MILAN — Mikhail Kusnirovich, founder and president of leading retail group Bosco di Ciliegi, says it like it is — or at least like he believes it is. In an interview in Milan on Monday, Kusnirovich lamented America’s isolation and the media’s role in circulating a false image of his country, one that he thinks does not represent Russia.
Kusnirovich was in Milan as a partner of the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet through Bosco di Ciliegi and GUM, the luxury department store the group controls. Starting Sept. 7 and running until Sept. 13, La Scala has been hosting the Bolshoi Ballet, which on Monday presented the classic ballet “La Bayadère” by Marius Petipa, in the version by Yuri Grigorovich. “La Bayadère” was staged for the first time in St. Petersburg in 1877. Through the partnership, La Scala performed in Moscow in September last year. GUM became a long-term partner of the Bolshoi Theatre beginning in the 2016-’17 theater season.
Supporting cultural events is absolutely “normal” for Kusnirovich, who founded the art festival “Cherry Garden” 18 years ago, helping to spread Italian culture, staging exhibitions of Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Francesco Parmigianino and Amedeo Modigliani to name a few, as well as Roberto Capucci’s designs or Riccardo Muti performances. Kusnirovich, though, is an entrepreneur at heart and keeps his eye on the business, continuing to invest and revealing that his group is building a manufacturing plant employing almost 1,000 workers that will open in May.
Here, Kusnirovich speaks his mind with WWD — in Italian, a testament to the close ties he has forged with the country and its fashion industry.
WWD: Could you please illustrate the cultural activities Bosco di Ciliegi and GUM have been supporting for many years, as this is one side of the group you control that may not be generally known to a wider audience.
Mikhail Kusnirovich: Russia is an unknown land for Americans. America is isolated, it is not really interested in what happens outside its borders — only in very particular cases. It’s very difficult to get to the final consumers in the U.S. There are cultural and entrepreneurial clashes, while it’s easier with Europe, where the relations are deeper.
WWD: International and American economic sanctions targeting Russia have not helped.
M.K.: Regarding sanctions, in America they do what they want to do. Unfortunately, Europe is not independent enough to go on its own way. It’s too bad.
We are very, very Western now. Moscow is one of the capitals of the world in terms of luxury retail. It is very interesting in terms of city planning. Of course, not all of Russia is the same, but Moscow is very advanced. During the World Cup last summer, fans were left open-mouthed. Russian people are normal, smiling people. The stores are full, the streets are beautiful and clean. There is no city in the U.S. that is so well-tended as much as Moscow and St. Petersburg. There are many prejudices surrounding Russia. The media creates a parallel world that does not exist — as if the country were still like it was at the time of the Cold War. No, that is not so.
There must be a reason for Bulgari to stage an international event at the [Moscow] Kremlin [Museums] with 500 unique pieces for four months. It’s a beautiful exhibition [“Tribute to Femininity,” running Sept. 7 to Jan. 13]. And Bulgari is part of LVMH, strengthening the relations with the group. Mr. [Bernard] Arnault comes each year. Hermès has its biggest store in Moscow after Paris.
WWD: Do you think Russians are prejudiced toward Americans?
M.K.: No, rather, we are disappointed. We’ve always considered America a big, important country. We had the right relations at the time of the Apollo [program].
WWD: Would you consider traveling with the Bolshoi Ballet to America?
M.K.: No. And we would need months for the paperwork. Unfortunately, the U.S. are back to the times of McCarthyism. There are deep problems. It’s a pity and strange. There are private activities in Russia, it’s normal, there are no more communists and capitalists.
Even some of my friends believe that we have interfered in the American election, but that’s so not true, there was no interest whatsoever to do so. Then there are some wretched Russians that exploit this situation — but it’s the media, not the people doing that. And we worry about sudden and unexpected decisions [from the American administration].
WWD: What about the connection with Italy?
M.K.: We have strong, pragmatic relations with Italy, developing business and culture. A person does not live only on work, business and enterprise. There is sports, culture, music and theater. Since the beginning, we had a fixed idea of supporting artists. Business is more on a daily basis, while culture is long term, more of a solid mission.
This is also a special year, one of the global festival “Russian seasons” in Italy. In October, we will be at the Verona Arena with a version of “Romeo and Juliet” on ice.
WWD: Sometimes entrepreneurs deny their cultural events have any marketing and communication relevance. How do you feel about that?
M.K.: No, of course, this does help business, we are entrepreneurs. I don’t want to be ashamed of it. I’ve invited our partners [Etro, Alberta Ferretti and Ermanno Scervino among them], this strengthens our relations and we invite customers, too. I don’t have time to say anything different [and make up stories].
WWD: What are your next projects?
M.K.: We are building a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Kaluga, near Moscow, to produce the Bosco line and [items] for third parties. It will be ready in 2019 and will employ 930 people.
With [our line] Bosco, we’ve been outfitting Russia at the Olympic Games, as well as countries such as Armenia and Ukraine, for example.
This is a great plant with Italian machines and technology, so it’s Made with Italy [smiling].