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Verber’s Vision: Appealing to a Local — and Worldly — Clientele

Alla Verber has been cutting deals at Tsum for as long as she can remember: Like so many Russians during the Soviet era, she knew there was one way to get the things she wanted or needed, and that was with blat, a system of black market deals, quiet, informal negotiations or exchanges. Whether it was a pair of shoes, a banana or theater tickets, blat made it all possible.
“When I was growing up, it was difficult to buy something good because everything was under the table. In the Soviet times, you walked in Tsum and everything was there. The shoes you saw were probably Russian-made and very ugly, and if you wanted to have something good, you had to go to the director of the store, you had to have some blat, to know someone,” said Verber over tea and a crab and quinoa salad at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, a late lunch squeezed between multiple December buying appointments.
“You could not just walk in and say, ‘These shoes are wonderful. I have money, I will buy them.’ You had to say: ‘Can I please, please have those shoes?’ The salesperson would take them from under the table

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