Excess and luxury are not normally something Moscow has a problem with. But on Wednesday, the Russian government banned an exhibit by Louis Vuitton, the brand seen by many as the incarnation of luxury, in Red Square for being too over-the-top.
The 34-metre-long pavilion in the trademark form ofan LV suitcase had already become a tourist attraction in its own right since it was set up 10 days ago in the heart of a city that boasts the second highest number of billionaires in the world.
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Last weekend, tourists were queuing to have their picture taken in front of it. Just a few steps from Lenin's mausoleum – Russian bloggers have joked that LV stands for "Lenin, Vladimir" – it had been meant to house an exhibition on the history of travel as of next week.
But following an outcry from politicians and some civic groups, GUM, the luxury department store through which the French group organised the display, pulled the event, citing objections from the Kremlin. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, explained the pavilion was seen as "out of proportion".
Louis Vuitton said it was not yet in a position to comment. A source close to the group's Russian arm said: "This is a bit of an outlandish campaign. And it's a real pity because it's a project linked to charity." The proceeds from the planned exhibition had been earmarked for a children's' charity headed by Natalya Vodyanova, the model and girlfriend of the son of Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH.
For Louis Vuitton, the backlash comes as a surprise as it has held similar shows in other countries. This summer, Dior, another top French brand, held a fashion show on Red Square without any problem.
But it is not the first time the bold display of western brands in former, or currently Communist countries has raised hackles. In June 2011, a Louis Vuitton-organised exhibition in China's National Museum, normally a venue of patriotic education, triggered a wave of criticism and mockery.
The US coffee shop chain Starbucks was thrown out of the Forbidden City amid complaints that it was desecrating Chinese traditional culture.
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Some Muscovites expressed similar feelings. "I think it is an ill fit here. I think in general there are far too many stalls and stages on Red Square all the time," said Nadezhda Semyonova, an elderly woman looking at the installation on Wednesday night.
But inside GUM, Russia's own luxury retail palace whose façade contributes to the splendour of the Unesco heritage site on Red Square, many were unimpressed by the fuss. "Everyone in Moscow loves the good life, even if there are a lot of things wrong with our country," said a young woman in a mink jacket at a café under the department store's glass domes.
"So now you're going to condemn a display of that – how hypocritical can you get?
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