Alex Florov, son of Nicolay and Tatyana, was born in Moscow on April 22, 1969. He came by his talent for engineering and design, as they used to say in the old days, "honestly". His father was an aircraft designer, his mother was a helicopter engineer and his grandfather, Ilia Florov, designed the first bi-plane fighter with no wires or struts between the wings. Ilia's initial prototype, code named "N-7221", was created in 1937 and continued in development through several phases as the "I-207" until the German Invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
Alex's love for wood, as well as his affinity for design and spatial relationships, manifested at a very early age and his parents encouraged him to begin to build model aircraft. At first, this was simple assembly of kits, but Alex's talents soon outstripped that avenue and he began to create models entirely from scratch. The next step was entering model competitions. Alex's 1/48th scale entrants won on the combination of extreme detail and exacting ratios, right down to onboard fire extinguishers. Alex also excelled at flying models, once creating a glider with an eight foot wingspan, and a depth of wing of roughly six inches. It was only a matter of time until a renowned master furniture restorer noticed Alex and tapped him to go to work restoring expensive, private collections. It was Alex's job to create new legs, feet, claws, handles (etc) to replace damaged ones, and to do so in such a manner that the replacement was virtually undetectable from the original. Suffice it to say that hand carving in painstaking detail, texturing, staining, and exhibiting a profound understanding of the limits of a piece of wood were well in place, long before the man tried his hand at pipes.
Alex began to smoke pipes as a teenager, sticking with the low grade, store bought varieties that were both available in Moscow at the time, and within his student's budget. Alex entered medical school and met the love of his life, Vera. It was about then that an interesting series of events took place that would forever alter Alex's life. Vera's family decided to move to USA and Vera had to join them. There was no way that Alex would let her go there without him. In Alex Florov's own words, "It did not matter where she would go, I would have followed her until the ends of the earth".
Alex and Vera settled down in the Chicago area in 1992 and Alex went to work as an Industrial Design model maker. Both Alex and his father-in-law shared a passion for smoking pipes, and the latter gave Alex a pipe made of fruitwood, and encouraged him to make a couple of them on his own. Alex happily complied and, in the process, a new "itch" was born. After some searching, Alex found the Chicagoland Pipe Collector's Club and met up with the right man at the right time. That man was Rex Poggenphol, and the time was Florov's first Chicago pipe show. Through Rex, Alex met Danish master Tom Eltang as well as Mimmo, a purveyor of outstanding briar. Stunned by the high grades that he encountered, as well as the possibilities that he saw in Mimmo's briar, Alex pushed right past the "do it yourself", pre-drilled kits and started the process of making his own pipes, start to finish. Alex's initial sales took place in two places. The first was from readers of a Russian pipe smoking forum. His native Russian and prices that were competitive in their mid to high grade market made that a natural starting point. The other jumping off point of his sales were with the gents who helped get him started in hand carved pipes, the men of the Chicagoland Pipe Club.
Alex's approach to shaping a pipe was (and is) quiet different from many pipe makers. For starters, he faces off a block of briar to analyze exactly what position the briar needs to be in to yield a straight grain for a given shape in his head. From there, a milling machine goes into action, and smoothly cuts the block closer to the pipe that is in process of being born. Rather than handle the reduced block, and moving it around saws and sanders, Florov keeps the briar fairly "static" and moves himself around the briar, knocking off pieces that are covering his design underneath with chisels (later with files). The critical point here is that Alex works with his briar in a manner that would be more associated with that of a sculptor. And sculpting requires a far different mindset and perspective, and yields different results than the traditional approach that is carving.
Alex admires the work of a myriad of pipe makers that range from Bo Nordh, to Hiroyuki Tokutomi, to Tonni Nielsen. While the inspiration for his shapes are both profound and varied, his principle muses are flowers and things aquatic. Long before Alex goes to work on a shape, the seeds of the form have been thoroughly wrestled with in his mind. The second that shape "crystallizes", Alex reaches for anything close to sketch it. This cool quirk has resulted in pipe designs that have been sketched on napkins, post-it notes, envelopes, and note pads of every possible variety. Alex's wife, Vera, relates that one time an idea hit Alex while they were both on a ski lift. She knows her man well enough that inside her ski jacket, a pad and pen were waiting. Alex might go through fifteen to twenty sketches before the shape appears satisfactory (on paper). Once a pipe is in physical process, the entire Florov family is "in process", and that pipe stays very close to Alex until he is finished. If the initial shaping isn't exactly right, Alex will carry the pipe into different rooms of the house, looking at it out of the corner of his eye from time to time, until what the pipe wants reveals itself. This has led to some humorous extremes, such as the time that a Volcano Ramses "slept" on Alex and Vera's nighstand for weeks.
Alex is a pipe sculpter that has the full loving support of his family. Perhaps Vera says it best, "Our life is around pipes. Everyone knows that if dad is happy - it's a pipe. If dad is angry - it's a pipe. If there is a storm, we (me and kids) can not leave the house. 'I can not work when you are not home', Alex has to remind us every time". His eldest daughter has helped him name pipes, and Alex's highest grade, the Elephant, is named in honor of his father-in-law. Vera's Father is named Anatoly Slonim. "Slon" is Russian for "elephant", and is also Anatoly's nick name. "Elephant" as a top grade was just a "natural".
From a loving home that encouraged talent in Moscow, to a loving home that does the same in Chicago. Life has a grand way of working out.