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A picture of Elena Zaharova

Elena Zaharova

Designer, art director

in designer, fashion, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Elena Zaharova, designer and art director. I like to say that I design the offline world, as I develop visual experiences and concepts for retail stores, events, shows, installations and more. I used to dress window displays for a large chain of stores. I also created props for Science Slam, a cozy event where scientists explain the complexity of their work to the public, using props instead of slides. I made a brain model out of foam and helped a Boeing physicist explain the metal corrosion using an electric guitar and some sand over the soundbox.

My current project is for Natura Siberica, an organic skincare company, based in Russia and sold worldwide. As a creative director, I'm leading the launch of their new cosmetic brand. With an awesome team, we develop a whole new story from the very beginning - products, brand identity and a lot of other stuff.

I run a small fashion shop, Figura, where I design, sew and sell women's clothes. It's my way of balancing the concept design with a more hands-on kind of job. My favorite part is definitely the patterning. I do it on paper in a very old-school way. Patterning seems to be one of the most "stable" technologies ever - I can literally sew a dress by 19th century's pattern and it will work just fine, while my partner complains about JavaScript framework changes weekly.

What hardware do you use?

I work on a 2013 MacBook Pro Retina 13". It's old (relatively), good and reliable. I'd love to switch to a newer (and lighter) model of MacBook, if it wasn't for the keyboard issues. I like to use the hardware as long as possible and rarely go for upgrades. Recently I've upgraded my iPhone 5 (yes!) to an iPhone XR.

I read a lot, and last summer moved from an iPad Mini to a Kindle Paperwhite. I keep the iPad for PDFs, mostly for my collection of vintage dressmaking and fashion books.

Sewing requires two machines, for straight and overlocking stitches. I have a Singer 4423 machine, one of the best for advanced home sewing. It's heavy, which prevents the machine from jumping. My serger is a Brother 1034D. This type of machines uses 3 or 5 threads at the same time (compared to two in a straight stitch machine) and the trickiest part is to balance the thread tension. In terms of that, this model is one of the best so far. It's so good that I moved it across continents in a carry-on bag, and been using it with a voltage adapter ever since.

I have an adjustable mannequin that allows change sizes from small to large. I could only dream of this expensive model, when I found it on a curb on my way home in Brooklyn. A new model with a price tag and a thin layer of dust, it had never been used. Such a typical New York experience! As well as my serger, I moved it in a carry-on through Atlantic, confirming with TSA through Twitter.

When it comes to decor projects, I can't live without a glue gun and a Knuff knife (10mm blade). My favorite sewing scissors are the original Fiskars 8 inches.

I have a Sony a5000 camera with a kit 16-50mm f3.5 lens. I separate the iPhone and camera photography not by quality, but by the experience. I tend to shoot daily stuff with the iPhone like instagram pictures of breakfast and other silly things, but use the camera for photo walks and a full dive into looking around and catching some moments.

I always carry a pack of reusable stuff with me, a Swell bottle, a foldable cup, spork (was bought for camping in Iceland but happened to be good for everyday life too) and a Baggu bag.

I ride a STRiDA, which looks like a circus bike but is really comfortable, foldable and easily goes in a checked baggage on any flight. I have a STRiDA shoulder bag for travelling, and since the bike weighs less than 25 lbs, I usually use the rest of the allowed weight for my clothes. I've upgraded the saddle to a leather Brooks and have no discomfort, even when riding from Brooklyn to Uptown Manhattan regularly. My helmet is a Bern in black with cream stripes (which I personally consider the most stylish helmet that passed all crushed tests and costs less than $100). I did quite a lot of research before buying a black helmet, considering it's warmer than a white one, but I survived two New York summers and suffered the heat no more than usual.

And what software?

iA Writer is my fav app for writing. I use it mostly for blogging and other personal editorials. I use Google Drive for work stuff. Dropbox is for keeping my personal docs in order. My backups are on Backblaze, plus Time Machine on an external hard drive. I love Readymag for presentations — it's the best way to quickly execute some ideas for clients' projects. My blog and website are powered by WordPress with custom themes.

I have dozens of lists in Notes and have quite a system there. My main lists are To Watch & Read, To Do (two different, personal and work related), Recipes and Addresses. The last one is the collection of extra info about the places I usually visit, so I never need to call friends and ask the apartment number to be buzzed in.

I use 1Password for passwords, credit cards and important notes on both desktop and mobile. This app is really a life changing experience.

I use Lightroom for photo editing. Even iPhone shots. The first thing to love about Lightroom is their amazing perspective autocorrection. For Instagram posting, I prefer VSCO. The interface isn't the best (and they tend to change it too often), but the result is really nice. I shoot a lot, but since it's just a hobby, I came up with a few rules to keep it uncomplicated and effortless. I shoot JPEG not RAW, delete the originals and sort the pics regularly. All pictures go in a desktop folder called "unedited", and once the season ends I go through the files in Lightroom. In my photo library I have a folder for every season or a special event starting with year, like 2019 Summer or 2019 Spain Trip. Besides Backblaze and Time Machine, I backup full size pics with Google Photos.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be an industrial Juki machine. It's fixed to a special table and should come with a stable lifestyle which I can't spare for now. Although my current working table already is the biggest furniture item in the apartment, I'd love to have an even bigger sewing & cutting surface. I'm also dreaming of a professional steam ironing station. Basically, it's a regular iron plus a bucket of water underneath, looking monstrously big and made extra heavy on purpose. So again, all of that is in conflict with my lifestyle.

I'm thinking of buying a 50mm f1.8 lens for my camera to shoot more portraits and fashion for Figura. I would also like to collect a full set of power tools, like drills, saws, grinders, etc. But maybe I better organize the neighbors to have a communal tool box.