The Wonderfully Hip Flacon Design Factory in Moscow

After a 150-year-long history as a glass factory, in 2009 the complex of industrial buildings in Bolshaya Novodmitrovskaya Street in Moscow were repurposed to become a colourful urban space dedicated to the more creative ends of the business spectrum. One part of the former-factory area functions as office space for media groups, PR agencies, design bureaus, art workshops and co-working offices. The rest of the factory buildings are filled with attractive little boutiques selling unique clothes and accessories by local designers, cafes and bars and large temporary exhibition spaces and small private galleries. There’s usually some kind of event going on here most weekends such as flea markets, garage sales, concerts and charity fundraisers.

Flacon Panorama
The central courtyard of the Flacon Design Factory in Moscow

This renovation not only attracted creative professionals and hipsters alike, but also sparked the rebirth of the entire neighbourhood, which, in spite of being not far from the center of Moscow, had been an industrial location only. Now a series of new apartment buildings are being built (some of them almost as colourful as the Flacon building themselves) and other large former factories are being repurposed as well, offering all kinds of shops, restaurant and services to the public.

Flacon extends over an area of 21,000 square meters and retains the factory structure of buildings, with very high ceiling and large windows. A couple of the buildings also retain the brick facades, while most have been painted with large dreamy murals.

Flacon Interior
A trippy corridor inside Flacon Design Factory in Moscow

Most of the interior spaces have also been painted floor to ceiling with large murals, colorful patters or large optical illusion. Thus exploring the complex offers a chance to enjoy not only what is offered by the various store, but also to discover new fun themes around every corner. The outside aerea can become pretty crowded during the frequent events that are hold in the complex, but, especially in the warmer months of the year, the inside spaces tend to remain very tranquil, allowing you to take pictures without disturbing other people who want to walk by (and without having other people walk into your pictures!).

Flacon Perrier
A large Perrier bottle mural on one of Flacon’s buildings: an hommage to its “past life” as a glass factory (hence the name) and its ties to France

One of the buildings presents a huge mural of a Perrier bottle. This is actually a double homage to Flacon’s history as a glass factory and of its ties with France.

The history of the plant begins in 1841, when two Frenchmen arrived in Moscow. They are 22-year-old Alphonse Rallet and 19-year-old Frederick Dyutfua. Two years later, in 1843, Ralle founded a small cosmetic factory “Alphonse Rallet & Co.“, which was, in fact, the first perfume production in Russia. In 1855 was producing perfumes, colognes, soaps, powders, and lipsticks and achieved the prestigious title of Supplier of the Imperial Russian Household. In this same year The Trading House of Rallet also became owner of the Crystal Factory of Frederick Dyutfua, giving Rallet, for the first time, the capability of manufacturing their own original bottles decanters. Dyutfua, in turn, became a joint owner and Rallet shareholder. In the early 1860s the board chair was French-Russian chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux (the famous creator of Chanel No. 5, the first perfume launched by French couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in 1921).

By the early 20th century, Rallet was offering around 1,500 products and had three retail shops in Moscow and a wholesale business in St. Petersburg. Shipments were made regularly by rail throughout Russia and also to China, Persia, and the Balkans. 145 women and 57 men worked in the factory. The working day lasted about 9.5 hours for the former, and 10.5 hours, for the latter.

In 1912, Rallet scored a major success with its Le Bouquet de Napoleon, a fragrance launched with great fanfare to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Borodino, Napoleon’s last victory in his failed Russian campaign. The following year Rallet introduced the Bouquet de Catherine honouring Catherine the Great and the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty. In both cases the creator of these fragrances was the aforementioned perfumer Ernest Beaux.

With the advent of the Soviet era, production of cosmetics and their containers was split. The former became became “Svoboda” (“Freedom”), which is still in operation today, employs about 1,500 workers, and it is among the top ten cosmetics companies in Russia. The perfume flacon factory (hence the modern name)  was modernised with new production buildings, which are the ones we still see today, and the production of crystal began, as well. The company was nationalised and received a new name: Moscow Crystal Plant Named After Kalinin. During the Great Patriotic War, only women were employed and created products needed at the front Production never stopped, even if the grounds were heavily bombed in 1941-1942. After the war, by the end of the 1940s, the factory returned to the production of perfume flacons. In 1977 it was once again modernised and automated, reaching a production level of 100 tons of perfume flacons per day!

Hard times came after 1991: without state funding, the plant was on the verge of bankruptcy. In august 1993, the french company Comptoir de Parfum provided the needed capital for the production to continue. However, the economic situation of the 2000s could no longer sustain operations, and the plant was finally closed, after nearly 150 years of production of perfume crystal bottles.

New private owners built the industrial complex in the mid 2000s and transformed it into what is today’s Flacon Design Factory.

Flacon Bus
One of the most photographed art installations in the Flacon design Factory

While preserving the structure of the existing buildings, the complex has been soaked in a free creative atmosphere, with enormous murals and art installations on many external and internal spaces. One of the most photographed is the “Flacon bus” going through a wall. I think it symbolises the desire and determination to keep going forward even when life puts a brick wall in front of you. This spirit is, I find, very typical not only of Flacon, but of Russian culture in general.

 


 

Would you like to discover the Russia that foreigners rarely, if ever, get to see, with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking guide (me and my wife) showing you the sights and telling you a bit about Russian history and traditions? Would you like to take part in a photo walk around Moscow or Saint Petersburg or any other Russian city to explore the most interesting sights and take great pictures? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!

 

 

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