Ukrainian designers turn crisis into creativity at London Fashion Week
February 2022, a catastrophic moment in history struck the world– Russia invaded Ukraine. In a country, pockmarked with grief, the unimaginable suddenly became part of the everyday for many of its people.
Despite daily bombings, rockets flying overhead and cities decimated to ruins, slowly but surely life must go on. And rather than fixating on the tragedy, some of the country’s design talents are turning inward, and funnelling their fears into creativity. They are emboldened; using their craft as a means to amplify the voices of their homeland and their people.
There’s Ivan Frolov, Julia Paskal and Ksenia Schnaider — who were invited by the British Fashion Council yesterday to present their AW23 collections at London Fashion Week– and have found a sense of comfort and community through fashion.
“It is a great pleasure to show collections with our UK friends. We have this opportunity to show in a fashion capital which means we can continue doing what we actually do the best— create,” says Ksenia Schnaider, founder of Kyiv-based brand Kseniaschaider. Ongoing international encouragement and backing from the “Support Ukrainian Fashion” initiative gives her and many others hope for the future of her home country. “I want to do something beautiful. I think it is my responsibility to give something new to the world. So that we can overcome this darkness.”
Thus, colour is the object of Schnaider’s AW23 collection. Emotionally connected pieces drawn from a palette of blue and yellow-the colours of the Ukrainian flag. “Somehow it’s a very normal desire of a human to overcome something bad, you want to create something beautiful, bright, positive,” she says. “Last year was the year of surviving, it feels like a miracle to show our work on the runway.”
Produced entirely under air raid sirens and missile strikes, dead-stock fabric, athleisure-wear and discarded denim are given new meaning. Ties– previously worn by men to work, are now no longer necessary in global conflict. Clothes which were previously suited for one world, must adapt to fit another. Reworked into skirts, shirts and blazers, they become a symbol of resilience and gesture of solidarity.
Also embracing the spirit of rebirth, founder of Womenswear brand Paskal, Julia Paskal, with her latest collection Out of Cocoon. The first LVMH prize winner looks towards the natural world for inspiration– models take flight down the runway enshrouded in laser-cut butterflies, pretty pink mini dresses and satin ballet slippers.
Since the beginning of the Russian offensive, she has been separated from her children who have sought refuge in Germany as she operates her workspace from a war zone. This is, for the moment, as close to normalcy as she will get. “Of course it is not easy, I can’t do anything to make my family feel safe and that’s it. It is like the most terrible nightmare.”
Last year was the year of surviving, it feels like a miracle to show our work on the runway
But the young designer is ready to see Ukraine transform once more— just as the butterfly emerges from a chrysalis. “We are ready to move forward and do whatever we can to keep on working and supporting each other. That’s it,” says Paskal, as she looks towards a reimagined future for Ukraine and her people. “It is a crazy time, beyond imaginable for all of us but we have so much power. Ukrainians are the bravest people and we will triumph and find strength again.”
For Ivan Frolov, the creative director of Frolov, his eponymous label, learning to adapt to whatever life tosses our way, is a lesson in the endurance of the human spirit.
“We don’t have any other choice. We’re doing our best to continue to work, continue to fight for our victory each on our own frontline,” says the Kyiv-based designer. “Everybody in Ukraine understands that it will be a huge challenge for us to rebuild our cities, our mental health, and our lives. But for all Ukrainians, there is only one dream and that is victory.”
His AW23 collection is an exceptionally powerful response to war. For Frolov, fashion is more than just clothes, but a tool in which he can escape his reality. His realm is populated with love-heart cut outs, midriff baring blouses and rhinestone hold-ups. Worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Dua Lipa and Gwen Stefani, signature ball-gowns, adorned with Swarovski crystals, sweep the floor and are everything but practical.
“Fashion is a way for Ukrainians to show that the war isn’t over and we’re still fighting,” says Frolov, who believes it is necessary no matter what, to focus on the positives in order to overcome adversity. “Ukraine is everything to me. It’s my home, it’s my motherland. It’s my language, my everything.”
Shop their collections and find out more here