Whether it’s designing minimalist jewellery in the heart of Russia’s Ural region, collaborating with artists, musicians or just friends, Natalia Bryantseva has come a long way since founding her brand Avgvst. With stores in Moscow and St Petersburg and a plan to expand to Europe, we caught up with the designer to talk about strong women, how a brand should have a political stance and what’s on her playlist.
Maria Joudina: Your background was originally in advertising, how did you arrive at designing jewellery? Natalia Bryantseva: Working in marketing and advertising, the result of your work is impossible to touch: these are ideas, sales, letters and numbers, but marketers do not create a product as such. At some point, I got tired of this and I wanted to see and touch the result of my work, to turn an idea into an object. Initially, jewelry was just a hobby – each Saturday I went to the workshop near my office (where no one wantedto take me at all) and studied there: I’vealways enjoyed doing something with my hands since childhood, and this has always been my favourite pastime. For the next year and a half, I combined this hobby with my work in an advertising agency, until I realized that I could turn it into a full time business – especially since by that time I already started to get some orders, initially from my friends.
MJ: When did you know that your hobby has turned into a business? NB: Originally Avgvst had a different name, Natalia Bryantseva. The first clients were my friends and friends of friends. Gradually, the hobby turned into a small business and I left my main job – at that time I delivered orders myself, and sent press releases to magazines. Russian Vogue wrote about the first collection of Natalia Bryantseva that was called ‘Malevich’.It was a very important turning point for me.I thought: “Vogue! Wow! So I’m doing something serious.” A year later, we opened our first store in Yekaterinburg.
MJ: You said previously that Yekatirenburg, your home city, influenced your designs, can you tell us more about it? NB: Yekaterinburg is undoubtedly the capital of constructivism, which forms the visual appearance of the city.The period of the 1930s and the Bauhaus, industrial design, are really valued. Yekaterinburg is almost not familiar with the empire style, classical buildings, therefore, some ornate, decorative designs simply cannot be born here – that’s why Avgvst has simple and minimal designs. Even our collection Heart of Avgvst, inspired by archives and historical jewellery, has been redesigned in our own Avgvst way: we made massive or feminine jewellery very clean and rebellious at the same time.
MJ: Where did the name Avgvst come from? NB: My mother’s favourite poem by Boris Pasternak is called August – hence the name of the brand. I was born in August. We changed our name from Natalia Bryantseva to Avgvst when we opened our first store in Yekaterinburg. It seemed dishonest to me to call the business the whole team is working on with the name of one person.
MJ: Harry Nuriyev from Crosby Studios designed your Moscow store, how did this collaboration happen? NB: Harry Nuriev, in fact, designed all our stores: in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, but our collaboration really began with the Moscow store on Patriarch’s Ponds. It was Harry who chose one of our signature colours – yellow, boldly painting the Moscow store in yellow. Harry is responsible not only for our yellow colour, but also for the fact that Avgvst has its own face in retail. The stores he designed for us became a part of a very special shopping experience, comparable to going to a good exhibition – and with the opening of a coffee shop in St. Petersburg, to a restaurant.
MJ: You collaborated with Alena Doletskaya (ex Vogue Russia and Interview Magazine EIC), how would you say it affected the brand? NB: Alena Doletskaya noticed Avgvst Jewelry herself and included it in the selection about the youngest and most promising Russian designers for Interview Russia. This is how our friendship started. And I’m not even afraid to say that she became a mentor for me – Alena gave me advice on where to move in design and with the positioning. It was Alena who suggested that hand-cut rock crystal could become the hallmark of the brand. The rock crystal plays a major role in our core collection Heart of Avgvst. Then Alena offered to work together on a capsule collection for her project – and this collaboration was so simple and productive that the next joint collection was made for Avgvst. Our friendship continues and now we are discussing a new joint collection. Alena, like me, adores antique jewellery. We enjoy discussing how to make the designs of the last century more relevant.
MJ: As we can see from your collection with Raketa watches that’s dedicated to Sofia Kovalevskaya, the first female mathematics professor, you love celebrating women, can you tell us more about it? What other women inspire you? NB: Sofia Kovalevskaya was not the first woman to whom we have dedicated a collection. The collaboration with Alena Doletskaya, “Alma” – white gold earrings, rings and pendants with rock crystal, have been dedicated to the first and only female jeweller of the Carl Fabergé factory, Alma Pihl. Sofia Kovalevskaya and Alma Pihl show a portrait of the women who inspire us: those who go against the rules, against social fabric, strong, passionate about their work. I love the history of pioneers, especially when they are women, because they have to go a more difficult and long way to say a new word or do something new.
MJ: You have collaborated with various artists and musicians, how do you find your partners for collaborations, or is it an organic process? NB: In fact, all our collaborations happen spontaneously and organically – and always end in strong friendship. I don’t like stories where the goal of a collaboration is to exchange audiences or use one side of the other. In our case, it is always fun and an attempt to answer the question: “What if?”. I am very sensitive about every experience of cooperation, because as a result, we have not only beautiful jewellery, but also have warm, friendly relations: with Alena Doletskaya, Dolphin (Russian musician), Emmy America (photographer), and Protey Temen (mixed media artist working with drawings, videos, books and installations.). Protey Temen has been a part of the Avgvst family for a long time – jewellery from our first collaboration (Comet earring) is still very popular with our clients. Protey also worked with us on the opening of a tattoo and piercing studio at St. Petersburg – he drew sketches for tattoos. Together we have already made three collections and we are preparing the fourth. I joke that Protey is my Elsa Peretti.
MJ: Where do you find inspiration for your collections? NB: In people who fight injustice, in the stories of pioneers. In archives and museum collections. In places where beauty and protest coexist. It could be a graffitiwall of a house in Berlin, El Lissitzky’s propaganda poster, or Diana Spencer’s necklace that she wears when she finds out about her husband’s affair.
MJ: When you look back at your early collections, what do you think was the biggest change compared to your current designs? NB: The jewellery design always depends on the techniques that the jeweller knows – my first jewellery was inspired by natural forms, the metal was rough, matte and raw – I thought it was unusual and interesting. Later, new opportunities and techniques opened up to me, and I fell in love with mirrored, polished metal. The shapes that Avgvst uses in their designs have also changed: simple geometric shapes have become more complex. We have almost moved away from minimalism, if we understand it by simple geometric shapes. We are researching and inventing new techniques for setting stones, exploring new territories –developing watches with the Raketa factory.
MJ: We read that you love listening to music while driving, what’s on your playlist now? NB: I collect playlists on trips, I use Shazam to find random tracks I heard in a taxi, in restaurants or on the radio. Then I listen to them, recalling a coffee shop in Istanbul or a hotel lobby in Paris. But actually I listen tovery different music – from FKA Twigs to Arvo Pärt. One thing is invariable: when I listen to music, I always imagine a dance with a specific choreography.
MJ: All your pieces are manufactured in Yekatirenburg, was it difficult to set up production there? NB: We are lucky as we are working with the oldest and the most experienced manufacture, which dates its history back to the Lapidary Factory founded by the decree of Peter the Great. These are people for whom quality and manufacturability are a matter of honour. In addition, the Ural is a historical center of stone-cutting art. These technologies have been known here for a long time and have not been lost. This gives us the opportunity to come up with any design and cut stones for it, without working with stones of finished cut, for example, from China.
MJ: You have a strong position regarding some political and social issues in Russia, can you tell us more about it? NB: We clearly understand who our audience is and why they come to us. I believe that they share the values of my team, so I take the liberty of talking to them about it. It is also an opportunity to build your own community: people who do not share our views, unsubscribe, and those who respect us for courage, share our beliefs – stay with us. This is a natural selection of people who share our values. I think that businesses should talk about their position. A person has a political position, your family has one, so why shouldn’t a brand have one? If everyone is talking about detentions at rallies, why should we make a post “Buy a ring” on Instagram on this day? If we are not talking about a ring in the office today, why do we think that our followers will be interested in this very ring?
MJ: What’s next for Avgvst and what are you excited about? NB: We opened a European store and an office in Berlin. Now our jewellery is available to order all over the world with a fast delivery. We are planning to develop it and gain a foothold in Europe. Our second shop with a piercing and tattoo corner is about to open in Moscow. We plan to continue developing our own tattoo studios within our jewellery store. For us, jewellery is a tattoo, and a tattoo is jewellery, so our design department creates not only rings and earrings, but also graphic symbols which our clients can get as a tattoo in our own spaces. We love the idea of making the tattoo fine and elegant rather than subcultural. Now people need to have an opportunity to express their position safely, with a signet ring or tattoo.