In recent months the world’s attention has been brought to the geopolitical juggernaut that is modern Ukraine. For centuries its history has been marked by a quest for незалежнiсть and самостийность: two concepts meaning independence and self-determination, respectively. Located between the mythical colossuses of Russia and Europe, it has weathered continuous re-conquests of the neighboring empires. Forged in the dramatic tides of cultural influences, Ukrainian contemporary arts scene is a study in thresholds. Beyond the proverbial East meets West juxtapositions, Ukraine offers a unique opportunity for exploration of the rich and varied Slavic heritage. Fashion is a perfect multidisciplinary medium for socio-historical ventures and insights. DEPESHA offers a look at top five Kiev-based designers who are crafting Ukrainian history against all odds.
Svetlana Bevza launched her eponymous label in 2006. Produced domestically, her collections are a bold effort to re-conceptualize the idea of Ukrainian fashion both in terms of design and as an industry. Combining folk sensuality with Bauhaus minimalism, she opted for the clean lines usually executed in monochrome colors. A courageous move within a market traditionally unimpressed by the sophistication of simplicity. Showcased on the runways of the Ukrainian Fashion Week, her vision continues to resonate with a growing pool of independent fashionistas.
Today the brand rightfully boasts in-stock status at the highest number of international retailers among Ukrainian designers, including key iconic multi-brand boutiques in Moscow, Milan and London. The signature Little White Dress, known among her followers simply as an abbreviation WD is a seasonal must-have for the couture-forward local crowd. Presented as a symbol of purity, natural charisma, harmony and peace, the BEVZA WD could stand as a metaphor for the nation’s core aspirations in these trying times.
Founded by Natalia Kamenskaya and Olesya Kononova, the brand debuted in 2008 as the “laconic casual chic” alternative to established retail players in Ukraine. The designers focused on a combination of signature cuts, clean tone palette and hand-made details in their limited series collections manufactured domestically. The brand take on complex emotional realities of contemporary urban lifestyle at the threshold of nature and technology appeals to an ever-growing fan base beyond Ukraine.
DEPESHA reviewed their spring-summer 2012 collection at Aurora Fashion Week noting complex architectural influences, strong sense of color and stellar artisanship as markers of exciting potential. Subsequently the label won Best Fashion Awards Ukraine in categories Best Women's Clothing Designer and Best Accessories Designer (the latter, twice). In 2013, Vogue Italia featured KamenskaKononova as one of the emerging global talents in its famously influential September issue. The duo’s creative and commercial development trajectory remains a fascinating upward spiral.
When they met, Ksenia Marchenko studied history and Anton Schnaider excelled in graphic design. Their mutual passion for fashion resulted not only in a happy marriage but in the 2011 launch of an unconventional brand as well. As researchers, Ksenia and Anton are perpetually fascinated with the (re)making-of process by which people communicate various ideals to each other. It comes as no surprise that, the designers consciously stepped aside the trend treadmill and sought inspiration not in the ephemeral pop zeitgeist, but in the utilitarian and sacred history of the garments themselves.
Ksenia Schnaider deceptively simple designs cut a fine line between prosaic and genius. Clergy collars, astronaut suit details, industrial uniform lapels and badges coexist harmoniously within each collection. This is clothing at the service of an individual, not the other way around as often happens with upstart brands aiming for the niche of the unique. With just a few seasons credited to their creative resume, this brand has already set course for a bright future.
The 2013 Esquire Ukraine Designer of the Year is an (un)likely title for a bespectacled dreamer fusing parquet floors, cabinet crystals and breakthrough fabrics for his latest high profile collaboration. Sasha Kanevski has been designing awesome clothes since 2005 and under his own label since 2010. In a designer pool otherwise strategically oriented towards the nouveau-riche consumer base, his creations have stood out like a battleship armada off the Crimea coast.
Kanevski was one of the very few Ukrainian designers to tackle menswear and the only one to do it exceptionally well. As he grew out his hair comfortably past shoulder length, the press notoriety and industry reputation grew considerably as well. His no nonsense approach to street style is evident in the choice of trade platforms to showcase his collections. Season after season they can be found in Berlin and London Fashion Weeks, as well as at the Mecca of Menswear, Pitti Uomo in Florence.
Stylists from as far afield as the Netherlands, Dubai and New York have emboldened their editorial spreads with Kanevski’s statement designs drawing inspired comparisons to the cult following couture ethos of Alexandre Plokhov and Nicola Formichetti. Gentlemen, check your style engines!
A veteran icon of post-Soviet fashion scene, the brand was created in 1998 by Lilia Poustovit based on the philosophical cornerstones of Slavic ethnic design heritage and European romanticism. From form fitting pantsuits to voluminous skirts to occasional extravagant gowns, she has vigorously cultivated her native audience throughout almost two decades of socio-cultural turbulence.
Balancing fragility and strength of the collective unconscious, the designer has managed to create a recognizable visual and marketing narrative all her own. While Poustovit shows most consistently at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia in Moscow, its commercial appeal reaches as far as boutiques in London, Paris, Tokyo and Seoul. For all the international success, the designer remains committed to her roots and future generations of designers.
Lilia Poustovit has been spearheading national industry-wide efforts in leadership positions within the Ukrainian Fashion Council since its founding in 2004. Not surprisingly, Marina Poroshenko, Ukraine’s current first lady, wore a Poustovit design to the inauguration ceremony. The continuity of style and power is assured a smooth succession.