Alexandra Koukinova is to me a kindred spirit. Her love of literature and passion for antiquity are rivaled only by her love of life and her passion for her fellow creatures.
BY HEATHER MELEDIN
Source: December/January 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 58-60
Koukinova, who grew up in the Soviet Union, experienced a happy childhood. Her parents and grandmother surrounded her with cultured, free-thinking people. She gained an appreciation for theater, cinema, painting and literature that later would be expressed through her dolls. "My grandmother taught me to like reading, and has made me a book gourmet," she says. "We discussed books we'd read or something we saw in the theater or the cinema for hours."
At a young age, Koukinova began to draw and sew dresses for dolls.
She also began to study books of fashion throughout history. After finishing school, Koukinova and her family began to discuss what she should do with her life. "One idea has prevailed in my family," she says. "They felt I should be a biologist and follow in my mother's footsteps. But a lot of my grandma's friends said that my drawings were very interesting, that I had a feeling for color and I did not need to be en-gaged in science at all." In 1983, when she was 19, Koukinova's life changed dramatically. Her happy and carefree existence ended when her mother died and she began studies at a theatrical institute.
Koukinova began to study for the profession of the artist-technologist of a scene. The curriculum at the institute included studying 11 to 15 subjects each semester. "We studied history of art, history of Russian and foreign theater, dramatic art, history of costume, Russian and foreign literature and theatrical-decorative art and painting," she says. "We also studied mechanical engineering and architectural plotting, resistance of materials, physics, equipment of a scene, technology of construction of scenery and theatrical light." In addition, students made prototypes of theatrical scenery and studied economy and management of a theater.
This intense training prepared Koukinova and her fellow students for their future profession. "Since the first year at the institute," she says, "we were involved in the theater and workshops. In our last year of education, we were quite the experts and ready for real work." It was during the fall of communism in Russia that Koukinova entered the theater. "In 1988," she says, "in our country old traditions fell quietly but there were no new traditions yet." Theater workers were underpaid, and as a result were not concerned with accuracy and attention to detail in scenery and costumes.
Koukinova began to create dolls in the breaks between theater performances. "My folders were full of the non-realized sketches of costumes to never-realized performances," she says. "So I sewed my first rag doll." By studying books of Russian national clothes, Koukinova began to recreate these costumes for her dolls. "Beauty and variety of our grandmothers' clothes impressed me," she says, "and I was dumbstruck by the striking discrepancy of clothes used by our 'national' dance ensembles in theater scenes."
After five years, Koukinova and her first husband were able to leave the theater through the help of her father. "My pa rescued us," she says. "He opened one of the first cooperative societies in Moscow and got rather great money." Cooperative societies were created when the Russian government began to allow private persons to open small, private companies. As a result, the Alexandra Company was born.
The Alexandra Company today consists of a staff of 70 people and produces a collection of 12 to 20 limited edition dolls each year. Koukinova's second husband, Eugene, came to the company as a student and is now one of its directors. And her sister, Anastassia, is "the face of the Alexandra Company in America," Koukinova says. "Anastassia receives dolls through customs," she continues, "communicates with all dealers and dispatches doll orders, works on exhibitions and goes to shows. She also does all the paperwork, gives advertising orders and buys and sends to Moscow anything that is necessary. And she seriously studies mathematics at Columbia University!"
During its 10-year existance, the Alexandra Company has faced many difficulties. The company has moved five times in 10 years. It also imports slip porcelain, which is water mixed with clay that is used to make porcelain parts of dolls, from America because slip is not made in Russia. And Russian customs charge three or more times the price of slip to import and ship it into Russia. Koukinova does not let these obstacles get her down. "All of these difficulties do not prevent me from feeling great pleasure from what I do," she says. "And I consider myself to be a very happy person, as I live among people who share my opinion of life. And, as far as the struggle with difficulties, you see, it unites the people always."
Russian theater, literature and painting are a source of inspiration for Koukinova 's dolls. She is particularly interested in the Silver Century of Russian art. "A wonderful period of bloom for Russian literature," according to Koukinova, the Silver Century produced works of literature by Blok, Bunin, Turgenev and Chekhov, and paintings by Vrubel, Borisov and Musatov.
When asked about her hobbies, Koukinova responded, "What hobby? I simply do not have time for it. And furthermore, my job and hobby in general coincide." After a moment, she corrects herself, "I have hobbies. It is my apartment, my flowers, which I communicate with when I come home, and my animals. I love my home. I help my husband upholster furniture. And I have a small collection of ancient bags, buttons and Russian costumes and headdresses of hand-made linen with hand embroidery."
"I have two dogs and a cat," Koukinova continues. "Each one was found outdoors at different times. The boxer has lived with me for 10 years. The other dog is a mongrel my husband and I found two years ago. And the cat, Sonja, was a tiny kitten four years ago. She cried so desperately in the street on Christmas night that we heard her from the fourth floor!"
Koukinova feels that making dolls is her destiny. She hopes that her dolls will continue to bring happiness to others. "I hope so much," she says, "that my dolls please people and distract them from their problems. I hope to help them return to their childhood. The dolls' world is a fairy tale."