Alina Barlow, ex-financier-turned-fine-jewellery designer discusses growing up in communism and why her use of Kremlin stars reflects her heritage, success and childhood spent as a USSR Pioneer.
“We used to use different-colour wire – my dad is an engineer, so he always had different wires – and I made rings out of it,” recalls Barlow of her early entry into jewellery making, “It was very cool”. Though she grew up in Soviet Russia without much in the way of material possessions – hence the wire jewellery – she also didn’t want for anything, “I was always very happy and loved as a child, I never wanted more.” She certainly has more now: an enviable art collection including original Terry O’Neill photographs, works by Australian artists Dale Frank and Ken Johnson and – of course – a successful jewellery line that works exclusively with diamonds and gold.
Now calling the Australian harbour side city of Sydney home, Barlow makes full use of the country’s lush landscape and weather with regular swimming, yoga, meditation and even jet skiing. “I’ve experienced two fairly different cultures. I love Australian culture, it’s a beautiful country and it’s got a lot of light, in a way it’s totally opposite to Russia,” says Barlow. Though she enjoys all the perks of life down under and sees Sydney as “her happy place,” her Russian upbringing and love of the country’s culture and history – as well as her own nostalgia – offer continuous inspiration. These influences can be seen in the recurring pentagonal stars and sparkling diamonds that evoke memories of the sun shimmering on the St Petersburg snow during the long frosty winters.
We spoke to the designer about how opposites and contrasts are so appealing to her and why she abandoned a corporate career to pursue her passion.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE ALINKA WOMAN?
“Independent, driven, authentic and elegant but with a bit of an edge and contemporary flair. Someone who can make her own decisions. She’s not scared of expressing herself.”
HOW DID GROWING UP IN SOVIET RUSSIA IMPACT YOUR CREATIVITY?
“We didn’t have a lot of toys or the arts and crafts materials my children are lucky to have now. I remember my mum bought me my first set of oil paints and it was such a big deal for me. You had to be very creative to express yourself. It taught me to be happy with what I’ve got and use what I have handy.”
WHY DO YOU WORK EXCLUSIVELY WITH BLACK AND WHITE DIAMONDS?
I always loved the simplicity of diamonds – the sparkle takes me back to my long winters in St Petersburg. I love the contrast of black and white diamonds and at the same time it’s kind of rebellious and quite cool.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT STARS THAT INTERESTS YOU?
“I grew up in Russia and stars appeared throughout my childhood, whether it was a symbol of some school organisation or from history. Alinka stars have come from the shape of the Kremlin star, which reminds me of Russia – I miss it in a way, my Russian heritage and upbringing. When I was at school, if you were a good student you were given a little star and were part of this school club, so stars remind me of that also. For me, stars are something that reflects heritage and success. It’s quite a classic symbol, yet right now it’s very modern.”
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS?
“I am very spiritual, and a bit superstitious. Growing up you’d always say, ‘oh don’t say that’ or ‘touch wood,’ it’s just part of the way I was brought up. So, when Alinka came, it seemed only appropriate that the Evil Eye was on my wrist because if I’m a bit anxious I can just touch it. I believe that it helps me with my creativity, just having that stillness of mind. I don’t take it off.”
WHAT EFFECT DOES TRAVEL HAVE ON YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
“I love travelling. You meet so many different people from various parts of the world, so I find that very inspirational – the way they dress, the way they wear their jewellery, the way they communicate, you see different styles of communications.”
WHAT ARTISTS ARE YOU MOST INFLUENCED BY?
“Growing up we had almost weekly visits to the Hermitage Museum or the Russian Museum, so I learned about classic Russian artists – I was always drawn to Kandinsky. Now, I always go to exhibitions when I can. I love Jeff Koons – I’m always drawn to people who aren’t scared to express themselves.”
YOU PLAYED CHESS COMPETITIVELY AS A CHILD, WHAT OTHER HIDDEN TALENTS DO YOU HAVE?
“I still play every opportunity I get. I’m also a chartered accountant, I had a corporate career and then had a complete career change. In the end, I followed my passion, I wanted to express myself and start my own brand. You have to explore opportunities, always be open to what life brings you and have a strong work ethic and drive. For me, that’s the key to success.”
WHAT’S YOUR MOST-CHERISHED PIECE OF JEWELLERY?
“My mother is a big inspiration for me, and probably my best friend. She’s given me her wedding band, it’s a very simple gold wedding band with different bands. So we’ve done Alinka Tania bands – my mum’s name is Tatiania – and some of them ended up ¾ length which relates to that piece of jewellery and that’s probably my favourite piece.”
WHO WOULD YOU LOVE TO SEE WEARING YOUR JEWELLERY?
“For the modern-day Alinka woman, I love Natalia Vodianova, her style is very elegant yet edgy and her contribution to philanthropy, and what she’s doing in Russia with her Naked Heart foundation I find very inspiring. She’s someone I’d love to see Alinka on.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BRAND?
“Modern and timeless with a contemporary edge. And a bit rebellious.”