Alla Verber, the vivacious retail executive who helped modernize Tsum in Moscow and DLT in Saint Petersburg, died suddenly in Italy at age 61, a spokeswoman for the Russian department store group told WWD.
Verber was also vice president of Mercury Group, Russia’s largest luxury goods distributor, and a front-row fixture at European fashion weeks.
“Today, the fashion industry cannot be imagined without Alla Konstantinovna,” the retailer said in a statement. “Joining Mercury in 1995, since then, every day, she devoted herself to achieve her dream: to make Mercury Group and then Tsum and DLT market leaders and unreachable in terms of standard of quality for fashion lovers.
“This is a big loss for all of us. The owners and staff of the company mourn and express sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of Alla Konstantinovna. She will forever remain an integral part of the Mercury family and Tsum.”
“She brought fashion to Moscow, and Tsum became like Bergdorf Goodman in New York,” said Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin, also lauding her sunny demeanor, sense of humor and glamorous personal style. “She always looked fabulous, a real lady all the time.”
In an interview in 2018 to mark Tsum’s 110th anniversary, Verber said she’d realized her initial dream for Tsum, which was to create an international department store, “so that the Russians don’t need to travel. We have our Harrods in Moscow. We have everything, and slowly it is getting even better. The shoe heaven has more shoes than you can imagine.”
In a bid to stay ahead of the trends, the store introduced retail concepts like Ng x Tsum, a fashion-forward women’s wear space curated by creative director Natasha Goldenberg, and On_Tsum, a men’s wear concept store with more than 60 brands, many of them exclusives, and the site of many hyped sneaker drops.
An influencer in her own right, Verber amassed 442,000 followers on Instagram, and in recent days had documented her vacation in Forte dei Marmi, dressed in a boldly printed silk set and Hermès sandals.
Brand and retail executives hailed her as a pioneer, and innovator.
“She, amongst the few, realized that luxury and retail had to evolve and needed to transcend parochial believes,” said Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, noting that Verber, for one, embraced leased departments.
“The news of Alla Verber’s unexpected passing really struck me. She was an unconditional point of reference for us in Russia and I will forever be grateful for her support and warm hospitality during my latest trip to Moscow,” said Giorgio Armani.
“I am shocked by this sad announcement. Alla was a vibrant, eclectic and smart human being in the fashion system. I will miss her sharp point of view,” said Marco Bizzarri, Gucci president and ceo.
Majed Al-Sabah, ceo of 360 Style Co. in Kuwait, recalled a kindred spirit and partner in crime.
“In the early Nineties, almost all luxury brands were busy developing their business in America, Europe and Japan, while both the Middle East and Russia were totally ignored. Both myself and Alla fought fiercely together to convince every single brand to work with us. It was a joint effort done with dedication love and above all true friendship,” he recalled. “Moreover, I have never come across anyone like Alla in being loyal and a hardworking woman. There’s no one like her in this industry and she’ll be missed.”
“She had the most amazing energy and creativity,” said designer Yves Salomon. “Apart from fashion, she was interested in art, vintage furniture… passions that we were sharing Sunday mornings in Paris going together to the flea market. She was my friend.”
Gilbert W. Harrison, chairman of the Harrison Group and founder and chairman emeritus of Financo, lauded Verber as “one of the great merchants who had an unbelievable eye for luxury fashion.” He noted she roamed the world scouting the best and latest brands.
“I spent a considerable amount of time with her over the last 15 years in New York, Moscow, Paris, Southampton and the South of France, where she spent part of the summer each year,” Harrison said. “She loved her daughter and grandchildren and her loss will be missed as she was one of a kind.”
“She was the style point of reference for all Russian women,” according to Riccardo Tortato, Tsum’s fashion director for men’s wear and e-commerce. “She was an unstoppable, passionate and professional person — always a step ahead of everybody, everywhere.”
Tortato also described her as a bon vivant. “Every time she was flying to New York for fashion week, the first thing she asked me was to have a hamburger at The Mark Hotel because that was her tradition and made her feel at home,” he said. “I will never forget her jokes and her stories about how she started to bring the major fashion brands to Moscow.”
“I was especially fascinated by her devotion to fashion. When you meet someone who is so passionate and committed to her work is always charming. Fashion was a mission for her,” said Anna Dello Russo. “Although this job can be stressful at times, she was always enthusiastic, she was a champion of fashion,” she added.
“We shared the same warmth and she was always so welcoming and generous that she made me feel like a princess,” the fashion editor noted. Dello Russo said Verber was a “pioneer” as she was among the first to organize events and gatherings at Tsum, where Dello Russo was invited to give speeches and meet with the department store’s clients.
In the 2018 interview, Verber spelled out her long history with Tsum. Like so many Russians during the Soviet era, she knew there was one way to get the things she wanted or needed, and that was with blat, a system of black market deals, quiet, informal negotiations or exchanges.
“When I was growing up, it was difficult to buy something good because everything was under the table. In the Soviet times, you walked in Tsum and everything was there. The shoes you saw were probably Russian-made and very ugly, and if you wanted to have something good, you had to go to the director of the store, you had to have some blat, to know someone,” said Verber. ““You could not just walk in and say, ‘These shoes are wonderful. I have money, I will buy them.’ You had to say: ‘Can I please, please have those shoes?’ The salesperson would take them from under the table and say: ‘I have these shoes, only for you. They cost 60 roubles,’ and then you would give her another 10 roubles as a tip.”
Verber said glamour was greatly valued in Russia, and she was evangelical about fur: “Nobody wants to wear it anymore, but you can’t go out without fur. We live in a country where the fur is a necessity.”
During her tenure at Tsum, she attracted more than 800 brands, more than half of which are Italian, to the 750,000-square-foot store. They include Moncler, Celine, Ralph Lauren, Kiton, Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna, Tom Ford, Lanvin, Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Prada and Fendi, not to mention jewelers and watchmakers like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Hublot, Chopard, Garrard and Graff.
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