In Moscow, capitalism now in full fashion

Moscow, now the most expensive city in the world, has shed its Soviet gray for flashy billboards and foreign cars.

Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff
Well-Heeled: The staccato of stilettos reverberates around Moscow as stylish women pursue the good life.
Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff
There are still plenty of Soviet-era cars rattling around Moscow, where just 15 years ago owning any car was a luxury. But today, an increasing number of Audis, BMWs, and Bentleys crowd the streets.
Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff
Upscale fitness clubs, complete with cafés, attest to a doubling of disposable income since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.
Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff
Today, Muscovites shop at glitzy malls selling the latest fashions, such as the watch advertised on this billboard.
Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff
Powerful pocketbooks: In 1989, when Russians stood in line for hours to get staples such as bread, they were counting every kopeck.

The heavy, block buildings of Russia's capital are no longer covered in banners of Lenin, Marx, and Engels. Instead, enormous billboards advertise watches, cars, clothing – items unimaginable in Soviet times. Capitalism has taken hold with a vengeance.

How far they've come from the days when people you met on the street used to look at your feet to find out if you were Russian or not. If you had nice shoes, you were a foreigner.

It's hard to communicate how colorless and shockingly gray it was behind the Iron Curtain. Honestly, the only color was the red of Communist banners. Stores had nothing to sell. There wasn't enough food. People carried shopping bags just in case. Lines formed whenever something, anything, was for sale. The fatigue of daily life was all over their faces.

Now, stylish Russians wear the latest fashions. Fur-clad women confidently stride across the winter ice in stiletto heels. Stores have sales, which means that for the first time, they have too much inventory. Moscow's wide avenues are filled with expensive foreign cars – their proud owners constantly apologizing about how dirty the vehicles are from winter muck.

Plenty of upscale cafes cater to cosmopolitan clients. Bookstores and magazine stands, once so strictly controlled, rival those in the West.

The middle and upper classes are growing: Fitness centers with swimming pools attract clients with time to work out and money to spare. People actually have disposable income. They can travel abroad – a luxury previously impossible for the "masses."

Life before was so drab. Now the city seems loaded with possibilities. Muscovites often still wear stern expressions that say, "We can endure anything." But now, maybe, it's more about the long gray winters than anything else.

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