By  on November 17, 2004

Mikhail Kusnirovich doesn’t strike the image of a merchant prince. Nor does he fret about it.

“I’m no fashion guy. I’m just a retailer,” he told the audience of U.S. retail and fashion executives.

Then the 38-year-old Russian retailer apologized for being overweight, and showed off the latest shopping bag for his stores. It’s got a quaint, but hardly fashion-forward, illustration of him and his family. “Now, our customers know our faces, so we are even more responsible to them.”

He also said naming his company Bosco di Ciliegi, which means “cherry forest,” was a mistake. “It’s difficult to pronounce, even for us Russians.”

What doesn’t get lost in translation, however, is that this affable, self-deprecating chairman of the Bosco di Ciliegi conglomerate, based in Moscow, has become one of Russia’s leading luxury purveyors through a growing number of single- and multibrand designer stores it owns and operates, perfumeries and chic restaurants and cafes.

This year, his 11-year-old company bought a 50.25 percent stake in GUM, the country’s most famous shopping destination. For about a decade, Bosco rented space for its boutiques inside GUM, starting with about 5,400 square feet and currently occupying more than 54,000 square feet. Since he was paying a ton of rent anyway, he decided he might just as well buy a controlling stake in GUM.

“I’m going to do my best to make GUM one of the most important retail spaces in the world,” Kusnirovich said. “Starting tomorrow, you will all hear more good news about it.”

He may not mean tomorrow, literally. But in his broken English (which he also apologized for), he made it clear that at GUM, a magnificent glass-roofed, 800,000-square-foot retail center built in 1893 on Red Square, things are heating up. What was once a setting for hundreds of small wooden trading stalls now has nameplates such as Louis Vuitton and Moschino, among other designer brands, and next year, Burberry, Sonia Rykiel, Zara and Christian Dior will open shops there.

“More than that, we will open our own institutional GUM stores. A GUM food emporium. A GUM toy store. GUM merchandise,” Kusnirovich said.

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