Billionaires of Moscow

Skip the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré for shopping, and New York, too. The newest stop on the gilt-edged global

Skip the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré for shopping, and New York, too. The newest stop on the gilt-edged global shopping circuit for art and antiques is Moscow. There’s even an entire new shopping center, a direct copy of Manhasset, heavily spiced with triple-A luxury brands like Fendi furs, Ferraris and John Galliano dicey togs.

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And last week, a peek at the second annual Moscow World Fine Art Fair, held at the newly restored Moscow Manège just steps from Red Square and packed with a slew of Paris, London and Manhattan dealers, confirmed that finicky art dealers are zeroing in on the former Soviet capital. Already, this fair—with its Renoir portraits, dix-huitième siècle bureau plats and precious Byzantine jewelry—has got major-league cachet among the cognoscenti. Even cosmetics titan Ronald Lauder, who founded the Fifth Avenue Neue Galerie, strolled the fair aisles last Tuesday evening.

Twenty Paris mega-dealers, including Steinitz, Segoura and Kraemer, made up the bulk of the fair roster, which was then sprinkled with New York, London and Moscow galleries. The show itself is the equivalent of the Paris Biennale des Antiquaires, only Vegas style. The art and antiques were laden on the first floor, while downstairs a host of jewelers pumped up the bling factor: Van Cleef & Arpels, Chopard, Bulgari and Buccellati. London and New York jeweler Graf was spotlighting a 55-carat yellow vivid diamond priced at $4.7 million. Crowds ogled his gems.

But why are dealers suddenly dropping $40,000 and more for a stand at the fair, and $60,000-plus to airfreight a mere 10 crates of paintings? “This could be the next frontier of collecting,” said Manhattan dealer Richard Feigen, who has just opened a London outpost for the express purpose of courting Russian émigrés headquartered in the British capital.

Mr. Feigen has already proved the notion true that Russians are suddenly possessed with an insatiable taste for art coupled with a highly discriminating palette. He sold a Jacob Van Ruisdael landscape for a hefty $500,000-plus last year to a Russian. The painting bore the kind of impeccable provenance for which Russian clients now fight: Formerly owned by Catherine the Great, it had hung in the Hermitage.

For the fair and his London venture, Mr. Feigen has joined hands with Hervé Aaron, who commands both Paris and New York galleries. On their stand was a small Peter Paul Rubens 1618 Christ on the cross, priced at a whopping $11 million. Even so, Mr. Feigen, like many dealers at the fair, hedged his bets by including work by Russian-born painters like Chagall and Kandinsky.

With former socialists like Roman Abramovich, who owns the Chelsea Football Club among other entrepreneurial entities (his wealth zoomed from $4 billion to a staggering $15 billion last year), and Viktor Vekselberg, who plucked up the Forbes cache of Fabergé Eggs for more than $100 million at Sotheby’s last May, making up what Russians call the “newly wealthy,” it’s no wonder dealers are clamoring to set up shop here. Simply consider that Moscow is home to the world’s largest concentration of billionaires. In fact, a total of 36 billionaires reside in the former Soviet, according to Forbes Russia.

Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, Armand Hammer and Marjorie Merriweather Post came to Russia and shopped till they dropped. Other Westerners also plundered Russian art and plucked up paintings for a song.

“Now the Russians are buying back their patrimony,” said the Odessa-born Manhattan private dealer Luba Mosionzhnik. What do her countrymen particularly seek out vis-à-vis New York’s cutting-edge collectors? “They want something that looks well over the sofa and, at the same time, by an artist all their neighbors will instantly recognize,” Ms. Mosionzhnik responded. Her own stand was packed with rather pedestrian Picassos, Mirós and von Jawlenskys.

One thing is certain: Fair organizer Yves Bouvier, who hails from Geneva, didn’t scrimp on the show presentation. He brought on Patrick Hourcade, the Paris designer who has spent the past 15 years creating Karl Lagerfeld’s to-die-for fashion shows. Mr. Hourcade created arguably the world’s most elegant fair setting: gleaming marble floors, towering arches marking the stand entrances, which were flanked by Natalia Vodianova look-alikes (the Vogue supermodel was born in Russia) clad in identical little black dresses and six-inch stilettos—some as young as 16. “They’re a commodity here, just like the art,” sniffed one visitor.

Art-world insiders say Bouvier stands to lose $2 million on this venture. “It could take five years for dealers to recoup their initial investments—but think of the return,” said David Lester, the Floridian fair organizer who sold his Palm Beach International Fine Art Expositions to the British Daily Mail group back in 2001 and was scouting out dealers at the Moscow fair for his $20 million gallery-laden ship venture that he calls SeaFair.

Hands down, the star of the show has to be the burly Moscow-born Californian Andre Ruzhnikov. This dealer founded the Aurora Fine Art Investments Fund with the billionaire Mr. Vekselberg. He says that he has already doled out tens of millions of dollars on Russian art and antiques. To fund Aurora’s expenses, Mr. Ruzhnikov is selling a cache of Fabergé, Russian silver and paintings. He said he brought merchandise valued at $50 million to the fair.

London dealer Helly Nahmad cleaned up on opening night within the blink of an eye. “A very important and controversial Russian bought four paintings,” said Mr. Nahmad, whose cousin owns an identically named gallery on Madison Avenue. He ticked off in his ledger a Signac pointillist landscape for $9 million, as well as a Monet seascape and a Pissarro view of Rouen.

When it comes to trendy fashions, the newly wealthy head to the newly opened $60 million Luxury Village, which is nestled in the pine forests of Barvikha approximately 10 kilometers southwest of Moscow.

It’s the brainchild of Leonid Friedland, 34, the chief executive and president of Mercury, the Moscow retailing giant whose merchandising clout is practically spelled out in 10-foot-high, Day-Glo capital letters. While in his 20’s, Mr. Friedman forged a pivotal franchise with Patek Philippe. Since then, he has snared virtually every major international brand of tip-top worth. You name it; he owns it: Tiffany, Harry Winston, Yves Saint Laurent, Ferrari, Mercedes, Maserati.

When it comes to distribution, Mr. Friedland is a wizard. He just bought up GUM, the Moscow retailer, and is already doubling it in size and filling the 19th-century emporium with select brands. Cosmetics like Clarins are right up front, of course.

And what was his inspiration for Luxury Village? When Mr. Friedland replied that it was Americana Manhasset, the bevy of U.K. and U.S. journalists howled in laughter. But Mr. Friedland goes far beyond the oh-so-middle-class appearance of the Long Island mall mecca. His architect, Yuri Grigoryan, has taken a lesson or two from chic minimalist Christian Liagre (who did up Rupert Murdoch’s Tribeca residence). The buildings are long and lean, clad in Canadian cedar and bordered with bands of black steel.

Gucci opened here only last Friday and has already racked up sales. But much of the village is still under construction. A full-service spa, a concert hall, a casino and what Mr. Friedland terms a “six-star hotel” are all on the drawing board.

How long to pay back the hefty capitalization on this project? “Three to five years,” says Alexandre Reebok, Mercury general manager, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

When it comes to luring Russian oligarchs taking on the mantle of czars, Western dealers and designers are employing a number of savvy tactics. Mr. Feigen’s book Tales from the Art Crypt was just translated into Russian. Paris designer Jacques Grange spent months taking in Russian art collections to prepare for the design and installation of the Guggenheim Museum’s current show, RUSSIA! Mr. Grange also trimmed up the Beacon Court condos in the Bloomberg Tower, aiming to further captivate the newly wealthy.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan- and Paris-based designer Juan Pablo Molyneux worked on a St. Petersburg pavilion for Vladimir Putin two years back and then landed an aluminum baron as a client.

The budget for Mr. Molyneux’s current Russian residential-design project, Nicolai Hill, is a staggering $80 million. Four stories high and totaling 170,000 square feet, Nicolai Hill is clad in red marble and constructed in a derivative Russian Neoclassical style. Mr. Molyneux himself was spotted cruising the fair; colleagues say that his shopping list is formidable.

What’s the prognosis for merchandising to Russians? The Marlborough Gallery, with outposts stretching from London to New York, has been courting Russian clients for years, according to Gilbert Lloyd, the gallery owner. “The future here is very important,” he added. “Sales are likely to go through the roof.”

But then, with lunch costing $100 a course at Mercury’s Tretyakov Lounge in the center of Moscow (that’s for four grilled shrimp, a handful of field greens and a splash of Balsamic as a starter), isn’t this capital of nine million already on speed dial as the new Paris?

—Brook S. Mason

Mr. Clooney

Last Thursday, a night even earlier than the New York Film Festival could conceive of throwing itself a party, Men’s Vogue—that is, Anna Wintour, its editorial director, and Jay Fielden, its editor in chief—called in a small and very well-groomed group to celebrate the arrival of George Clooney’s sophomore film, Good Night, and Good Luck.

The film was to open the New York Film Festival the following evening. (“Sometimes we don’t even find out about an event until the following day,” Inés Aslan, the festival’s director of communications, said by phone after being told of this special screening.)

On the 10th floor of the Time Warner Center, behind a wall of drapery, unfolded the morbidly air-conditioned Warner Brothers screening room. In its reception area huddled several models (Jacquetta Wheeler, a bespectacled Carmen Kass, Caroline Winberg); several young socials (Annelise Peterson, Alexis Bryan, Fabian Basabe and wife); several Vogue staffers; and Ms. Wintour’s daughter, Bee Schaffer, running in, it seemed, from a late lecture.

Mr. Clooney was also present, as was his co-writer, Grant Heslov; his co-star, Patricia Clarkson; and a T-shirt-clad Harvey Weinstein. They seemed lost and a little confused by the fashionable nature of the thing. The Transom was introduced to Mr. Clooney. “Hi!” he said. “I’m George.” He didn’t follow this with anything self-deprecating, as expected. Instead, he pointed to a friend he was trying to introduce and said, “Look, he’s trying to run away from you!”

Mr. Clooney made several unnecessary funny-humble comments before the screening began. The film, of course, tells the story of CBS broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow’s campaign against Joseph McCarthy and general lily livers of the period, and it showed Mr. Clooney, as Mr. Murrow’s segment editor, in a refreshingly unsexy light.

As the film ended and the guests drifted out of the large building, a large gaggle of girls had already taken shape outside to smoke and complain of the cold. Mr. Weinstein stood on the periphery. “It’s my favorite film! I’ve seen it twice already,” he said. And then Georgina Chapman, the producer’s girlfriend, came pulling his sleeve. “Haaaaaarvey, let’s go!” He shrugged.

Jessica Joffe

The Food Eaters

On Thursday evening, hundreds of the city’s more affluent foodies gathered under a white tent on the north side of Union Square to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Harvest in the Square, which marks the park’s civic and culinary accomplishments over the last 30 years. During the V.I.P. session, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., booths representing more than 40 local restaurants and wineries sliced, simmered and poured their wares inside the tent. Politicians and restaurateurs mixed with the crowd, and even the park’s patron saint, Danny Meyer, was on hand, shouting, “Something smells really good!”

Indeed something did, and women in party dresses and men in dark suits, their ties tucked and shielded under their starched shirts, scrambled to find it and wolf it down. They lined up with tiny plastic plates for the braised rabbit with roasted shallots provided by the Gramercy Tavern, the glazed duck breast with green-tea soba noodles from Kitchen 22, and the Malaysian-style lobster profiteroles from Blue Water Grill.

The handful of guests lucky enough to score seats set their plastic plates and paper napkins on tablecloths the color of the taxicabs speeding dangerously beside them. There they feasted on their $400 meals under the stars and the illuminated Cingular and Petco signs.

Karen Shaw, the executive director of the Partnership for Union Square, waltzed around the party in a silk Chinese blouse. She lamented that with all her running around, she hardly got a chance to eat anything. “It’s like being at your own wedding,” she said.

And as every wedding has its perpetual bridesmaid, Thursday’s painful case was none other than Gifford Miller, fresh off his defeat in the Democratic Mayoral primary and only months away from early retirement, when term limits end his stint as City Council Speaker. Mr. Miller, usually a rabid hand-shaker, leaned against one of the tent’s buttresses and listened listlessly as Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe honored the Mayor and said things like “Union Square is the crossroads of the world” and “We like it better down here, where the air is sweeter.”

Everyone clapped. Mr. Miller silently sipped on his plastic glass of white wine.

Meanwhile, the hungry masses huddled outside the tent’s guardrails, which were themselves guarded by Secret Service–style sentinels. At 7:30 p.m., the ticket prices would drop to $95.

As that hour approached, Mr. Miller stood by the exit, surrounded by bodyguards and licking a candy apple. A few yards away, Cynthia Monk, a 53-year-old nurse, stood outside the guardrails in a fluffy yellow dress. “I’m thinking,” said Ms. Monk. “Ninety-five dollars. That’s too much money. For plenty of people in there, it’s not so expensive. But it is expensive.”

—Jason Horowitz

Billionaires of Moscow