, who is the Founder of “Archetype Discoveries Worldwide” and author of the book “Culture Code”, says “If we become uniform and we all begin to exist as one planetary culture, then we can lose the cultural identity that formed us”.
Some experts believe it is premature to say about originality of Russian design. These days we are at the point of studying and adaptation of the western design experience and aesthetics. Most likely, this statement might be considered as a correct one. The Russian design today is mainly identified as Loft or Scandinavian style which means simple geometric shapes, natural and textured materials. To put it another way, there is a lack of local aesthetics or cultural identity in Russian products.
It is clear that Russian designers mostly turn to global, or better to say western, trends. In addition, according to survey conducted in March 2018 among students of the British Higher School of Art and Design, 55 per cent of respondents believe that Russian style today is “Stereotype application of well-known cliché (matreshka, vodka, Kremlin)“. At the same time, almost 70 per cent describe Russian style as “National, original, authentic” without negative connotation, and 23 per cent accept they might be inspired by domestic style for their artwork, but there is lack of Russian style knowledge.
As a part of national culture, Russian design is going through an intricate period. The understanding of local identity features is not clear not only due to current local social and economic reality, but also the changes that have occurred in the state during past 100 years. It is no surprise, that modern designers just got confused in all these contradictions and compelled to adopt foreign cultures. Eventually, developing a design brand with international significance based on local identity seems elusive.
It must be noted that Russian social strata dealing with culture had already faced almost the same circumstances in XIX century. The difference is that they were forced to shift from well-known foreign culture field to almost forgotten national aesthetics by governing class. In other words, artists and craftsmen had to develop a new national identity based on local background. For a short period of time the French-Russian identity was changed to Russian only and it has become original, authentic, prominent and internationally welcomed. It would be adequate if modern artists and designers might effectively reconsider the experience that have been developed by the XIX century`s researchers.
Russian jewelry industry was a solid part of the national art and culturei.n 19 th century Most of the companies addressed national heritage and developed along the line of historicism and various neo-styles. Jewelry market was highly competitive, and it was a challenge to generate a unique and successful brand.
Usually, the analysis of brand starts with basic marketing mix theory. While some researchers still argue about the influence of marketing mix components on brand equity, it seems reasonable to consider the concept of a successful brand through these characteristics: leadership and passion, audience knowledge, competitiveness, exposure, but most of all – singularity.
Pavel Ovchinnikov‘s factory of gold and silver products, founded in 1853, was considered as one of the leaders of Russian gold-silver production and, in fact, a father of national gold-silver manufacturing school. The range of products included objects of religious articles and secular items: mainly silverware, gifts, caskets, cigarette cases, writing tools, albums, etc. Ovchinnikov’s products were described by contemporaries as high-quality and well-developed with a great artistic taste.
Ovchinnikov as a prominent business leader had great abilities in market orientation and made his company to hold a leading position among competitors for more than half a century. He also found new forms of artistic expression, outlined the ways of further development of jewelry art.
Focusing on national traditions was a key feature of Ovchinnikov’s design. The core idea of Russian heritage was unchangeable during the whole company’s history. At the same time, the orientation toward national stylistics was determined not only by general tendencies in gold and silver art, but by personal Ovchinnikov convictions as well due to his involvement. Moreover, the concept of “Russian style” was significantly refined and expanded not only in regards to specific church items and equipment, but also to secular and domestic products.
A number of characteristics are identified to describe the singularity of the Ovchinnikov’s products in terms of craft and design.
- Collaboration with professional artists
- Technical perfection in the manufacturing
- Technical eclecticism
- Storyline direction, including aboriginal ethnic communities
- Other materials texture simulation
Direct replication of ancient references was required only in the early stage of the “Russian style”. Soon the creative approach became a mandatory for the craftsmen. In this case, Ovchinikov implemented the new approach by imitation of different textures in silver such as fabric or wood.
Apart from the wood and fabric textures, the embroidery imitation was another technical innovation. Furthermore, the craftsmen sought to refer both to the pattern and to wove texture of imitated material.
Ultimately, this approach became a specific feature of Russian gold and silver art in general, which was even imitated by foreign craftsmen.
- Vyaz lettering with proverbs
It is interesting to point out that the stylized inscriptions on products had not significantly changed for quite a long period of time and continued to be perceived as a styling element of the “national” decor. If the craftsman would ever want to achieve “Russianness”, he would get away with vyaz lettering implementation only.
- Different approach to the formation of objects
Foreign critics and professionals, especially French ones highly appreciated the modern interpretation of ancient forms , which was considered as the main distinctive feature of “Russian style” by them. According to results of the Paris Exhibition in 1900, French experts Henri Bouilhet (Анри Буйе) and Armand–Caillat (Арман-Калья) were very unhappy about the missing samples “with forms and decorative effects, borrowed from objects widely used by ordinary people: wooden saltcellars, <…> ceramic vases with stuffed hoops like barrels, <…> which served as a variety of saltcellars, tea appliances, cups“. (Exposition universelle international de 1900 à Paris. Rapports du Jury international. Groupe XV. Industries diverses. Primiere partie. Classes 92 à 97. Paris, M CMII (1902) P. 330-331.)
The characteristics were being further developed in subsequent years after the Ovchinnikov`s death in 1888 and up to the elimination of the company in 1917.
Product design and development mostly is not perceived as a part of our national culture at present. History suggests the opposite. The period of 19th century clearly shown that product manufacturing including jewelry was successfully involved in the national art and culture development process. Jewelry companies such as Bolin, Faberge, Sazikov, Khlebnikov, etc. glorified national jewelry art far beyond the state. These companies, participating in art and industrial exhibitions, have achieved well-deserved success, received high awards and positive reviews of international experts . A range of national jewelry firms had honorary titles of suppliers not only of the court of the Russian Emperor, but also of the courts of European and Asian governors.
Ovchinnikov’s jewelry company existed since 1853 to 1917 and was one of the most famous. The company`s progress was achieved by personal qualities of Pavel Ovchinnikov as well as his business sense. It was crucial for him, as a talented executive, to build effective work processes on mutually beneficial conditions with workers. He was one of the first, who clearly saw the link between business success and the level of education of employees. The factory school for 20 years of its activity has successfully trained dozens of craftsmen who worked not only at Ovchinnikov’s but also in other companies. The high level of skills, which was one of the main features of the company, achieved through attention to details, striving for technical perfection, creativeness, and implementation of various techniques. To a large extent, the success of the company was connected with the consistent recourse to the national traditions. It is possible to track the Russian style evolution on the Ovchinnikov activities example. At the time of Ovchinnikov’s death in 1888, the company became one of the leading enterprises in the market both in production volume and in terms of artistic merit of the products. Furthermore, the craftsmen of the company compiled and summarized not only the experience of the previous centuries, but also found new forms of artistic expression and outlined ways to further develop the national style.
It is clearly seen, that the national design school with a huge research base of domestic heritage was established prior 1917. After that, new reality has come and this legacy and heritage remained untapped up until today.