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Moscow's Moment

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Photo: Andrea Fazzari

"Russians are still confused by editions," Gomiashvili explains. "They want to know, 'Why should I pay that price if there will be a thousand more pictures?' Or, 'Can I be absolutely sure that the negative will be destroyed?'" She's working to educate them and also to cultivate awareness and examination of the culture's Soviet roots—specifically by championing photographic work from that era. A recent exhibition rescued cover shots by three Russian photographers who worked for the legendary Soviet Screen magazine in the 1970's. "The magazine closed, the photographers were old, and nobody cared about them," she says. "They didn't even have the money to make prints. These are the last." During the month it was open to the public, the Soviet Screen exhibition was the most popular photography search on Yandex.ru, Russia's answer to Google; Gomiashvili says the work sold "very, very well."

Slick resuscitations of vanishing Russian iconography are also taking place in Moscow's ever more refined fashion world (Muscovites do, after all, famously dress to kill). Russkaya moda's new champion is Denis Simachev, a petit, flamboyant dresser with long dark hair and a droopy mustache. He recently opened his first flagship—a large building swaddled, like a teapot in its cozy, in Russia's beloved country-folk hohkolovo pattern—on ­Stoleshnikov Lane, the main shopping drag. There are a few other Russian designers with stores in Moscow, but none with Simachev's reach: he's said to be funded by the expatriate oligarch Roman Abramovich, and his clothes are sold in 30 countries. The look, an absurdist mash-up of Russian gangster and British aristocrat, makes heavily ironic commentary on the country's trashy elitism with things like handmade leather shoes embossed with anchors, cuff links emblazoned with Soviet cartoon characters, and tailored suits laden with flashy gold hardware.

"Six years ago everyone was copying the West," Simachev says. "When we said we had potential, no one believed it." But surprising people has always been something of a specialty for him. A snide T-shirt featuring Putin's face surrounded by flowers was a sensation in 2002 (it's said that even Vladimir Vladimirovich's daughter wears one). When Simachev signed the lease on the space on Stoleshnikov Lane, he says, "We realized that we were surrounded by mighty brands with long histories that we couldn't begin to compete with." So he turned the first floor into a bar and nightclub with a tweaked pub-meets-gulag style and consistently great DJ's. Gucci and Burberry may be more established boutiques, but they don't have a scrum of hip Muscovites straining at a velvet rope outside the door every night.

Even Moscow's club scene—the clearest window onto the city's excesses, where you'll see heads of capital investment and African oil pipelines stumbling past bouncers at 6 a.m. on a school night—is being done differently. For more than a year the most exclusive venue in town has been Krysha. This stripped-down, guest list–only spot on a rooftop overlooking the Moskva River is the pet project of Kirill Korolev. Korolev, who's been involved in the underground music scene since the early nineties and currently runs what he claims is the city's only DJ booking agency, says that Krysha is "for my friends" (everyone who is anyone), and, he admits, it isn't a rational venture. "If I focus too much on business, I'm worried I'll lose the atmosphere," he says. The bartenders, for example, are all members of his social circle: "Maybe that's not good for the service."

Beaky and blond, with a ponytail and a DJ's anti-fashion sense, Korolev can be seen most nights at the top of the iron staircase that marks the club's entrance on the Tarasa Shevchenko Embankment. (There's no address or phone number, but if you follow the traffic at 4 a.m. on a weekend, you're not likely to miss it.) Guests who make it past his scrutiny climb up through trees and into a walled fortress, where a short stumble across a pitted cement causeway leads to a semiderelict building that used to be a beer factory. On its roof, nirvana: an alfresco deck above the sparkling city, with airy white Balinese cabanas, a menu of "ayurvedic" foods, and ambrosial dance music to blast the blasted further out of their minds.

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