bob basset leather mask a mutable world
Talking to Sergey Petrov, co-founder & artist of BOB BASSET, is like visiting an out-of-this-world reality – or maybe taking a quick glance into the near future, who knows? 🕯
Petrov’s outlook on his life’s work is unique & kind of touching. For him, inspiration should be as free as his creations – maybe that’s why he transitions from global references to deep aspects of his roots in a split second. Mixing the romanticism & melancholy from Ukraine’s Executed Renaissance of the 20s/30s with modern rave culture, Petrov defines the wisdom of Bob Basset’s natural habitat: techno-romanticism culture.
More than a movement, it’s a philosophy on romanticizing the power of technology thru art + juxtaposing the warmth of nature with the coldness of steel-made engines. Basically, the badass cousin of steampunk.
Petrov’s way to bring that philosophy to life is to craft with natural materials – mostly leather – to create futuristic gas masks & innovative accessories. For him, the legendary fabric (that’s been around since the stone age) carries the whole history of human evolution and deserves the utmost respect. And, he demonstrates that respect through every step of the process. First, by guaranteeing the ethical origin of his leather of choice (it’s always a product of animal husbandry). Then, by letting the material guide his work: every design comes to mind from a burst of creativity, but it’s the never-the-same aspect of leather that shapes the unexpected final pieces. Petrov lets the raw material distort the initial idea to see where it takes him – and it’s usually somewhere worth seeing.
Combine that praising attitude toward leather with his endless will to experiment with technology, plus his curiosity for finding new techniques every once in a while, and you get the most original pieces you've ever seen. The perfect blend for creating your own reality, traveling from past to future, or just diving into the imaginary.
Is Bob Basset a portal into some parallel universe or a time traveler revealing, piece by piece, our near future? Only time (and maybe this exclusive) will tell.
Get in the mood for reading every answer of our interview with Sergey Petrov, co-founder & creator of Bob Basset, by listening to the exclusive playlist he sent us. 🔮
Bob Basset · METCHA
Beyond innovation, you wanna provoke amazement with never-before-seen forms of expression. In what ways does your Ukrainian background inspire these bold aspirations?
From the very beginning, we've set high goals. We were driven by acting as a brand of the world and didn’t strive to become famous only in Ukraine. Therefore, talking about the influence, I’d say it’s more global. However, demonstrations of 2014 (Euromaidan) brought my self-awareness as a Ukrainian. Then, I asked myself what self-determination I want to have for myself and my children. Kharkiv (my hometown and where I work) inspires me with an enormous spirit of romanticism that arose between the 1920s and early 1930s. On the one hand, it was a sad period of our history (called the Executed Renaissance), but at the same time, there was a strong, flourishing culture. Speaking of visual codes, I would like to highlight constructivism in architecture, which is important for the city’s look. These days I draw inspiration from the masquerades reflection that transferred to modern rave culture.
How does Ukraine’s leather production influence your relationship with the material? Walk us thru your craftsmanship process.
There is leather production in Ukraine, but the geographical origin of the material has never been important for me. Ethical origin — yes, it’s important. For our items, we only use leather that is a product of animal husbandry. I look for the material with expected quality characteristics. A small part of leather that we use was made in Ukraine, sometimes Belarus, sometimes Italy, even once Africa.
"Back in 2001, we found paternal leather cuts that were issued for a Soviet officer’s ceremonial boots. We made a series of items from them. The process always starts with an idea and it can be inspired by anything."
Due to the fact that I have been doing this for a very long time, the visual image is compiled from the vast experience that I have. In my head, I synthesize a huge amount of details, materials, familiar decisions. Something comes out of this synthesis that I want to see in real life. The main privilege of my work is that I can take a certain object from a world of ideas, manufacture it, and see it in reality.
Because I can combine various processes and understand the production technology, it’s not hard for me to create a technological map. Next, I choose a leather type, creative process, and everything else depends on the material. It can distort the idea very much. Sometimes, you'll find a new method which is more interesting and newer. The leather develops the idea with its naturalness and heterogeneity. It’s a natural material and no two pieces are ever the same. Of course, there is so-called high-quality leather without traces of the animal’s life, but it’s not so interesting to work with. Everything is becoming too predictable and monotonous. Then, we get used to it and the process no longer evokes that stream of emotions. Humans constantly look for emotions and novelty. All of my objects are formed strictly upon contact with a material. I don’t make primary sketches because of the belief that tools have a greater influence on the result. Therefore, each of my items has such a clear and traceable visual difference from everything that we see every day.
When did you realize that exploring your competencies so deeply would create such complicated & nonconformist ideas like these masks & other state-of-the-art designs?
The studio was founded in 1989. In 2001, we made products for sex shops. There were no other manufacturers for that industry in the Ukrainian market. Foreign products were expensive and difficult to get. We made objects that people liked. At some point, masks were born out of the whole spectrum. But it’s interesting that throughout all of our activities, there has always been an idea that we would create something great. And it’s true. I think if we didn’t believe in that, we would never have achieved what we achieved. We wanted to create something that didn't exist yet. Despite the poverty, the inability to afford the materials, we had the goal. Along with the NYT Fashion Magazine publication came the first realization that we really achieved it. At some point, I forbade myself from any alternative thinking. As practice has shown, nothing happens as soon as I look for limits, permissions, and maneuvers. Only ambitious goals work for me. If it’s something global like "leave a mark in world aesthetics" — this works. To buy a car, a house, save up some money — these are definitely not the goals that resonate with me.
The result of all of that intense work is wearable leather art. What is it about leather that combines functional aspects with the capacity to amaze?
Leather is one of the first materials that became available to humans. It accompanies the entire history of our existence.
"It’s a symbol of trophy, wealth, and many other things that have been fixed in our consciousness for thousands of years."
In addition, this is a material that we perceive as a reward, a kind of timeless luxury. Leather is an amazing material that is admired for its naturalness and technical properties. It has amazing elasticity. Not every material allows you to perform such a range of actions. Hence the demand and desire for it.
Steampunk style is very present in your work, from the aesthetics to the inventive use of tech. In what way is incorporating leather into your pieces a way to stay true to this culture?
Leather is a material that looks natural in Victorian aesthetics. I'm absolutely certain that the connotation of "steampunk gas mask" belongs to me. I don’t remember the exact year, but at the time on eBay there were about 700 items with the word "steampunk" and when I added the two words "gas mask" — it started. Therefore, I would say with some confidence that we had an unconditional influence on the culture of the steampunk mask. I see thousands of quotes on our objects, can see people who copy our lines and those who continue to develop ideas that are in the past for us. We were the founders of the culture of the steampunk gas mask. Therefore, it’s difficult for me to say how steampunk aesthetics affected our masks. I am inclined to assert that we influenced that world just as much. Once sci-fi writer William Gibson called our mask "probably the single best steampunk object I've seen."
At some point, steampunk became a mass phenomenon. There were people who suddenly decided that they knew what steampunk looks like, while others didn’t. Then I realized that, unfortunately, steampunk becomes stagnant. Any overused, over-claimed phenomenon is a thing of the past. Remaining within the frame of someone’s expectations isn’t interesting to anyone. These days we work in the genre of techno-romanticism. It celebrates the human need to transform reality through the synthesis of new senses. It's also followed by the romanticization of both: the final image and the process of its creation. Thus, in my understanding, steampunk is a case of techno-romanticism.
On what level does this mix of past + future from techno-romanticism influence your search for cutting edge & classic techniques to apply to your leatherwork?
While I’m curious on every level, when working with leather, I try to discover brand new methods that I can learn about and constantly experiment with. This is a way to make the operation easier and faster.
How do you relate the timeless feel of your pieces to your naturally appreciative approach to leather?
I think it's awesome to create things out of time. The best art is timeless. I like to work with leather, turning sheets of the material into objects over time is my greatest desire.
And when it comes to the future, how do you think this unique combination of leatherwork + techno-romantic philosophy represents the world you're envisioning?
When creating an object, I see the world around it and this is not necessarily our future, the world in which these objects exist and are logical and understandable. Very often, the object affects its universe, which is different for everyone. Hence our slogan — real thing of surreal worlds.
In this future you’re creating, how do you see these wearable art pieces working for sustainability?
Due to the fact that my items are timeless, they can be participants in both the distant future and the present. They make their universes real, revive them, and allow you to touch them. As a result, you will receive your own unique world, experiences, and feelings. My masks allow you to enter these adaptable worlds. Your individual world associated with my mask may be radically different, but they’re adaptive, I guarantee that.
"I сreate masks that encourage people to extend their understanding of reality and force them to look for new meanings."
In some way, I urge to vary the masks that we used to wear every day, and nowadays it's not meant figuratively.
Check out more about Bob Basset's collections right here and click here to buy their wearable art.
& for more [metcha originals], don't hesitate.