Fashion is an unfortunate career choice during troubled times: it requires big investment, reliable infrastructure and a commitment to strict industry deadlines. This is perhaps why hardly any of the new east countries have produced a substantial amount of new fashion designers in the last decade — apart from Ukraine. Creating collections in the middle of economic and political havoc takes a lot of passion and stubbornness, and that’s exactly what these designers have got.
The new vanguard of Kiev talent came into the spotlight just after the revolution in 2014 as the whole world wanted to make sense of what was happening on Maidan Nezalezhnosty. Fashion might be far removed from the reality of the barricades, but in contemporary Ukrainian culture the personal and political seem to go hand in hand. Collections bear the fragments of Kiev and Ukraine’s recent turmoil, the designers’ heritage and hopes for the future. Ukrainian designers don’t need to invent an identity for themselves, they proudly wear it on their sleeves, which may be the true secret of their growing recognition in the world. Here are ten designers from Kiev to watch out for.
Lilia Litkovskaya set up her label in 2009. The idea of duality is key to her work: whether it’s the concept of gender binary, contrasting materials and silhouettes, or, as in her most recent collection, Carousel 4.20, the opposition of east and west. In this collection the designer uses the image of girls dressing up as geishas to go raving to address the way Japanese aesthetics are perceived in the West. Litkovskaya’s signature is statement coats: oversized geometric garments made of tailored hard fabric with the boldness of brutalist architecture.
Probably the most internationally renowned Ukrainian designer, Anton Belinskiy was nominated for the prestigious LVHM prize in 2015. Oversized jackets evoking 90s tracksuit tops which he presented to the jury in Paris were proudly adorned with what seemed to be the slogan of today’s Ukrainian youth: Poor But Cool. The Spring Summer 2016 collection followed suit with bold colours, loose-fitting silhouettes, collage-like approach and slogans — this time drawing inspiration from Joseph Beuys’s statement that “Everyone is an artist”.
Yulia Yefimchuk creates minimal workwear-style pieces which look very contemporary, but also smartly repurpose Soviet heritage. The latest collections explore both the utopian dream of colonising Mars and the traumatic history of the Berlin Wall (she even based her print on Dmitry’s Vrubel’s iconic graffiti My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love). Yefimtchuk works with strong colours — mainly red, black and white and geometric shapes.
The Ksenia Schnaider label was set up by Ukrainian fashion designer Ksenia Marchenko and Russian graphic designer Anton Schneider. Anton is responsible for the label’s signature camouflage prints and Ksenia for the clothing design. The duo is inspired by the uniformity of workwear, which adds a rough edge to their otherwise feminine style, working a lot with new technologies: creating a digital atelier or designing a pixelated version of traditional Ukrainian flower embroidery. The label is also one of the first in Eastern Europe to be represented and sold in Asia, appearing as part of the recent Chengdu Fashion Week in China.
The only designer creating menswear among the emerging talents, Sasha Kanevski established his eponymous brand in 2010. He combines sharp tailoring and smart functionality, with anatomical cuts, transformable details and high-tech materials, to create a very contemporary urban feel. He designs both for men and women, and lots of his garments could easily be unisex. He channels the new rebellious spirit of raving Kiev, but with a global appeal.
Minimalist Svetlana Bevza is the perfect designer for a post-Celine combination of comfort and style. Her work is characterised by purity, monochrome, clean lines and a graphic cut, sometimes with a subtle use of print. One of her brand’s key garments is the white dress - a must-have and a symbol of purity in its approach to design.
Anna October’s designs are deliberately feminine, sometimes to an extent which is often not appreciated in contemporary fashion. She uses flower patterns, gold and silver, even shiny tinsel but in a way that takes these out of the rank of tasteless clichés. Her signature is oversized flared tops and dresses with open shoulders — a playful yet strong design.
Kostya Omelya is no stranger to bold statements: one of his bestselling hits is a T-shirt dress adorned with pink feathers and huge print saying “RELAX”. He combines all things outrageous — pink, slogans, leopard print — with strong tailoring and voluminous silhouettes: perfect for garnering likes from the social media savvy audience.
A graduate of the prestigious Fashion MA course at Central Saint Martins in London, Masha Reva is not new to fashion: apart from her own collections, she’s been working on capsules with Ukrainian streetwear brand Syndicate since 2012. Her latest Syndicate collection is based on her illustrations: gems, a botanical garden, the word ВОЛЯ (Freedom) signifying Ukraine’s struggle for independence are all represented as elaborate prints. Fashion aside, Reva is also a very talented artist: a ten-year archive of her drawings is available on her website.
Behind LAKE is the designer duo Natalia Kamenska and Olesya Kononova, who have been working together since 2008. The brand’s signature is strong textures and voluminous silhouettes. The most recent collection features silk gowns and hypersized jumpsuits and trousers, hard workwear-inspired jackets and huge pieces of heavy fabric wrapped around the waist that hints at the Autumn/Winter 2015-6 collection by Comme des Garcons. Altogether, it creates an effortless mixture of comfort and sexuality.