Cheerfully and with a Moscow accent, Karine Karapetian greets visitors to her small boutique, Lik, where shoppers browse among collections from Valentino, Sonia Rykiel, Christian Lacroix and other top-line designers.
At Lik (a literary variation of the Russian word for "face"), prices of evening dresses average about $3,000 and are bought by customers that include "people's artists" Lyudmila Gurchenko and Lyudmila Maksakova, television and theater actresses and 1960s sex symbols.
A Moscow native, Karapetian opened her boutique in the early 1990s and has successfully maintained her business through 19 years.
"When I decided to start a business, I firmly knew that it would have to be connected with clothes," Karapetian says. "At our home we always had many beautiful clothes from abroad that my father, a musician, used to bring for us. And during those Soviet times when stores were full of drab, gray clothes all of the same design, the clothes my father brought home looked as if they were from another world."
Karine and her sister, Larisa, make trips to Europe several times a year to stock the boutique.
Karapetian's father is from Leninakan (now Gyumri). He moved to Moscow to study in a conservatory in the early 1960s, where he met his future wife, a Moscovite Armenian. He married her there and remained in the city, but the daughter says ties with Armenia would never be severed at their home.
"When I was a child, almost every summer we would go to Leninakan, to be with my grandmother and grandfather. I learned the language, and although it is difficult for me to speak it, I understand almost everything. During feasts and parties we always had dishes from Armenian cuisine and always had Armenian music around."
Since her childhood Karapetian had not returned to Armenia until last summer.
"When I saw the picturesque nature, mountains and hills, rocky gorges and ravines, it was like some part of my childhood had returned to me."
Karapetian took her 17-year-old daughter with her on that trip. She says with satisfaction that her daughter liked Armenia, but that their emotions differed.
"While in Armenia I often felt that my heart belonged to that country. My daughter did not have that feeling, and perhaps, unfortunately, never will. It was easy for my parents to inspire me with the national spirit, because we had so much Armenian influence in the family," the mother says. "It is much more difficult for me with my daughter. She is a Moscovite of almost the third generation and no matter how hard I might try to instill love for Armenia in her, she will not have the same feeling as I do. Nevertheless, I made only the first step by taking her with me, because I think that it is simply impossible to live with the notion of ‘historical homeland' and never be there."