Forget the matryoshkas: six alternative souvenirs from Russia to impress your trendy mates

Forget the matryoshkas: six alternative souvenirs from Russia to impress your trendy mates

There's a lot more to Russian consumer culture than Soviet kitsch, cheap fur hats and fridge magnets. For your next trip, make sure you bring back something special for your friends and family

29 March 2017

Vetements recently released a limited edition hammer and sickle hoodie that retailed for $760 but was obviously inspired by souvenir T-shirts that were all the rage in Moscow and St Petersburg about 15 years ago — and cost $20. Most didn’t care for the totalitarian symbol printed on these graphic printed tees — one that is actually banned in several former Soviet countries — and the T-shirts came to exemplify bad taste in souvenirs. Still, they were wildly popular for a while, and have now been revived for the most fashion-forward front row crowd. Post-Soviet fashion was something which everyone wanted to avoid as much as possible — until they suddenly didn’t.

Russia still has rich deposits of clothes that date back from the Soviet era, as well as other undiscovered gems, all of which would make better souvenirs than ushanka ear hats or fridge magnets. So if you’ve got travel plans for Russia, use the opportunity to be the best gift-giver you can be, whether for stylish friends or family members.

Cyrillic print t-shirts and socks

Cyrillic prints on clothes are as cool as ever, and local Russian brands make for a great affordable alternative to Gosha Rubchinsky and Vetements. They’re also comparatively rare and underground, so they rate higher on the indie scale. Choose Sputnik 1985 for a good selection of basic T-shirts, sweatshirts and backpacks, Volchok for a darker “Russian gothic” vibe and the famous Yunost (Youth) T-shirt donned by Foals frontman Yannis Phillipakis. Alternatively there’s the cheeky wordplay of 1991CK (CK is actually a Cyrillic abbreviation of the brand’s full name: Starshie Klassi, or “high school”). Other brands to consider are ERROR 404, who have a Russian Post tee — an ironic take on the Vetements DHL T-shirt — and Aktualniy Negativ who print Cyrillic slogans on pastel T-shirts.

Where to get it: Otdel store in St Petersburg has a large selection of brands. Look for it on the second floor of Loft Project Etazhi at 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. In Moscow, visit the Volchok and Aktualniy Negativ split shop at 13/5 Maly Ivanovskiy Pereulok, and the Sputnik1985 store at 19 Pokrovka Street.

Russian rock band T-shirts

Why buy expensive brand imitations when you can get the real thing? The design of Russian band T-shirts is usually over the top, with a variety of colours and typically “rock” imagery of demons and snakes — enough to make every Vetements fan jealous. Go for Russian rock bands like Korol i shut or Alisa — the name will also be in Cyrillic print, so you will be able to combine several cool points in one outfit.

Where to get it: In St Petersburg go to Castle Rock at 47 Ligovsky Prospekt, and in Moscow head to Hobgoblin at 10, 2nd Pugachevskaya Street.

Serious Russian knitwear

Yes, Russia is cold, but please resist the urge to get ear hats for everyone you know, especially the ones in funky neon colours. Instead, get some knitwear from independent brands — chunky sweaters and cardigans from Mirstores or striped wool socks from Heart of Moscow. Traditional Orenburg shawls — fluffy and extremely warm — are also a good option, although real ones can get quite expensive depending on the size.

Where to get it: For Mirstores, go to Milnaya Belka in St Petersburg or Loft Project Etazhi at 74 Ligovsky Prospekt; in Moscow, head to Indefxflat at 41 Starokonyushenny Pereulok. Orenburg shawls can be found in souvenir shops, but be careful not to buy a sub-standard one or a fake. There are also specialised shawl shops in malls – for example in Vladimirsky Passage in St Petersburg or in Tagansky Passage in Moscow.

Non-Soviet pins

Going to the flea market and digging through old Lenin pins and minor Soviet awards and medals can be a fun pass-time, but when it comes to souvenirs, nothing could be more cliché than a Komsomol badge. Some are awards and others parts of military-grade or other uniforms; feel free to satisfy your curiosity for history but try to get your friends gifts they can actually wear without seeming insensitive. Heart of Moscow, Waf-waf and Luch Design are leading the race to design the most popular pin, whether they feature Russia's main tourist attractions, famous artists or flamingos (why not?). Other brands to watch out for are Khlopkovy Veter, Serious About, Sashapasha and Pinpinpin.

Where to get it: Most brands can be found in Milnaya Belka in St Petersburg at Loft Project Etazhi at 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Heart of Moscow is often featured in souvenir shops around Moscow, for example in the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art gift shop. In St Petersburg, Waf-Waf also has a corner in the Gostiny Dvor shopping centre, and Luch Design has a corner in the 4DOTS store at the Taiga space.

Iconic Soviet beauty staples

A bottle of Krasnya Moskva (Red Moscow)

Satisfy your thirst for all things Soviet with these handy gifts. The Red Moscow (Krasnaya Moskva) perfume is the most famous bottle of scent to come out of the Soviet beauty industry, and bottles of it are still sold, along with retro-styled glass jars of Soviet eaux de colognes. There are also hand creams like Barkhatnye Ruchki (Velvet Hands) — although the packaging has been slightly updated it still gives off a retro Soviet vibe.

Where to get it: The company producing the perfumes, Novaya Zarya, has several shops in Moscow, for example in the Evropeysky shopping centre at Kiyevskaya metro station, and in St Petersburg on 38 Sadovaya Street. Hand creams can be found in most drugstores.

Cosmetics from cool organic brands

In case retro packaging and Soviet formulas aren’t quite your thing, you can go for new independent cosmetics brands instead. There are Laboratorium and Bad Duck for indie soaps and herb-based skincare with smart packaging just waiting to be given as a gift. Oblepikha Siberica, a range of sea-buckthorn-based cosmetics, is a line by Natura Siberica, a Russian cosmetics company that is now available in shops in Europe and the UK.

Where to get it: In St Petersburg Bad Duck is available at Milnaya Belka, and Laboratorium at the Fligel store at 24 Vosstaniya Street and the Luuk Design Market at 74 Griboyedova Naberezhnaya; in Moscow try Monoroom at the Flacon Design Factory, 36 Bolshaya Novodmitrovskaya Street, or Mechti-Podarki at 21/5 Kuznetsky Bridge. Oblepikha Siberica is available at most drugstores.

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