Harry Nuriev, interior designer, walks through the hotel lobby in the Stalin-era Moscow skyscraper where he is staying. There are dozens of golden columns, muscular 1930s sculptures, a guy playing a piano, and brutal-looking businessmen talking with wide, wary eyes. “It’s a really iconic Russian thing,” says Nuriev, gesturing grandly at the surroundings.
Nuriev founded his design bureau Crosby Studios in Moscow in 2014, and opened a New York branch three years later, but before that he grew up in the small town of Stavropol in the South of Russia. He was surrounded by iconic Russian things back then, too – although of another sort. Nuriev spent his childhood walking among car-tire lawn sculptures of swans, plastic flowers in planters, and gutters intricately decorated with metal figures.
“It’s like a huge library of images in my mind,” he says. He speaks slowly, as if flicking through them, but it’s probably just jet lag. With 40 projects in the air — designing restaurants in Moscow and New York, preparing the launch of a clothing and accessories brand My Reality – and 15 flights a month, it’s not hard to imagine why he’d be tired.
When Nuriev moved to the USA four years ago, he started to incorporate more Russian motifs and images from his childhood into his design. Demand grew. He has shown sculptures of decorated gutters at Design Miami and an installation of rubber swans at Dallas Contemporary; designed a flat using the traditional blue and white Gzhel porcelain pattern; and created an imaginary “Balenciaga” office with traditional Russian woodwork. “It’s strange that Russians don’t value their culture, while the rest of the world admires it. Other countries respect their heritage, but not mine,” he says. In Moscow, he made his name not with his childhood memories, but with color, designing monochromatic pink interiors at a time when every trendy interior was in black and white.
MARIA KOMAROVA: Your first pink interior looked like a candy kingdom, but wasn’t it kind of punk at that time?
HARRY NURIEV: Five years ago, when we started Crosby, bright interiors, pink rooms — it all seemed insane. But I started to use color in my projects and eventually got lots of compliments. And now color is everywhere and my bright, monochromatic approach became a style.
Does your use of Russian motifs make you punk in the US?
I feel very special in the States because I’m Russian. And I’m so grateful for this difference. Our culture was hidden for years — no one knew what it was. In the States, Russia is Rudolf Nureyev or Mikhail Baryshnikov if you are very well educated. If not, it’s something about Brighton Beach, vodka, and bears.
You reference Russia in the 1990s a lot, aren’t you into the 2000s?
I don’t think it’s time yet to talk about the 00s. My most crazy time was in the 90s. There’s a great movie called Mid90s about skater boys in LA. Strangely enough it resembles my childhood in Stavropol. I mean, LA is LA, but my small Russian city has a similar identity. It’s a town of low, one-family houses with no center; you have to drive, and it’s surrounded by lots of nature.
Do you visit Stavropol often?
Not really. A couple of times a year. Last time, I introduced my boyfriend Tyler [Billinger] to my family.
Was it your coming out to your family?
No. I called and told them I’m in love and it’s a boy. And surprisingly, they were super positive: they wanted to meet him, and actually I think they loved him more than they love me. My father said that we’ll be his two little boys. Which is crazy for a Russian family, which can sometimes be homophobic.
Does Tyler get your culture?
I think he likes raw Russian culture, and I’m kind of a bridge for him between Russia and America. Of course I showed him not only the fancy side of Russia, but the dirty things as well. We were at the infamous Sadovod market with fake clothes, and I showed him dirty restaurants.
Our relationship is about two different cultures, and two different attitudes. Our brand, My Reality, which we’re making together, is about that. The first collection will be based on my memories of small Russian towns and Tyler’s memories from the West Coast and San Francisco, where he grew up.
So now you are into Tyler’s SF memories, and he is into yours. But is it possible to feel another culture on a deep level?
It depends if you are into it or not. Of course you need a bridge. But I don’t think it’s really hard to get Russia. However, Moscow and NY are two different worlds, with different values. New Yorkers can drive an outdated car and dress cheaply, but be well-educated and have a positive bank balance. They don’t have to compensate. Russians are all about compensation, and it’s sickening to watch people live outside their means. Americans don’t have a sense of paranoia. They trust you just because you have an idea and you wanna share it with the world. To live in a country with no paranoia is very convenient, after living in a country where everyone thinks that you need something from them. For startups and young people, it’s really hard to build a voice in Russia because they always face closed doors. Eventually, you just give up and became a very angry person.
Let’s focus on sexiness, not on anger. Your interiors look very sexy.
This is my main filter: whether something is sexy or not. If it’s not sexy, it doesn’t work. So if you wanna make love in my room, that’s good.
- PhotographyAntonina Zharko
- StylistNastya Klychkova
- HairYohey Nakatsuka
- Interview and TextMaria Komarova