MOSCOW — If Vladimir Lenin were alive today — instead of spinning in his mausoleum nearby — he no doubt would be aghast at the two-story replica of a Louis Vuitton traveling trunk on Red Square. He might also update the title of his famous essay on the need for a revolutionary vanguard party, asking not “What Is To Be Done” but “Why the Heck Was It Done?”
Since construction finished this week, the gigantic luxury trunk, which is just steps from the Kremlin walls and was set to hold a charity exhibition of suitcases by the Paris-based company, has been panned on social networks, denounced at the Duma and disowned by GUM, the luxury department store that abuts Red Square and approved the temporary exhibition.
In the highest-ranking condemnation yet of the 30-foot-tall, 100-foot-wide trunk, an official in the Presidential Administration on Wednesday said the temporary pavilion was unauthorized and demanded that it be “dismantled immediately,” several state news agencies reported.
Despite a legal ban on anything that “violates the historical appearance” of Red Square, the site of the Lenin mausoleum and yearly military parades celebrating the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II, the space has hosted concerts, dirt-bike stunt shows, a commercial ice-skating rink and a Christian Dior exhibition in a gigantic metallic pavilion in recent years.
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“Everything that is happening on Red Square is unacceptable,” Tatyana Fedosova, 60, said as she tilted her head back to gaze at the trunk during her lunch break. “This is a sacred place. Our former leaders are buried here. I thought that the ice-skating rink here was not great, but this is too much.”
Lawmakers began lashing out at Louis Vuitton earlier in the week. Sergey Obukhov, a Communist deputy for the Duma, called the square a “sacred place for the Russian government.” He added, “There are symbols that are forbidden to debase or defile.”
Aleksandr Sidyakin, a member of President Vladimir Putin’s governing United Russia party, demanded an investigation into whether the structure violated any laws on advertising.
GUM, the department store, said it had told the Russian representative of Louis Vuitton to tear down the exhibition hall, in light of “the position of a part of the population.”
This is not the first time Louis Vuitton has become enmeshed in Russian politics in its marketing campaigns. In 2007, a magazine advertisement showed the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev riding in a car past the Berlin Wall with a Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with liberal Russian magazines.
But with special attention now being paid to the beautification of Moscow’s public spaces, and social networks swiftly churning out criticism and Photoshopped pictures — like one of Lenin’s tomb reupholstered to look like a Louis Vuitton bag — the public ridicule swiftly led to official threats.
The fashion house did not respond to questions on whether the hall would be removed, but Natalia Vodianova, a fashion model and the head of the charitable fund set to receive the ticket receipts from the exhibition, said in a Facebook post, “Let us hope that the exhibition is not canceled, but just moved to another place.”
Standing by the metal barriers installed around it Wednesday, Aleksandr Dubov, a 35-year-old tourist from Yekaterinburg, said he had “nothing personally against the suitcase.”
“At least they could leave it up until the exhibition,” said Dubov, dressed in a leather jacket and carrying a bag made from fake alligator skin. As he circled the building, he stopped occasionally to snap pictures.
“Is this a sacred place?” he asked, gesturing to the other side of the square. “There is already an enormous mall on it.”