City Cell Phones a Fashion Fixture

Originally published in The Moscow Times on October 9, 1999

For Vasily Bogdanov, marketing director of the Moscow retail store Mobile Center, the world can be broken down into two types of people: those who care how they look with their cell phone and those who don't.

Fashion-wise, a mobile phone long ago joined ranks with other contemporary high-end accessories - for the past five years, Moscow streets have been resounding with cellular beeps and rings. But with the initial thrill wearing off, is image still a primary concern for the capital's cell phone owners? Opinions appear to differ.

"Absolutely!" Bogdanov said. "It started in 1994. As soon as mobile phones entered the market, they became objects of prestige."

"Not at all," said Marriott Hotel financial controller John Kellites, showing his Nokia 6350. "I bought this type of phone because a friend of mine has it."

"Of course it's important!" said Natasha, a 24-year-old student, while browsing in a boutique of the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel. "Mine is light blue, to match my car."

For the usual financial reasons, business people in today's Russia are the biggest cell phone fans. But even for them, the prestige of having a mobile is fading. Cool, blas?, mature Moscow has apparently been there, done that fashion phase.

According to Mikhail Yemelyanov, manager of the Firma Dixis retail store, cell phones stopped being the exclusive property of the so-called New Russians when prices for handsets and tariffs sharply dropped two years ago. He noted that last year's crisis badly hit the business, but that thanks to new tariffs in the months that followed, prices had stabilized. "Now you can get a phone for as little as $100," he said, adding that the Siemens C25 model has plenty of young middle-class users.

Students and young professionals from their mid-20s onward are the new target of telecommunication companies, although they tend to choose cheaper models, such as Ericsson's GA 628 or the Motorola V3188, which costs $119.

Katya Andriyanova, administrator of Planet Fitness Moscow Beach Club, where the clicking of weights and ringing of phones often mix, stressed that for these young people cell phones are no longer a question of showing off but of practical necessity. "Before, when GSM just came out, some women were walking around the gym with their mobiles around their neck. Now everybody has got one. These are business people. They don't want to miss a phone call, so they take it with them," she said…

Read the full text at The Moscow Times.