Whether it be relocating from St Petersburg to Sydney alone as a teenager, transitioning from a corporate finance career to designing her own line of contemporary fine jewellery, ALINKA, or using the COVID winter to start ocean open swimming, Alina Barlow has made it her life’s mission to be open to change. From her sleek, contemporary home, Alina told us about the wardrobe staples she still shares with her mother to this day, how getting older has helped her to be wary of the harsh Australian sun, the soothing factor of tidying her makeup collection, and, most importantly, why remaining open to the challenges life throws her way continues to be the key to her growth and happiness, even if it’s hard to see it that way at the time.
“I grew up in St Petersburg during the time of the Soviet Union.
It feels like a lifetime ago now, but life in the USSR during the ‘80s and early ‘90s was difficult. The country was mired in huge political, economic, and social turmoil, and that had massive consequences on its citizens. Amidst this backdrop, I was fortunate to have a wonderful family and incredible female role models, particularly in my mother and grandmother: two very stoic, strong, and independent women. They influenced me significantly and shaped my development.
I was determined from a very early age to be independent, and saw education as a gateway to financial freedom and travel.
Like my mother, I studied Economics in St Petersburg. I had some grasp of the English language but was keen to improve it, so when I was 19 I applied to the University of Sydney to continue my studies. I had never been to Australia but I had this fascination with the country from reading travel books and literature (this was pre-internet!)
Arriving in Sydney wasn’t the easiest time; I didn’t know a single person and I was far away from family and friends, but it was an incredible experience. It made me stronger and once you conquer a challenge you feel invincible! Australia, and Sydney in particular, have become my home.
Life is challenging and unexpected but that is part of what makes it wonderful, so I try and embrace whatever uncertainty is thrown my way.
After university I trained as a chartered accountant; I am a person who likes to maintain a balanced and rational outlook. I try to always remember that nothing is insurmountable, even though it is easy to sometimes feel that’s not the case. I’ve learnt that being out of your comfort zone can reap huge benefits. My overall approach to dealing with problems is that a good night’s sleep makes a world of difference, as it enables me to think more clearly, and that a swim in the ocean is the best antidote to brain freeze.
It’s good to be pragmatic, but you can’t let it get in the way of life experience, which is even more important.
I have always been fascinated with jewellery and design, and I always wanted to run my own business and be independent. I spent a number of years working in the CBD for an international financial services firm, and while I loved the world of commerce, I eventually realised that instead of looking at clients’ balance sheets, I’d rather be managing my own.
I think it is important not to be a passenger in life, but to be in the driver’s seat and determine the direction you go in. It was only after I had children that I found the level of confidence I needed to start my own business. Ultimately when I made the decision to start working for myself, it came down to not having a good enough reason not to do it!
My favourite part of my work now is definitely the creative side. I love the buzz that comes when you’re bursting with creative ideas and those first flutters of inspiration.
I get so easily inspired by travel and a change of environment. That said, running a business entails so many different skills and ultimately it all starts and ends with the business owner. I find that to be truly creative I need to be in the right headspace, which can be both time and energy consuming, but sometimes there are other more mundane priorities that you have to deal with (be they invoices, or dealing with legal and drier matters). These are just as critical, and you have to be across all of these aspects.
I am immensely proud of my business and what we have been able to achieve over the past six years. We work hard but we also like to have fun! Designing and buying jewellery is instinctual: I believe it has to resonate and it has to feel right.
I start my mornings with yoga or meditation; they always put me in the right frame of mind.
I started meditating eight years ago after I did a course on it. The simplicity of it resonated with me: there is so much noise in the world, and we are often over-stimulated when it comes to our senses, so teaching myself to switch off was really important. I now try and put aside 20 minutes a few times a week for meditation and find this has been great in helping me prioritise what’s important and reprogram myself if I am particularly stressed.
My skin has definitely faced extremes, from the blisteringly cold and harsh winters of St Petersburg, to the similarly damaging strong sun that is so pervasive in Australia.
However, whether I am in cold or warm weather, I moisturise daily, and have become religious about never leaving the house without SPF. I think, like most people, that as I’ve gotten older I have come to view my relationship with sun differently. I now try and stay out of the sun, always seek the shade, wear a hat: all the things my mother would advise me to do.
I make sure I do a mask twice a week, and for me, that’s Rationale #1 The Mask. Usually I do it while having a bath; it’s a bit of me time, and an opportunity to zone out and relax.
My favourite beauty product is Lanolips.
Having grown up in St Petersburg, I have a particular affinity to snow and magical white winters, but it’s also a city where the average temperature during winter is in the negatives, and it often gets to -10C! I was an early fan of Lanolips 101 Ointment and find it is the only thing to help combat the harsh Russian winters, as well as the strong Aussie summers. I carry one in every handbag and it’s my little bit of Australia that accompanies me every time I go home to Russia.
Slightly less practical products I love include Tom Ford Soleil Blanc Shimmering Body Oil, Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Foundation, Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow (especially her palettes for smokey eyes) and Pillow Talk lipstick, and Chanel Rouge Coco Gloss in 804.
My hair is best described as high maintenance blonde, ha!
I have been going to Belinda at La Boutique in Double Bay for years and she’s great at managing my hair, which is quite fine. I also love Joh Bailey’s blowdries, which are great for a special occasion.
ALINKA is an extension of my personality. I love mixing and matching and creating a maximalist look. The Riviera Diamond Necklace and the Dasha Large Diamond Ear Cuff are two of my all-time favourites.
A fitted blazer is a key item for me. I regularly swap mine with my mother, who is incredibly stylish, and am destined to repeat the same pattern with my daughter. Is there anything more chic than a little black jacket from Chanel? I also like a party dress – something fun and vibrant – and some of my favourites are from David Koma, Alexandre Vauthier, and Rebecca Vallance.
I love a good heel and could walk a mile in those by Gianvito Rossi.
And you always need a good pair of Nikes or Golden Goose sneakers, both super comfortable, as there’s nothing like exploring a new destination on foot. I love getting lost in the streets of a big city, so I need to be able to walk comfortably. I try and avoid the metro, unless you’re in Moscow, where the underground is a bastion of art and neo-classical design inspiration!
I embrace ageing, though I do think you are only as young (or old!) as you feel.
I have always been curious about life, and I try to feed this curiosity through travel, reading, and maintaining a constant and consistent approach to learning. I also like to try new things that push me out of my comfort zone. In my own reading time, I’m currently going through the classics and reading them in English, rather than Russian as I did the first time around. My son is an avid reader, and we have a special evening ritual where we read together.
If I am looking for other ways to relax, it is usually a choice between either meditation or yoga, and if that fails, then I tidy! Keeping my beauty cabinet organised is very soothing.
Looking after myself stimulates my creativity.
I’ve always been quite active, but I’ve probably become more regimented about making time for exercise. I do yoga three times a week, and I try and mix this with some cardio. On an ideal morning I jog along Rose Bay, sprint up Heartbreak Hill, and down a cold glass of water as soon as I get home. When I am in the right frame of mind, there is nothing better. I probably should drink more water than I do, so I’ve bought this great water bottle from Healthish. It sets a target of how much water you should consume every hour and if you follow it, you get your daily intake of 2.7 litres.
I also love to go swimming in the open ocean down at Bondi. I started doing this with a friend during winter last year, and it was soul affirming. Once the sharpness of the cold subsides, I feel so alive and it is a great way to set yourself up for the day.
I don’t take any supplements, as I’m a big believer in good health coming from good sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise. I try and get seven to eight hours of sleep a night and eat well, with a fairly clean diet.
My diet never involves anything too complicated. I love a good salad with quinoa, grains, and nuts and either a side of grilled chicken or steamed fish. Eating well in Australia is made easier because the produce is so fresh and largely local and seasonal. My parents used to grow their own fruits and vegetables, so I have an extra appreciation for that. I love wild raspberries and definitely adhere to the aphorism ‘an apple a day…’. I do have a sweet tooth, which I try my best to discipline, but I don’t beat myself up too much if I have a treat. I think all things are great in moderation. Well, maybe most things… just not diamonds!”