North­ern light

As a name to know in fine jew­ellery, Alina Bar­low has melded two seem­ingly op­po­site halves: her rich Rus­sian roots in ex­treme climes with a bright Aus­tralian op­ti­mism. By Alice Bir­rell.


Peo­ple said to me: ‘Are you all right?’” Alina Bar­low re­calls on a glar­ingly bright day from her newly opened bou­tique for her jew­ellery la­bel Alinka in Syd­ney’s Dou­ble Bay. She is re­count­ing her fel­low stu­dents’ re­ac­tions to her wardrobe as a 19-year-old eco­nom­ics un­der­grad­u­ate, newly ar­rived from Rus­sia. “I would wear high heels to univer­sity. Then they wear very short shorts and T-shirts and thongs and that’s in?” she says, laugh­ing.

Leav­ing her na­tive coun­try be­hind, she found her­self eas­ily se­duced by the Aus­tralian peo­ple and life­style – and was con­vinced to down­grade from heels to some­thing more ca­sual along the way. “I’m very big on ex­plor­ing the cul­ture when you are in a coun­try and just be­ing open. I just fell in love with Aus­tralia. It’s a beau­ti­ful, mag­i­cal place.”

To­day, as head of her own four-year-old la­bel, she prefers footwear to be com­fort­able, own­ing up to a taste for Golden Goose sneak­ers and Dior sling­back kit­ten heels. “Ac­tu­ally, I’m wear­ing them right now,” she says of the heels. “I have a busy fam­ily life and a busy, busy work life. And then also I love be­ing so­cial, so for me the shoe has to last from early morn­ing un­til 7pm.”

Com­mand­ing 10-plus staff mem­bers and now work­ing with over­seas stock­ists like Har­vey Ni­chols, she can trace the happy de­rail­ment of her cor­po­rate ca­reer to her child­hood in Saint Peters­burg, where a paucity of ne­ces­si­ties spurred her to cre­ate. “I grew up in Com­mu­nism, as in the form you read about in books where you go into stores and the shelves were empty. I still re­mem­ber ra­tions,” she says. She would plait and twist lengths of wire into jew­ellery she could trade for toys and chew­ing gum. “I would ex­press my cre­ativ­ity through that.”

Her de­signs now, black and white di­a­monds in white or yel­low gold, are de­lib­er­ately min­i­mal, fo­cused on no more than one or two con­tours so as to slip seam­lessly into a sig­na­ture wardrobe. It is an in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tion, given she takes in­spi­ra­tion from Rus­sian lit­er­a­ture and the elab­o­rate char­ac­ters they con­jure, like Tol­stoy’s Anna Karen­ina, a book she has read sev­eral times. “I like that French min­i­mal­is­tic chic. I find Rus­sian cul­ture and Rus­sian ar­chi­tec­ture have a lot of French in­flu­ence, and when you think of Rus­sian aris­toc­racy in the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury they all spoke French, and com­mu­ni­cated in French. Per­haps the min­i­mal­ism comes from that mod­ern take on things,” she says.

Wa­ter too is a con­stant touch point, the way it trans­forms from lake to ice to snow in the ex­treme Rus­sian sea­sons. “Walk­ing along the banks of the Neva in Saint Peters­burg I feel in­spired by the close­ness to na­ture. I find all the wa­ter’s edges and an­gles in­spir­ing.”

That Rus­sian sparkle is still there, just sub­tly re­fracted as the glint of snow. In her own wardrobe it fea­tures on her own Alinka bracelets with stars and an evil eye. Heels too have made a re­turn, al­though this time for an­other pur­pose: “My favourite thing to do would be to have a din­ner party with friends, and prob­a­bly fin­ish it with a bit of danc­ing.” You can take the girl out of Rus­sia … ”I just think it’s your her­itage, for me I just re­spect and love it. It’s my ev­ery­thing.”

Alina Bar­low out­side the Alinka bou­tique in Syd­ney’s Dou­ble Bay, wear­ing a Chris­tian Dior dress, $35,000, bra, $1,900, belt, $1,850, and briefs, $1,400. Alinka neck­laces, bracelets and rings. Her own Cartier bracelets and Rolex watch. Louis Vuit­ton shoes, $2,130.

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