by Grace Watson
The Moscow Design Museum, which the Moscow Times Clubs visited and published about back in February, has a mission to preserve and display Russia's design heritage. As such, it's full of the finest and best preserved examples of Soviet design of all kinds. A visit is enough to convince you that there's much more to it than utilitarian work clothes and uninspired concrete buildings, as the museum's artifacts epitomize the height of design innovation and vintage aesthetics.

Museum Director Alexandra Sankova is an expert on the history, and her enthusiasm for the pieces themselves is contagious. It was only fitting that we'd turn our visit into a two-parter, joining Sasha once more to tour Izmailovo, the labyrinthine flea market that much of the museum's collection can be traced to. Turns out it contains much more than touristy trinkets.

The Izmailovo complex was designed by a wealthy oligarch. It's the city's other Kremlin, a flamboyant cake-topper of bright roofs and steeples. But get past the touristy facade (or don't, if you feel the vodka museum is worth a shot) and you'll uncover sprawling aisles of vintage décor, handicraft goods, and original artwork.
Izmailovo can be endless fun to scavenge through, but Sasha advises a game plan!

First, remember that the complex is divided into distinct zones – artifacts of the Soviet era and beyond are found on the upper tier, with the souvenir section down below at street level. If you're searching for one of those vintage clocks, for instance, knowing where to start will much better keep discouragement at bay (a lesson I learned the hard way the time I couldn't seem to escape the wooden dolls of political figures all pregnant with each other).

Tip two: if you want to collect like a museum curator, keep an eye out for certain historical themes, especially state-organized events. Authentic space race and Olympic Games memorabilia are classics that, when in good condition, can make for some pretty special collectors' pieces.

Also, to bolster your bargaining power and better communicate with the sellers, who are mainly accustomed to Russian consumers, come armed with a native Russian speaker if you yourself aren't one.

Finally, the selection and pure scope of the place easily overwhelm, so setting budgetary constraints may help you keep your head. Sasha always makes sure to bring a set amount of cash when she visits (and it's cash, not cards, you'll need here), to make sure she doesn't get carried away.
When the market bustle leaves you needing sustenance, sporadic food stalls offer cheap basics, though there are also the rows of shashlik that will fill you up and leave you smelling of barbecue for days, as well as some sit-down eateries, like the one where our group gathered after to show off our finds over lunch.
There are certainly gems to take home, or simply study for a lingering moment. Equally delightful as the acquiring itself is the way that Izmailovo peels back the layers of time as you weave through. Trends and eras are revealed in the objects arranged on tabletops and scattered across outstretched blanket displays, sometimes accompanied by vivid tales from eager sellers. It's a hectic bazaar, but it's also a leisurely, tranquil museum of its own, provided you're willing to do some digging.
Moscow Design Museum
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