April 9, 2010 -- When she was a little girl, Alla Verber says life in the Soviet Union was tough. Even as the daughter of a dentist, raised in a working-class family in Leningrad -- now the Russian city of St. Petersburg -- she didn't have much.
"It was more closed country. It was not a capitalistic country. It was a communist country," Verber told "Good Morning America." "There was sometimes no food... You couldn't have dollars -- you could go to jail for having a dollar in your pocket."
But now, as one of the most powerful women in the fashion industry and in all of Russia, life is very different for Verber. American fashion magazines have said she's the most important clothing buyer in the world.
As vice president of Mercury Group, the first Russian distributor of luxury goods, she is known as the visionary taste-maker, responsible for introducing brands like Chanel, Prada and Gucci to the Russian public. She's also widely credited with changing the perceptions of Russian women around the globe.
"Russian women like to look sexy, look feminine," Verber said. "Why? Maybe because for many years Russia was a closed country. It was impossible to buy the clothes that we dream about."
Verber said that in the days of communism, individual style was nonexistant. Everyone had to look the same for fear of jail, or worse, she said.
After studying medicine in Russia, Verber moved to Italy when she was 18-years-old, then to Canada and immersed herself in fashion.
After the fall of communism, she came home with big ideas.
"In 1991 I was standing in the center of Moscow and I said to myself, 'It would be wonderful to build a fashion world, a store that everyone would go to be able to buy whatever they want without having to travel, to go to Milan,'" she said.
With the financial backing of Mercury Group, that's exactly what she did.
She turned an old, drab Soviet department store into a blockbuster upscale boutique, the likes of which Russia had never seen. The store brought in the crowds as well as brands. Soon luxury retailers from all over Europe and America were clamoring to get in the Russian market.
"Now if you study, if you work, you are successful, you can make something out of yourself. You are free... and I think that is the most important thing in life, to be free and do what you like and not be punished for that," she said.
Today she's regarded as a fashion maverick, but none of it would be possible, she said, without the lessons learned in St. Petersburg.
"It's a wonderful home for me, my heart is always there," she said. "I go there once a year and each time I come in and say, 'Father, I made it.'"