In Moscow, all the tourist souvenirs are limited to overpriced matreshkas, ushankas and other folk crafts. Alexander Elzesser, the creator of Heart of Moscow brand, tries to change the gloomy picture. Our own Irina Vodka interviewed him to see what took so long.
How did you come up with the idea for your project?
I had this idea in my other favorite city—Berlin—where I had been working as an intern in a PR-agency. Berlin and Moscow are very much alike: they both have a socialist past. But Berlin’s tourism industry is really well-developed. Among other aspects, they have at least two high-quality brands of city souvenirs! However, they’ve got a lot of street vendors with the same ushankas we have.
Do you use Heart of Moscow products yourself?
Of course! Right now I’m sitting in one of our t-shirts, which are already on sale. And I always carry around our notepad in a bag or a pocket.
Was it hard to go all the way from the concept to its implementation? And in general—what does one need to have a successful start-up in Moscow?
Well, it’s too early for us to talk about it. I think that it’s all about perseverance and hard work.
Where and how do you work? What do you think about a recent trend of “third places” where the creative class comes to work?
I prefer working at home: it’s comfortable. In fact, at the moment we don’t even have an office. At some moment in future, it may appear necessary but currently we have no urgent need for that.
Heart of Moscow aims at creating an image of ideal Moscow for foreigners. Does this message work for the Russian public?
It very much does! Many people don’t like Moscow and they have their reasons. But there are also plenty of reasons to love it! Our main idea is that if a person loves Moscow it will help the city get much better. And if one keeps hating it, nothing will ever change. So, these are the Muscovites who’ll have to be the first to love our ideal Moscow.
Don’t you think that a foreigner would be more interested in getting some authentic thing with a back story and not a red-white mass production souvenir?
Well, first of all our production is not that mass, even compared to matryoshkas. We’re only aiming at it. Second, there are a lot of things to bring back from Moscow. Many of those things are quite pricey, but there are also a lot of unique and beautiful folk crafts and antiques. Of course, the key aspect is price. And we position ourselves as an alternative not to folk crafts but to the cheap, tasteless and flashy stuff, that can be found all over Arbat. We’re a little bit more expensive, we look premium and yet we’re affordable. We also bring the feeling of love towards the city and its culture, which is really rare in Moscow. And as for the things with a back story—almost all of our products fall into that category.
Why are there so few tourists coming to Moscow?
The answer will be very obvious: visa troubles, cost, lack of comfort and safety. In most cases people come to Moscow on business, in organized groups (like on a safari) or of some inexplicable love to Russia, or, more exactly, to its history, culture and great past. Frankly speaking, Moscow in its modern condition is unlikely to appeal to an average European or American tourist. For a long time nobody has done almost anything for that purpose. Now there have been some positive shifts but of course it’s too soon to talk about the results.
What will be the next steps in the development of Heart of Moscow?
We’ve got a lot of ideas and energy, we’ll keep launching new products and try to bring joy to those who like and support us.