For those in the know, Kiev has been home to a vibrant fashion scene, which flourished against all odds, for a number of years now. The designers who started a decade ago were up against challenges typical for an emerging fashion destination, such as lack of infrastructure and institutional support. After the revolution of 2014, one would have thought that fashion would no longer be on the agenda — but, on the contrary, it has become one of the tools for shaping the new future for the country. Kiev’s creative scene was galvanised in the urge to make a global statement. Three years on, life in Kiev is back to normal, and its designers are embacing this new sense of unity.
Ukrainian identity has always been important for the local fashion scene: post-revolution, blue and yellow frequently appeared on the catwalk, and the reworked national shirt vyshivanka has become one of the most successful style exports. Today it’s clear that the notions of belonging and history are not the only ones to confront — there is also Ukraine’s place in the global future. On the streets of Kiev, Ukrainian flags often flutter right next to the starred banners of the EU. Granted visa-free travel to Schengen countries this year, Ukrainians look towards the West with hope — albeit, just as the whole world is debating the very idea of Europe.
In any case, today the Ukrainian fashion scene has reached certain maturity. The designers are taking the world’s fashion capitals: Anton Belinsky, Paskal and Litkovskaya showcase in Paris, while Bevza just debuted in New York. The stories they tell are diverse as ever — from 1990s glitz to utilitarian workwear to elegant escapism — yet they make a common case for Ukraine as a style destination.
Anton Belinskiy’s latest inspiration is the material culture surrounding political power in Ukraine. It was the main topic the designer worked with for Ukraine’s pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale — and it continues in his SS 18 collection as he deconstructs the image of a prominent Ukrainian politician on an exotic holiday. Belinskiy turned the vision of corrupt luxury into a range of daring garments which are very close to his Kiev roots. A fur bikini is cut from old-fashioned fur hats worn by the Ukrainian elite. A tufted leather jacket mimics the texture of sofas in the waiting rooms of state ministries. The abundant print of orange marigolds refer to the city’s flower beds. For his presentation at Paris Fashion Week, Belinsky also collaborated with streetwear and art project Eurotic, reflecting on the possibility of Ukraine’s future as a part of united Europe.
Svetlana Bevza has always been a skilful minimalist, but for her brand’s New York Fashion Week debut this season she took her vision to a previously unseen finesse. The collection, titled “Fragile”, explores the dichotomy of fragility and strength in the harsh settings of the contemporary world. The coats were cut from transparent bubble wrap, and elastic bandages and exposed stomachs hinted subtly erotic vulnerability. Square shoulders, precise cuts and clean lines, in combination with jewellery made by Saskia Diez, altogether make up a contemporary look fit for any global capital. The collection’s key garment plays with the challenge and neurosis of city life — it was a bulletproof vest produced from gentle satin, at once elegant, strong and political.
For Spring/Summer 2018, Yulia Yefimtchuk continued her exploration of Soviet design heritage. Her main reference was the scientific magazine Technical Aesthetics published in the USSR since 1964: practical and methodically illustrated, it had its own precise and recognisable style in fonts, graphics and text. Yefimtchuk’s idea was to emphasise the beauty of the uniform, its practicality, and the paradoxical freedom it gives to the wearer. In red, black and khaki, the uniform at times also has a more fluid and feminine side, and featured mathematically perfect pleats.
Drag & Drop
For their third season, Drag and Drop’s sister duo Yulia and Anna Grazhdan work with the themes of subversive femininity and physical comfort. In their previous collections they used velvet, thick elastic lace and faux snake skin, but this time the game was more subtle: shades of beige nude, gentle stretch fabric and white denim adorned with Ukrainian table cloth lace. Drag and Drop’s design are sexual yet liberating, and always with a fair dose of irony and self-love. This time the sisters also added a slight air of mysticism with zodiac sign graphics.
Just in time for the epic return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Lilia Litkovskaya’s main inspiration for SS 18 was the cult figure of Laura Palmer. The image of Palmer is of course most often associated with cold transparent plastic, but Litkovskaya always prefers working with natural material — to achieve the shiny plastic effect, she uses lacquer-covered cotton. Shiny perforated coats, gentle transparent garments with weaved-in patterns and an abundance of red and white give the sense of mystery and fragility.
Anna October is the go-to designer for contemporary yet playful femininity. Her staples, such as statement dresses and gentle off-the-shoulder tops, are loved by the global fashion crowd — yet SS 18 for her was much more about art. October turned to art references which were the original foundation of her creativity: Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse and the transformative energy of colour. Bold shades of red, white and navy, and thin contrasting stripes are perfectly fit for a romantic escape. October even picked the destination: the Greek island of Hydra, adopted home for the world`s boheme since at 1950s.
Masha Reva has been working in fashion for a few years as an illustrator, printmaker and womenswear designer, and is also a graduate of the prestigious Central Saint Martins MA fashion course. For SS 18, she continues the integration of her drawings into physical garments. Her signature bold strokes become wearable through the technology of heat-pressing thermal film into the material. The result is instantly recognisable, and already much sought after. Thankfully, the new collection is going to be produced in collaboration with Ukrainian label Syndicate, and available worldwide.
With over 50 stockists globally, Paskal is definitely one of the most successful Ukrainian brands to date. Founder and designer Julie Paskal is an architecture graduate, and draws inspiration from shapes that surround us in daily life, both in the urban environment and in nature. In SS 18, she keeps experimenting with laser cutting, one of the brand’s trademarks. As whimsical as it could sound, Paskal’s laser cut flowers and curtain-like ruffles make up for bold and controlled, almost futuristic-looking pieces.
Showcased in Kiev’s botanical garden, amidst grand orangeries, lily ponds and exotic plants, Lake Studio’s SS 18 collection was a pleasure to behold. Designers Anastasia Riabokon and Olesya Kononova know how to work magic with silks and gentle sheer materials: the floating quietly radiant long dresses were the main focus of the collection. When it comes to decorative elements, the collection featured lace and subtle prints of marine life. Stocked at Moda Operandi and selling to a range of private clients, Lake Studio certainly has a successful future ahead of them.
The design duo of Ksenia and Anton Schnaider has always been good at creating memorable signature pieces: from digital camouflage prints to the ironic golden “corruption” embroidery on black velvet. Their new know-how is reworked sportswear — the designers reassemble track pants and sports jackets from existing vintage pieces — and denim. While not many designers in Ukraine work with denim, SS 18 under the label Ksenia Schnaider has it in numerous iterations: from shredded skirts and dresses to square-shoulder trench coats.
Ivan Frolov’s show in Kiev offered a thrilling possibility of time travel — and straight into the heart of outrageously flamboyant nightlife of early 2000s. The designer took over a former club, bringing back all the necessary tokens of hedonism: red and green lasers, catchy beats and (at times questionable) fabulousness of 2000s fashion. There were animal prints, sheer tight dresses, silk corsets and a lot of rhinestones. But the real jewel in the crown was the squad of Ukrainian top models from the era, who rocked the night gowns — the moment of true excessive glitz which still has its place in fashion.