IN THE FASHIONABLE WORLD OF UKRAINE SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. Over the past couple of years, there have been a lot of foreign publications dedicated to Ukrainian designers as never before - and it doesn't matter whether they appeared in the daring Dazed and Vice or the restrained Financial Times and New York Times. The headlines were very diverse - to match the occasion.
A team of Ukrainian designers went to Florence to represent their country at the Pitti Uomo - Pitti Guest Nation event. Anton Belinsky first won the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Prize, and then got to the final of, perhaps, the most famous competition in the world dedicated to young designers, LVMH. Ksenia Schneider came up with jeans that became iconic over the year - as a result, they got into every second review of the world street style. On the practical side, everything is also in order - Ukrainian brands can be found in stores all over the world: in Italian la Rinascente (WeAnnaBe), and in Nigerian Alana (Flow the Label), and in Korean 10 Corso Como Seoul (Ksenia Schnaider). We figure out how one person started all this and why politics has nothing to do with it.
The Anna October show this time took place in the House of Clothes, a breathtaking building with large windows. “I was looking for a spacious, bright space that would embody the strength and confidence of the brand,” says the designer.
From February 1 to February 5, Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days was held in Kiev - a local fashion week, starting on the eve of the main weeks of four world capitals. She turns six this year. During this time, a lot has changed, and most importantly - the political and economic situation in the country where it is taking place. It is striking not even that the event continues to exist, but how much it promoted Ukrainian fashion, becoming one of the main local events in the world. It can only be compared with the Stockholm week of seven years ago. Only if the latter became popular on the wave of interest in Scandinavian design and rose thanks to support from the state, then the excitement around Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days was born from the ambitions and irrepressible energy of one person - journalist and TV presenter Daria Shapovalova.
Launched in 2011, Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days marked the beginning of a new history of Ukrainian fashion. By that time, the country had already existed Ukrainian Fashion Week for fifteen years, which, by the way, still exists. It began, however, after the rest of the weeks, when buyers had already formed their order. Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days changed the situation radically - after it, interest in local design revived. “Having got to the first Kiev Fashion Days and seeing the scale, I realized that I wanted to found my own brand,” says designer Anna K. Now the girl, who is 21 years old, takes a place in the Forbes under 30 list and associates her breakthrough with the event. hopeful young authors. For the latter, special conditions have been created: four years ago, within the framework of Fashion Week, a partnership project with the British Fashion Scout was launched. They make group shows of very young designers who are not ready for full-fledged collections; platform founder Martin Robertson, together with the team, personally selects participants. After two or three seasons at Fashion Scout, designers start making shows on their own.
The scale of the event is also the merit of Shapovalova, who even before the launch had extensive connections in the fashion world: among other things, she and her team did interviews and programs at world fashion weeks. So, from the very beginning, special attention was paid to the foreign press, buyers, teachers of fashion schools, which later became a constant in Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days. For several seasons in a row, Liana Satenstein, a journalist and regular author of the digital version of American Vogue, has been visiting. Thanks to this, materials about Ukrainian culture regularly appear on the site. Texts about local models, the singer Luna, the influence of the national costume on world fashion are her handiwork.
Young designers admit that they are tired of what some foreign media calls their generation "Post-Maidan Designers", as they believe that their brands, and the industry itself, began to form a few years earlier. “We do not associate the interest in Ukrainian fashion on the part of the Western press with the conflict. It's not customary to talk about politics in our brand,”says designer Dima Chayun of the up-and-coming Chakshyn brand. Designer Anna K agrees with him: “When it all just started, it seemed to me that we were partially supported because of the political situation. But now this is no longer felt at all - everyone is looking at the result, because in the industry the most important thing is what product you create. And politics fades into the background."
Although foreigners do not deny that Ukraine is now in the center of political attention, they are ready to look beyond the tempting news feed. This time, the event was for the first time attended by Alexey Timbul, a lecturer at the Faculty of Fashion Journalism at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and a freelance writer for Forbes USA: “In our era, it is impossible to separate geopolitics and pop culture. Kiev has appeared on our radars, but it is important not so much to disassemble causal relationships, but to pay attention to the quality, potential and innovation of what Kiev shows to the world. " Alexey admits that the program of the week was uneven, but he does not reproach the MBKFD platform - this is inevitable in such a young industry, where many designers would have to work more before branding: “To overcome the hegemony of 'ruffles', one must sincerely believe in fashion as something more. The merit of Dasha and her team is that they take care and cherish this energy-intensive and long-term project day after day."
The new collection Flow the Label continues the theme of the previous one - Pre-Fall 2017, inspired by French films
Meanwhile, the project has already borne fruit. The main merit of the week is the opportunity to start, the success of which depends only on the designers themselves. But there are many more factors due to which the Ukrainian fashion is still on everyone's lips. For example, streamlined production. Having filled the bumps, many designers have realized how important it is to observe the seasonality. Almost everyone sews things at home - it is cheaper, and also more convenient to control. Many have their own ateliers, which are located in the same place as the showroom - like, for example, Lilya Litkovskaya from the Litkovskaya brand of the same name, whose work can be called a craft: all embroideries on items from the latest collection were made by hand.
Own space makes it possible not only to monitor each seam, but also to personally work with clients. There are also some small factories that partially sew collections of Ukrainian designers: on the main one, for example, they are working on items by Anna October, Anna K., Vozianov and Shushan. In total, about a hundred people are involved. A separate business was formed, a solid part of the industry. Most designers, like Flow the Label, work predominantly with foreign fabrics and often travel themselves to the world's premier materials exhibition, Première Vision. Many brands exhibiting there now also have a representative office in Ukraine - for example, the guys from Chakshyn use their services.
At the same time, Ukrainian designers refuse to speculate on the historical heritage - although it would seem that on the wave of interest in the post-Soviet space, foreigners are just waiting for this. The exception is the incredibly popular Vita Kin brand, which made a monoproduct in the form of embroidered shirts; she, however, is not shown at fashion weeks and develops in a special way. At Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days you will not see folk Ukrainian costumes, sweatshirts with the president or slogans.
If designers turn to the past, it is in a completely different way. Upcycling, recyclable items, ethical production are what are most discussed in the global fashion industry right now. And this is what Ukrainians can show to the world thanks to the gigantic collapse at Lesnaya and the huge number of second-hand shops in which the fashionable youth of the city dress. It is the old clothes that become the source of inspiration here.For example, for Yasi Khomenko, who creates new things from old: clothes, furniture upholstery, and even curtains are used. Many of Yashi's things, for obvious reasons, exist in a single copy. Anton and Ksenia Schneider from the Ksenia Schnaider brand continue to develop the topic of upcycling. For a fresh collection, they used old denim and reworked their 80s sports uniform with sweatpants and sweatshirts. A person from the brand's team was specially engaged in the search for suitable things in second-hand stores.
Chakshyn is a young brand by Dima Chayun and Anton Yakshin, whose new collection is built on contrasts. In it you can see quotes from the anime "Ghost in the Shell" and elements of an old Japanese military suit.
Besides, none of the designers pretend that their things exist in a vacuum. If we talk about the democratization of fashion, then in Kiev it is especially evident. Anyone could attend the shows of Anna K., Shakshyn and Ksenia Schnaider. Designer Dima Chayun explains that all fans of the brand are allowed to the show, because they represent a new generation: “In five years, they may just become journalists or our clients”. For comparison, in order to get to the Moscow weeks, you need to go through all the circles of hell in the form of several cordons of protection. While the new collection of Anna K. was generally shown at the Central Department Store in the middle of the food court, so passers-by could see it without even knowing it. After the Anna October show, the models stood in a row at the window and froze for ten minutes so that everyone could take a photo with them. The Ksenia Schnaider show was arranged in a similar way: at the end, the models stood in a circle, and the audience could sit on a chair to take a collective selfie.
Finally, local designers have worked with buyers. As Natalia Modenova, co-founder of the More Dash showroom and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kiev, notes, the problems that young authors face when meeting with potential buyers are more or less the same: they worry, they cannot clearly tell about themselves, they don’t know, that you need to prepare prices in advance. That is why she, together with Daria, decided to take a risk: in the midst of the revolution, they founded the More Dash agency, which deals with sales abroad, including Ukrainian designers. Since the second season, a pool of brands has been formed: now it includes Flow the Label, Anna October, Marianna Senchina, and since the new season also Chakshyn.
This time Litkovskaya's collection was shown in the basketball hall of the Institute of Physical Education. Sport and religion are the two starting points of the show itself. As one of the sources of inspiration, the designer calls the series "Young Pope"
Natalia says that there is no direct connection between Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days and the More Dash showroom: "If a brand can competently build its work and PR without holding a separate show, then we are ready to cooperate." The agency itself looks at potential clients, and also considers applications: "We are looking at the brand's strategy, how the work is already organized inside, and, of course, the collection itself." This is a business project: if brand sales grow, so will the commission. Some brands like Ksenia Schnaider or Jealousy set up showrooms overseas during fashion weeks - in which case the entire organization falls on the shoulders of the brand's team.
Interest in Ukrainian designers is noticeable in the city: both in cafes and in stores you can meet people wearing recognizable clothes. At the end of 2016, TSUM opened in Kiev, providing sites for a variety of retailers. Now you can find corners there, which include Anna K., and Vita Kin, and LAKE, and Litkovskaya and many others. The Corner Concept Store also perfectly exists, where you can find things only by Ukrainian designers. Ukrainians are also represented in the city's main expensive multi-brands like Atelier 1 or Helen Marlen.
Ksenia Schnaider is a brand followed not only by those who are interested in Ukrainian fashion, but also by mass market designers. Not so long ago, Mango released a model of jeans just like Demi-Denims
However, everyone's sales success stories are very different.Notable in this regard is the Ksenia Schnaider brand, whose sharp rise began after the fall-winter 2016 collection, in which the Demi-Denims jeans were presented for the first time, which became a hit. According to the designer, photos from that presentation were published on Vogue Runway, and then appeared on Instagram about fashion С_L_O. A few weeks later, bloggers Eleanor Karizi and Anastasia Masyutkina wore them during Milan Fashion Week and got into all kinds of street style reports. "Then we went to Paris, where at the Capsule trade show we received our first orders from Japan and Korea," says Schneider. "Already in October, ten times more buyers came to us, most of whom were from Asia."
This is a clear example of how an industry works, which needs fresh blood more than ever. “Now is a very favorable time for young designers - everyone wants something new. People want to wear not only what everyone sees and knows,”says Natalya Modenova, executive director of Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days, at the end of the Fashion Week. And above all, this applies to foreign buyers, fed up with things that they saw on the catwalk six months ago. It is thanks to the creation of something fundamentally new, eye-catching, that the industry of the whole country is developing. And the potential here is the envy of the rest.