Jewellery IS for men, here to show it is jewellery designer Alexandra Afanasyeva
London College of Fashion graduate, Alexandra Afanasyeva has created a jewellery line for men, which as her motto boasts, are not afraid to stand out. Fighting an industry, which is largely focused on women, Alexandra has created a mix of both elegant and bold jewellery pieces to add that final touch to complete a man's ensemble. Having only graduated this summer, her pieces have already gained significant recognition: she was selected to showcase at London Graduate Fashion Week and had her work exhibited at the Turnbull & Asser store in Mayfair. Here to speak about her bold jewellery line and her experiences as a young jewellery designer, is Alexandra.
Describe a typical SASHA JEWELLERY man, i.e. what type of man do you imagine wearing your pieces?
As the main brand's motto says, SASHA JEWELLERY is for men who are not afraid to stand out, for those who dare to be different. SASHA JEWELLERY would be the best choice for a fashion-conscious man with an adventurous spirit. He is not just a successful person, but has a personality and is constantly seeking the new and undiscovered. A SASHA man is not afraid of statements, making everyone aware of his presence. Terra incognita is his home, challenge is his second nature. This is why SASHA designs are so bold and chunky.
Where do you see your brand going in the next 5 to 10 years?
I remember hearing a lecture by Noel Stewart, a world renowned London milliner (hat maker), which I was lucky to attend as an LCF student. The lecture made a significant impact on most students and everyone wanted to be like the famous milliner. I was not an exception. Ideally, I would love to establish a solid brand that would not only produce quality commercial pieces but would also be attractive for other designers. I love collaboration and strongly believe in it. Since I have experience with catwalks, I would be happy to dedicate part of my time to catwalk collaborations.
Your designs are ingrained with a lot of cultural/historical meanings- your previous collections was inspired by the survival equipment and climbing tools from the Inuit tribes. How did you get the idea to use this as an inspiration for your collection?
The EX90°00′00′′ was my final year collection at LCF, so I had an entire year to concentrate on one single project, which was amazing and very rare in fashion, as the industry is quite fast-paced. I was mainly interested in the notion of cold so I started to research everything related to the topic and came across the Inuit tribes. I really like the sense of danger that the cold has and was interested in how people have adapted to fight the cold. This is why I was looking into the traditional tools that older civilizations such as the Inuit tribes used to battle the cold, as well as the modern gear that is available.
The status quo with jewellery is for it to be a quite delicate, subtle form of fashion, yet noticeably SASHA JEWELLERY goes against this with the use of more heavy, rough metals. What inspired you to go against this norm?
There are several factors that influenced my decision. First of all, I am a fashion jewellery designer although I do have an extensive fine jewellery experience, including a design internship for the renowned Tomasz Donocik. The other factor is that I am mainly inspired by men and not women. There are of course different types of men and I find it interesting to look into all of them. However, generally, men are physically bigger than women. I like to sometimes play with sensitivity, alluring to men's soft side, however, generally big boys deserve big guns, with no pun intended.
What's your favourite piece of your collection right now and why?
I’ve noticed that the most popular piece among the general public is the necklace (bottom right). I do love it too, but personally it is probably my second favourite. My personal favourite piece is the keychain (bottom left) due to its complexity of being composed of different elements and having more textural juxtaposition, something I am really keen on. I also love the commercial version of the carabiner which is about fist-size and can be styled in so many ways. I believe it serves as a great everyday accessory.
How did you get the idea/inspiration to start designing jewellery for men? And have you found that it is sometimes difficult to get a man to wear jewellery due to established beliefs is that a jewellery is not "masculine".
To be honest, when I came to London to study jewellery design my dream job was to become a senior designer in any of the Place Vendôme Maisons. However, during the first term of the first year we immediately had an industry project which happened to be for men. The client was Turnbull & Asser, a bespoke gentleman's shirt-making company and a royal supplier. When working on my first proper piece of jewellery I researched gents’ quarter and fell hopelessly in love with menswear. I did so well on the project that my work was even exhibited in the company’s showroom in Mayfair (see images below). Since then my passion for menswear started and I began to research all the different aspects of men's fashion.
As for the concept masculinity, I can speak on this topic for ages. The notion has been extremely interesting for me and I have dedicated numerous essays to it, including my thesis. In short, I can say that we are currently evidencing new forms of masculinity (or it can be argued that these are rather the well-forgotten old forms). This century is also experiencing a gender-bender shift and the gender boundaries are no longer as obvious. In any case, men are and will always be part of the gaze, which is why jewellery is such a great way to stir their vanity. In a good way, of course.
How was the experience of having your collection be showcased alongside the best UK fashion students at Graduate Fashion Week?
It was a dream come true. I completely fell in love with Rob Philips, the LCF creative director, the first moment I saw him. This happened to be during my first year at LCF when he introduced himself and told us about the exclusive opportunity to participate in Graduate Fashion Week. Since then, I dreamt about working under his guidance and he has been my muse and constant source of inspiration– his sense of style is out of this universe! When it was time for the graduate show competition, our year faced a completely new selection system, which was even more competitive than the years before. It was very stressful, but the experience was incredibly rewarding and I enjoyed the preparation process as much as I enjoyed the show itself. That night was definitely one of the happiest in my life and I felt as though that catwalk was my own path to a brighter future ahead.
What advice would you give to aspiring students regarding the first steps to starting a label?
As a student, I would advise you to explore through experimentation and try to establish your own style that becomes central to your brand's identity. I, myself, am still shaping my brand, but the main foundation was definitely established during my university years.
Listen to your tutors as well. I was a bit stubborn at first, but now I see that the more open-minded you are the larger the horizons you open for yourself and in the end of the day, the better work you produce. Also, it may seem obvious, but be proactive. Seize every single opportunity and don’t get demotivated when you fail. I failed in many of the cases, but we are remembered for our success, so keep trying and be patient.
What is the most difficult part of starting your own brand? And how did you deal with this?
This answer is going to be less romantic but it is basically a visa issue. Unfortunately, I am not a European citizen, which prevents me from travelling freely through Europe. This is often a challenge as it means I need to plan my activities twice as carefully both in terms of time management and legally.
Another difficult part has been defining my brand's identity and making it consistent throughout my different online channels. In my case the brand evolved naturally, I didn’t even make a proper decision to start my own thing, it just happened. However, at first, when I created my own logo, built a website and started my social media channels they looked quite different from what they look now as I was still in the process of finding my own voice. Therefore when I realised that these were no longer relevant to the brand’s identity, I just started from the scratch again. So I would advise all aspiring artists to experiment and not be afraid of making mistakes. In the end of the day the notion of rebranding did not come from nowhere.
If you could have anyone wear your jewellery (i.e. a celebrity), who would you want to wear it and why?
That is indeed a difficult question for me. As I am a big theatre fan, I like to give my jewellery an additional performative touch so that when a man wears it, he can also play with it and at the same time imagine himself an almost fictional character.
I would say, that my absolute favourite actor is Jeremy Irons. So I could definitely imagine him wearing it, but also the Sherlock actor Andrew Scott. There are a lot of talented men in the world in all possible professional spheres and so the notion of a "celebrity" can be stretched to quite an extent. I would also love to create jewellery that influential visionaries such as Elon Musk would wear.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in jewellery design?
Jewellery design is actually not my first degree. I first went to study languages and I now speak five of them. My linguistic background is probably the reason why I am so keen on creating stories that my jewellery represents. When I was at college studying philology I realised that I did not want to do translation for a living. I started to question myself balancing my desires with my skills. I realised that I have always been passionate about art and came to jewellery because I was both conceptually ready and was very good at creating artistic pieces. I started to create my first designs before graduating from my philology degree, so I already had a bit of portfolio work with which I applied to UAL. I did create a few completely new designs for my college application and believe these were the strongest.
Are there any good resources you would suggest for an aspiring designer? Things like blogs, podcasts, books, etc.?
Before going to college, my design appreciation was very intuitive-based, and thankfully I later realized that I was working in the right direction. However, it was thanks to the London College of Fashion that I have become the designer I am now. At college we had free access to lynda.com which is a great learning resource. LinkedIn learning offers similar tutorials too, so it depends on which platform you prefer. However, I would say that if you want to learn anything just go to YouTube, seriously, you can find anything there! I learned and developed so many skills thanks to YouTube, so I would say it’s not about finding unique resources it’s about using what’s out there wisely.