Paris, September 2020
Alexandra Golovanoff, designer and journalist
Alexandra Golovanoff is a designer of cosmetic-coloured sweaters and a fashion journalist with a passion for beautiful things. We had the huge pleasure of meeting her in her apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, just a stone's throw from the USM showroom, to discuss her eclectic interior and fashion tastes.
Firstly, could you introduce yourself?
I am a sweater designer, TV presenter and journalist. At the moment, the sweaters are clearly taking up most of my time and the rest has become somewhat side lined.
Where did the idea of setting up your own brand of sweaters come from?
I've learnt a lot from mixing with designers and brand leaders. I asked a lot of questions, because that was my job, and at some point, that was no longer enough, as I felt a kind of frustration at always being a spectator, and a jaded spectator at that. As a fashion journalist, you're exposed to so many things that you sometimes lose your enthusiasm and forget to appreciate the energy, work, and commitment of all these designers. This prompted a desire to regain my awareness of all that, and do something so I was no longer someone who just observed what others were doing. So I made sweaters!
It was a natural and obvious step for me. I've been wearing sweaters since the day I was born! I've always seen my mother knitting, first for her children and then her grandchildren. What I like about knitting is that you can create a garment from a single thread of yarn. That yarn is transformed! It's easy to slip on a sweater and nice too.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
It's all in my head. I have a colourful vision of the world and find street and fashion wear rather monochrome. You see a lot of whites, greys, blacks and navy blues – and it's all very nice stuff – it's just that I like colour! I almost never wear black! I have this idea of "clothes as cosmetics" that enhance people’s beauty by giving them a healthy glow or bringing out their eye colour. I work in almost the same way as someone doing make-up, as to me it's obvious that some colours suit people better than others. Complexion, hair colour, eye colour, etc. are all factors that, when combined, mean some colours are more flattering than others.
And in your opinion, what makes a good sweater?
A good sweater is a kind of alchemy! Firstly, you need the right cut, which is something I take a lot of care over. You also need a good colour and good material. The raw materials are essential and they all offer different levels of quality. Some viscoses are outstanding, while the quality of others is poor. The same applies to cotton, wool, etc. At the end of the day, it's like anything else – there are different levels of quality and standards.
You’re playing host to us to your apartment in the seventh arrondissement of Paris. Have you been living on the Left Bank for long?
Yes – for a very long time. I grew up in the sixteenth arrondissement, but have spent my entire adult life on the Left Bank between the sixth and seventh arrondissement. And when I move house, I only ever move 100 metres at a time!
What do you like so much about this area?
How do I answer that one without descending into trite phrases or clichés? It's beautiful, it's just beautiful. Beauty tends to be my top priority – at least my own take on beauty. I prefer to do without things than have things I don't find beautiful. Even a knife in my kitchen has to be something I find beautiful. And just because something is expensive, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s beautiful. What matters to me is that there is intent in the design of an object. If it is purely functional and it’s not beautiful to me, I’m not interested!
And there are some ugly things I actually find beautiful! In terms of fashion, I'm a real fan of Birkenstocks, which aren't the most beautiful shoes, but there's intent in their style. So, provided I can see the intent, that’s enough for me and I’m on board!
Is this apartment a good reflection of you?
Yes – it’s a blend of old-fashioned and more modern elements. There's arty stuff, old-fashioned stuff, stuff from antique shops, stuff from second-hand shops. There’s some very cheap stuff too, but it’s my blend, my combination!
So do these blends define your style?
My styles in interior design and fashion are quite similar. In both areas, it's about quality, colours and blends. For instance, if I wear a sophisticated garment, I like to clash styles by wearing it with something that's not at all sophisticated. I’ll combine something feminine with something masculine like I’ve done today – a blouse with Peter Pan collar and cowboy boots! It's a similar story with interior design. Although I normally go for things that are not at all girly, my walls are pink! I like rather masculine, brown and black furniture with strong lines, and having said that, there are pompoms on my curtains! I like having contrasts, opposites. And I do the same thing with clothes.
Where does this eye for beautiful things come from?
I am the daughter of antique dealers and was raised on the idea of furniture, craftsmanship and carefully crafted objects. When I was little, we'd get in the car to visit antique shops and museums, even when we were on holiday. It's not much fun when you're a child – I feel like I was raised in flea markets! Obviously, it's good training though.
I do a lot of bargain-hunting online, because it's open 24/7! I enjoy doing it in bed when it's raining! I'm always looking for stuff for myself, and also for friends, as everyone knows I enjoy it.
Obviously, I also go bargain-hunting in flea markets. And when I'm travelling, I'm always looking here, there and everywhere. In fact, I'd say I've constantly got my eyes peeled for stuff. It's like a background process that's constantly running wherever I go! It's a genetic defect!
How did you come to have USM furniture in this apartment?
When I set up my home office, there were things I wanted to hide, as this office is also potentially a dining room! I wanted to conceal things I find unsightly like paper, the printer, and other office stuff. I was looking for something that was both functional and attractive. And I didn't want it to look cobbled together. I wanted to create quite a professional office space for myself with appropriate dimensions for files, etc. And at the same time, I didn't want to see any of it and wanted it to fit in with my own personal style!
I’ve spent a lot of time in Switzerland with my parents, so USM was familiar to me. Incidentally, I also have an oven made by Swiss brand Zug, a company that not many people know about!
When we moved here this summer, I lost my cat. It took a good while of me pounding the pavements of my neighbourhood to find him, during which time I discovered that the USM showroom was 50 metres away on the street below my apartment! So it all started with something quite trivial! You go looking for your cat and end up finding furniture!
What do you like about USM furniture?
I like its extreme simplicity about which there is nothing simple. It's really well designed, very well thought out. It's modular and its design is very modern. Once again, it's all about the contrast, which is something I really appreciate. Because it’s so well made and so well designed, it's actually anything but simple. Like a Hermès bag, it's really beautiful and simple, but that doesn't mean that making something simple IS simple!
In my view, its lines provide the ideal backdrop. I chose a white one having also considered dark grey and beige, but I eventually decided to cool it with the colours, considering my walls are pink!
Finally, how would you describe luxury?
Luxury is mainly about quality. And USM furniture stands for quality, durability and non-disposable items.
Many thanks to Alexandra Golovanoff for her hospitality and our fascinating discussion. You can follow Alexandra on Instagram at @alexandragolovanoff and check out her collection of sweaters on her website alexandragolovanoff.com and in her shop at 5 rue de Varenne - 75007 Paris.
Photographs: Alexandre Moulard