It is well known that Russians love European design, especially the Italian one, from super-minimal to exuberant Baroque. And who can blame them? It is no coincidence that design is one of the excellences of Made in Italy.
In recent years, however, more and more young designers from Russia are emerging to compete with Western professionals. Their strength is not only the ability to combine mastery, aesthetics and excellence in materials, but also the skills in mixing their country's decades-old traditions with the latest know-how.
What results from this impressive blend are contemporary design furniture and interior design objects with a typically national touch.
52 FACTORY is the name of the design studio founded in 2014 by the duo made up of Nasya Kopteva and Sasha Braulov, a family of young designers from St. Petersburg. Their mission is to create special objects for a harmonious life. They believe in design that transmits energy, improves everyday life and, above all, has a story to tell. For that very reason, they presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan (SaloneSatellite 2017) a collection of doll-toys entitled "Red Dolls" (from Russian “Krasnye Kukly”) that intends to reinvent typical Russian toys and traditions in an avant-garde key.
Their other creation, the transformable “Sobor” vases (from the Russian word meaning "cathedral"), pay homage to the wooden architecture of the North. The inspiration, in fact, comes from the image of the typical Russian villages, built entirely in wood and therefore inclined to disappear due to the pressure of time and nature. The elements that cannot be missed in this collection are certainly those typical of the structures of Northern Russia: the cathedral, the bell tower and the chapel.
Also Anastasiya is a young designer of Russian roots. She was born and raised in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. In 2006, she decided to move to Germany, but, definitely, she hasn't forgotten her origins!
Since 2012, she has been cultivating her passion for birch bark, a type of wood very common in Russia, so widespread that birches are even considered 'national trees'. By mixing modern technologies with a decade-old Siberian handcraft that she learnt during her childhood, she has created a unique collection of items exploiting all the qualities of birch bark: flexibility, low hardness and, at the same time, high resistance.
What is design to her? It is the means by which she can tell the stories that lie behind her objects.
“I create products with character that have a story, and I tell it through the design”
Yaroslav is a 33-year-old designer born in Leningrad – today's St Petersburg. Undoubtedly, his most appreciated project in Italy is the one that most reflects ancient Russian traditions. It is the "Katerina" collection, a set consisting of a folding fan, a mirror and a comb, dedicated to his grandmother who lived in Vologda, a city in Western Russia. The gem of this work is the use of Vologda crochet lace, known throughout the world as Russian folk art. The designer even managed to find an original example of it in the local museum.
Also worth mentioning is the “Treschotka” project, which isn’t just a simple rocking horse made of wood. This toy takes its name from a Russian folk musical instrument consisting of thin planches fastened together by a rope and separated from each other using small wooden plates. Its sound recalls the clapping of hands. The Treschotka rocking horse for children not only has the same structure as the instrument, but also makes a similar sound.
But that's not all! The rocking horse has another story to tell, again linked to the origins of the Treschotka. According to Russian tradition, this musical instrument also had a mystical function: thanks to its sound, it was able to ward off evil spirits. Therefore, this little horse assumes the symbolic value of protection towards your babies.
Russian avant-garde painter Kazimir Severinovič Malevič, founder of the Suprematism movement (1913) together with his friend, futurist writer and poet Velimir Chlebnikov, founder of the Russian avant-garde in literature, were the inspiration for the Muscovite designer Anna Titova. From looking at Malevich's costume sketches drawn especially for the work “Pobeda Nad Solntsem” (“Victory Over the Sun”), Anna came up with the idea of designing a collection of geometrically shaped chairs that would recall the clothes worn by the painter's archetypal heroes.
"I think the costumes are a perfect reflection of the cultural matrix of that time. Malevich designed ordinary clothes with geometric figures, giving freedom of expression to an ordinary and routine element. So, I did the same with the chairs."
The perfect setting for three of Anna's eight chairs arose many years later, when the designer was given the task of planning a hotel on the Volga River. The inspiration this time came from Chlebnikov's 1914 manifesto “My I doma” ("We and the houses"), in which the poet dreams of a house on the water. The resulting project was described by Anna herself as a 'contemporary avant-garde naval hotel'.
And it was the right location for her chairs.
Andrey Budko is a young product designer from the Russian capital who, following the slogan "Carpet like a Russian", has created his homonyms collection of embroided felt carpets by borrowing from traditional Russian materials and techniques. Felt was commonly used in shoe-making industry for winter shoes called "Valenki", that nowadays seem to be souvenirs more than practical footwear, and embroiding is a very traditional Russian craft dating way back in history. Andrey’s idea was to find a new life for both technology and material using what the digital era has to offer and making the combo practical again. The resulting objects became a tribute to the memories of his childhood: carpets were the most common items in every Soviet house, they were not high quality ones, but were still perceived as luxury objects and therefore were hanging on the wall, in order to be kept intact and seen.
In addition, the designer wanted to emphasise these common memory traits of his generation by highlighting different parts of the same ornament using different colours. This creation allowed him to win the SaloneSatellite Moscow Award in 2018.
His other collection 'Hear my Roooar' was shown for the first time in Milan in 2019 at SaloneSatellite. This time, the carpet is shaped like a leopard, evoking the Russian fairytale of the two-headed creature "Polkanchik". The leopard is a reinterpretation of that fantasy character and, in Andrey’s mind, is a kind of magical spirit animal for modern Russia, a little bit classy and a little bit trashy.