a Current Affair viewer, but what the heck? The title intrigued me, since I am also waiting for the shopping revolution in Australia.

http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/8864846/the-shopping-revolution-heading-down-under

The anchor announced, that Sephora was coming to Australia and their prices were going to match US prices. Then two commentators from the “Choice” and “Shop Till You Drop” magazines, informed us of how excited they were that Sephora was coming to Australia with the US prices. They also told us that Australian consumers were paying “Australia Tax” as a definition for inflated Australian prices for imported goods. At that moment I did realise once and forever why I was not an avid viewer of “Current Affair”. The program is mostly one-sided. In this case, in particular, not one retailer was given a voice to explain what is really happening with Australian prices.

“Australia Tax” in reality is 10% transportation cost + 30% taxes and duties at the time the goods are cleared from the customs. On the top of this come the wages, including the penalty rates, when a sales assistant is paid 50$ per hour on a public holiday. On the top of this top, comes the rent, where Sydney is only behind the 5th Avenue to foot the bill.

At the time our shop was closing in the most expensive rental enclave of Westfield Sydney, we had a customer, who was at the same time, also closing her unique bookshop. She said a catchy phrase that our fellow Australians would not be happy until the last Australian owned shop is closed. Of course it was an exaggeration, but at the time, we were closing. Lisa Ho, Kirilly Johnston, Bettina Liano, Colette Dinnigan, Ksubi, you name it were shutting their businesses down…Quintessential Australian retailers and designers employing hundreds and thousands of people…

Why are US prices so cheap? US prices are cheaper even than European prices for European goods, because of the sheer volume of the goods purchased and imported into the country. US import taxes are significantly lower.

In US they don’t pay GST at the border. US prices are also cheaper, because they don’t pay penalty rates to their stuff and apart from NY, their rents are much cheaper too.  It costs much more to operate a business in Australia that in US. The economy of the bigger scale -300 million in USA versus 22 million in Australia is proven to carry cheaper costs. In general, Australian prices for clothes and cosmetics are 60% higher than US prices for the same goods.

How can Sephora in Australia match US prices? With 1400 shops on the planet, with LVMH, the owner of the company, I can only guess, it can afford to subsidise its first seasons in Australia. But it is nothing to do with “Australia Tax”. It will only make competition with my beloved Mecca unfair and unjust.

At the same time I am happy for Australian consumers.  Most probably I will shop at Sephora with gusto and delight.

I cannot, however, help, but notice the changing shopping landscape of Australia. It is becoming a land of numerous Zara(s), TopShop(s), mass luxury brands you can find anywhere in the world. Add Sephora(s) and H&M to the mix – we could as well be in anonymous country in anonymous city inside anonymous shopping centre. Soon, our consumers wont have a choice, but to shop online to feel unique, or to pay for another “Australia Tax “– the ticket to fly to USA and Europe to do the shopping.  I only pray for Mecca and many other unique Australian shops to stay and be alive for its fresh and beautiful choices. I also pray for the Government of Australia to make smart decisions for retail sector, as this industry is drowning into obscurity with the speed of light…

As for the Current Affair, I have to take a break from watching it for a little while…

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I have been in many places in the world – to be exact in almost all of Europe, Asia, North America. I don’t like sweet things, I never eat dessert, but one place completely transforms me into ravenous dessert eating creature. This place is not in Paris, not in Italy, Spain, Vienna – it is not in the best dessert places in the world.

This place is in Hobart, and for those, who don’t know, it’s a capital of the smallest state in Australia, Tasmania.

My love affair with Hobart started 20 years ago when I started working at the Antarctic Conference (CCAMLR). Before going there I knew it was a very provincial place. It did not seem so to me. During 2 weeks of the conference the town was alive with the scientists from all over the world. We had endless evenings of talks with the help of Tasmanian Pinot, we had very enlightened conversations about everything in the world. We touched the topics of sex, religion and politics without any reservations. We went to all classy restaurants – lots of them in Hobart, but we never had a cool place for breakfast.

Then, suddenly, in Battery Point one of the English scientists discovered the BAKERY. It was a pretty local affair with two little rooms and few tables outside. We would sip our coffee (excellent, on par with Sydney) and eat the sandwiches, quiches, croissants, as the world would end today. Everything was crunchy in the right place, soft in the right place, savoury in the right product and sugary where it was needed. The herds of Labradors and Golden Retrievers passed our tables, but I did not give them anything. It was nothing left to give.

I haven’t been to Hobart since 2006 and we travelled there with our friends in January 2014. After nothing to do in Launceston and its surroundings, Hobart suddenly looked and felt like a capital of the world. The town has changed a great deal. In fact, the presence of MONA changed it beyond recognition, but about this, later. We went to traditional Salamanca Markets and we popped in the BAKERY.

Jackman and McRoss Bakery did not change. It became bigger and lighter – it expanded into 4 rooms. There was a queue for the table. There were couples, obviously 20 years into their own marriages, reading their own newspapers or sms-ing the outside world, there were families with lots of kids, gay couples…The BAKERY looked much more urbanistic, than before. Hobart looked much more urbanistic than before. The Labradors were still there, they did not have much space anymore.

We had an amazing breakfast. In fact, we have had three amazing breakfasts in this bakery in a row. The strawberry tarts, sandwiches on the best sourdough bread, eclairs, quiches…Well, it is not a place for the scale conscious people. I dream to return to Hobart again, for its best seafood, for Mona, for local antiques shops, but mostly, for the BAKERY. It will happen soon.

 

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