When I first found out I was going to Russia, my inner James Bond pricked up his ears. For a long time, growing up watching movies and being fascinated by the tsars and Fabergé eggs, I’d been eager to get out there and explore… Ashley Hodge, licence to design.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect on my first trip to Russia, but to my surprise it wasn’t snowing when I got there, in fact it was sunny and warm. (That’s not to say that when I visited a few months later it wasn’t absolutely freezing. I wished I’d had a Puffa jacket and fur hat – but my style-over-substance look failed to keep me warm.)
I love my food, but being a pescatarian I was slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead. It was a total revelation, however, to learn that Russia is the largest consumer of sushi in the world (thank you Google) and they have a great love of Italian restaurants and red wine. Two days in and I was eating great pizza even though I know I should have been eating herring, potatoes and drinking vodka, but that treat was to come a few days later in a traditional Russian establishment.
I’ve travelled to quite a few Russian cities now, with Moscow and St Petersburg being the biggest and best known. They couldn’t differ more, Moscow being very ‘business’ and St Petersburg the more historic and ‘Westernised’ of the two. Both have a lot to offer in terms of design inspiration, but The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, was incredible. It’s a vast building housing some of the greatest collections of art and some of the most jaw-dropping architecture I’ve ever seen.
To design for the Russian market, as with all new markets, we have to adapt and learn new ways of doing things. This is what makes our job so interesting – travelling into the unknown and having to force yourself to think differently. During our initial research trips we immediately noticed a very different styling and product mix that is unique to the territory. The focus is very much on glamour and dressing up, quite a change from the more laid-back fashion culture we see on the high street in Western Europe or North America.
We’ve been working on several Russian projects over the last year and right now it’s a particularly interesting place to be. With new international brands landing on their doorsteps, Russian retailers realise they can’t stand back and hope for the best. They see that design investment is needed to contend, with the big players and local competition all upping their game. With more trips on the horizon for existing and future clients, I can’t wait for more Russian adventures.