The Mertens family company, established in 1841, was among the leading fur trading concerns in St. Petersburg. In the 1870s, the company acquired a four-storey neo-renaissance building on Nevsky Prospekt, opposite Bolshaya Konushennaya Ulitsa. Fyodor Fyodorovich Mertens, son of the company’s founder, decided to reconstruct the building to provide more retail space, and commissioned the Polish-born architect Marian Lalewicz.
The building continued to be used for retail of clothing after the October Revolution, first as the Nevsky Prospekt Fashion House and then, after the Second World War, as the USSR’s first House of Clothing Models – an institution charged with developing and promoting new fashions for the people. Since restoration work in 2008, the building has been the local flagship store for Spanish brand Zara, although it still bares the name “Dom Mertensa”, and the Mertens family logo – a polar bear holding a sphere – can be seen on a fountain in the building’s courtyard.