"Russia remains an oligarchical society with huge inequalities in wealth distribution... I don't think the penetration of luxury goods will ever be as high as in emerging Asia, the Middle East or even South America," Chauvet said.
But a partial comeback is in full swing.
"People are not spending money left and right, but the crisis already seems far away," Verber told Reuters, adding that Italian brands Gucci and Dolce&Gabbana were selling particularly well at TSUM, which is housed in a century-old stone building near the Kremlin.
Verber said revenue last year was up 15-20 percent compared to the crisis year of 2009 at TSUM, which does not disclose earnings.
British designer Stella McCartney re-entered the Russian market in December by way of a concession at TSUM, returning after her stand-alone store made a swift 2009 exit.
Italian suit wizard Umberto Angeloni, who transformed Italian label Brioni into one of the world's most prestigious men's luxury brands, also joined TSUM with new label Uman.
"We are extremely optimistic," said Viktoria Slezko, general director of Russian boutique chain Fashion Code, whose average dress fetches around $1,000.
She said they will quadruple the number of shops it has this year, adding that St Petersburg and an undecided city in "middle Russia" will benefit from the shops, on top of its sole lavish Moscow boutique.
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