During the years of Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP), this building housed Moscow's most fashionable institution, The Centre for the Development of the New Soviet Attire. The vast window displays were populated by mannequins in dresses, and fashion shows drew people from all segments of society: members of the Party elite, 'NEP-men' and their wives, and ‘heroes of industry’.
Until the mid 18th century, Petrovka street was only built up on the western side. The eastern part, closer to the Neglinnaya river, was virtually empty – as the rising river waters frequently flooded the area. Petrovka 12, which today houses the Higher School of Economics, is on the eastern side. The first records of the plot of land on which it is built date back to the 18th century – a massive area along the Neglinnaya – stretching to Rozhdestvenka on one side and to Petrovka on the other – was owned by Actual Chamberlain, Count Ivan Illarionovich Vorontsov.
A member of one of Russia's most noble families, Ivan Vorontsov, known as being one of the best educated and most wealthy members of the elite, owned numerous plots of land across the country. He retired during Catherine the Great's reign, and focused on developing and completing his estates – including the estate on the Neglinnaya.
Gardens, ponds, an orangerie, and a great estate house were all located on Rozhdestvenka. The Petrovka estate was much more modest, although there was a pond there too – closer to the river – and several stone buildings.
In 1786, Count Vorontsov passed away. His heirs decided to part with the Petrovka estate, and it was bought by the merchant N.V. des Forges. In 1808 he sold it to court counsellor M. A. Raevskaya, who presided over the estate through the difficult years of Napoleon's assault and the fire of 1812. The estate survived, but the buildings on Petrovka were seriously damaged and needed to be rebuilt, work that was completed in the first quarter of the 19th century.
The estate was an outstanding example of an ensemble of buildings in neo-classical style. Today, they comprise three addresses: Numbers 12-16 Petrovka Street. The centrepiece is a building set deep within the courtyard, boasting a grand facade facing the street (Number 14). To either side, on the street, there are two annexes (Numbers 12 and 16), which were once symmetrical. The buildings were all two-storey, but the annexes were significantly shorter than the main building. All their facades were executed in the same style: with triangular frontispieces and porticos. The main building boasted a six-column portico, and the side annexes had four pilasters. In the centre of the annexes' facades there was an archway leading into the courtyard. None of the three buildings retain their original nineteenth century appearance, but Number 12 still retains its basement, with its vaulted stone ceilings.
Raevskaya rented out the properties. The annexe on the right (Number 12) housed shops and kiosks on the first floor. There was a porcelain shop, florists, bookshops, and a bronze forge workshop. For about 30 years, the building was also home to a shop owned by Swiss merchant and 3rd Guild member Anton Ivanovich Monighetti and his wife Charlotte Osipovna. Some traders also rented rooms on the second floor.
In 1841, Raevskaya divided the Petrovka estate into three – among her children. The central building went to S. S. Raevskaya, the left annexe to her son and the right to her second daughter, who married into the Kashkarov family and retained its purpose of use as shops and kiosks.
One of the more interesting establishments in Kashkarova’s building was Mikhail Mikhailovich Panov's photo-studio. In April 1867, he published the following announcement in the newspapers: 'Now available for sale: photographic portraits of Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, taken during his time in Russia in the month of March of this year, 1867. Turgenev himself commented on the photograph 'Of all my photographic portraits, I have never had anything more artistic or expressive than this one.' These words give the photographer the courage and right to alert admirers of Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev's literary talent to the fact that the photograph is available in various sizes at the following prices: large portrait on Bristol paper: 5 roubles, medium sized portrait – 2 roubles, visitors card – 50 kopecks. Portraits of him and cards featuring other writers, artists, and famous people, can also be acquired here.'
Mikhail Panov was much in demand as a photographer among writers, artists, and performers. His studio was visited by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Ostrovsky, Mikhail Ermolov, and others. Panov was known not just as a photographer, but as an artist. In 1868 he opened an exhibition in his workshop, displaying photographic portraits of his contemporaries, executed in the style of western European painters of the 16th to 17th centuries.
By 1870, Panov's studio had moved, and another photographer's studio opened at Number 12 in 1872 – owned by photographic artist and portraitist Alexander Eichenwald. Using specialised, imported, equipment, he became the first photographer in Moscow to start using electric lighting during his shoots, meaning he could work in the evenings. The building itself had already changed hands by this time.
By the 1870s, Kashkarova had sold her annex to Ekaterina Dmitrievna Matveeva. It was under her that the former annex truly came into its own as a commercial building. In 1872, Matveeva invited architect Alexander Stepanovich Kaminsky, who built it, to add an extension turning it into a three-story building.
Retaining its appearance as a neoclassical estate, the architect added decorative features that can today be seen only on the third floor. It is decorated with evenly spaced row of ionic inter-fenestral pilasters. They are also present on the left side facade at Number 14, the windows of which are currently filled in by order of the Russian General Prosecutor.
There is a frieze under the cornice, decorated with round rosettes in the form of applique flowers situated along the central axis of the windows and pilasters. The building’s cornice comprises several layers, including a dentil motif.
The building is designed in a Russian letter 'P' shape (an upside-down 'U') – with the upper section looking out onto the street. There is an arch at the centre of the building, which leads into the internal courtyard and was retained by Kaminsky during the renovation work. The original brickwork and brick pillars holding up the roof are retained in the building’s attic.
The photographer Eichenwald and his family moved into the newly renovated building. The name Eichenwald was well known in musical circles. The photographer's wife, Ida, was a harp professor at the conservatory and played in the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra; his daughter Margarita was a singer – one of the first to play Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden) in the opera of the same name by Rimsky Korsakov; his son Anton – who was born in that building – was a conductor, composer, and performer. Their other son, Nikola, who was also born in the building, became a modernist architect. Their older son Alexander was a physicist who worked on electricity, optics, acoustics.
The house on Pokrovka was known among the musicians for another reason – before 1917 the building housed a music shop by Russian music publisher Vasily Bessel. In St Petersburg he opened his score-printing shop, where he published Musical Notes, Musical Education, and works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Rubinstein, and others. In Moscow Bessel had two shops, one of them at Petrovka 12.
In the 1870s to 1900s, under Matveeva, the building was home to a variety of different enterprises: Getling's pharmacy and perfumerie, Nabatov's bookshop, and Danilov's furrier. It also housed the agronomic office of Peter Vasilevich Vereshchagin (who shared a name with, but was no relation to, the artist Vereshchagin). Peter Vereshchagin created the Association of Landowners for the Development of the Western Caucasus, largely thanks to whom the Sochi resort was developed.
Another striking feature of Petrovka 12, was the multitude of clothes fashion houses shops: Lyapunov's men's hats, Vorobeva's ladies outfits, Smirnov's fashion items, Smit's tailor. This aspect of the building was to continue into the 20s.
The location's popularity required new investment and renovation by the Matveevas. In 1912-13 the building was again renovated, this time by the architect Vyacheslav Konstantinovich Oltarzhevsky. By this time he had already had the experience of building Golofteevsky Passazh (which has not survived, and was where TsUM is today). Here the architect had the task of turning a relatively small premises into a comfortable venue for luxury shops in one of Moscow's busiest trading streets. He fundamentally changed the character of the decoration of the first two floors. Removing the decor, Oltarzhevsky also changed the windows – creating large shop-front windows.
In 1915, during the First World War, these windows suffered heavily. In Moscow, groups of Black Hundreds, motivated by ‘patriotism’, attacked German firms’ shops and offices. Bessel's music shop on Petrovka also suffered. Two years later the building changed owners – and the tenants also changed.
The Petrovka building returned to its fashion-centre focus in 1923. Silk dresses, hats, shoes, were not 'in demand' in the early years of the Russia's brutal Civil War, which followed the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. But by 1923, the New Economic Policy ruled in Moscow, and women's clothing was also on the threshold of a revolution. Olga Senicheva was just 16 years old when she went to Moscow's textile industry with the suggestion that she help set up a new, Soviet, fashion house. She not only got approval to open a 'Centre for the Development of New Soviet Attire', which was renamed 'Fashion studio', but she also received a loan to cover her expenses for six months, confiscated materials, and the building on Petrovka.
Renovation work started at Petrovka 12. First, an exhibition hall with columns and palms in tubs was built. The furniture was upholstered with expensive fabrics which were initially designated for sewing outfits, but which after a long time in damp conditions, were deemed unfit for fashion use. Mannequins in dresses appeared in the massive shop windows.
Fashion shows featuring new designs and pieces drew an enthralled response from diverse sections of society: members of the Party elite, NEP-men and their wives, and workers. Lunacharsky, Commissar for Enlightenment, was often spotted there. Moscow theatre actresses often worked as models. Sketches for dresses and accessories were done by some of the country's leading artists, such as Ekster, Pribylskaya, Mukhina, who found a welcome new outlet in the Soviet Union's nascent fashion industry.
The studio’s artistic director was Nadezhda Lamanova, one of the best-known designers of the pre-revolutionary era. Her creations won high praise, and were worn by the leading beauties of the age – and actresses. She worked as a costume designer in the early days of Soviet cinema. In 1925, Lamanova and Mukhina’s designs were presented in Paris at the World Exhibition, where they wowed the fashion world –winning the Grand Prix.
The Fashion Studio on Petrovka became the driving force behind Soviet Russia’s first illustrated fashion magazine ‘Atelier’ (‘Studio’). The preface to the first edition included the line: ‘The active and unstinting dedication to achieving all that is creatively beautiful and that deserves the greatest attention in material culture, is the main goal of our magazine.’ It presented the best designs, sketches by the leading artists, articles about theatre, sport, books, dance, sewing, materials and so on. The articles were written by Vera Mukhina, M Kuzmin, N Evreinov, M Shaginyan, V Pyast and others. The magazine Studio became a unique phenomenon of its time.
Fashion Studio on Petrovka represented the pinnacle of artistic taste in fashion up until 1925, when director Olga Senchina was replaced and most of the artists were dismissed. It continued to exist as a regular fashion studio at that address for some time.
The last owner of the building, from whom the HSE took over, was the External Economic Relations All Union Research Institute under the Russian Federation Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
Each new owner of the building made changes to its interior. All that remains from the original 19th century architects’ designs is the location of the staircase in each of the three buildings comprising the P-shaped structure.
It was in those years that a lift was installed alongside the central staircase. This ‘ghost lift’ is not used today, but both the lift and the lift-shaft remain, as does the motor in the attic and the cabin in the column of the centre of the stairwell.
Currently the building is where HSE students study humanitarian studies.
The building has been administered by the Higher School of Economics since 1995 and houses the following:
Faculty of History, Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, Centre for Fundamental Sociology, International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences
Author: Anastasia A. Solovyova
Art historian, historian of Moscow. Author of Litsa rossiiskoi istorii: kolleksia portretov (Faces of Russian History: A Collection of Portraits); director of a film-walk Ot Kremlya do Novodevichy (From the Kremlin to Novodevichy), 1997; Research editor on Lubiansky Triugolnik (Lubianka Triangle), by A.V. Kolosov. Anastasia Solovyova has studied and written about the bells of Moscow and is a tour guide for ‘Moscow that isn’t there’ and a contributing author to the website ‘Get to know Moscow’.