6 Fashion Designers Shaping the Runways of Kiev

6 Fashion Designers Shaping the Runways of Kiev

Story by Hannah Lifshutz / Photography by Yasha Zhylin

New York, London, Milan and Paris established themselves as global fashion hubs concurrent to the expansion of the fashion industry itself. However within the context of international interdependence, fashion has become increasingly globalized, making way for emerging designers, prospective markets and cities. When it comes to up-and-coming fashion destinations, industry leaders casually report on the main players — Ganni in Copenhagen, Vetements in Kiev — however there's an impressive array of uncharted talent funneling out of smaller metropolises. Ukrainian designers and street style show-goers have catapulted Kiev Fashion Week to the crux of the Eastern European fashion scene. In a post-Soviet country that continues to grapple with the East-versus-West dichotomy, Ukrainian fashion is a testament to globalization. Amidst this transformative shift, these six designers are making statements on the runways of Kiev.


Jacket & Cap: NÉGLIGÉS

NÉGLIGÉS is the brainchild of Artem Pylypenko, a conceptual streetwear designer known for disrupting social constructs and challenging the clichéd Vetements comparison. While staying true to their streetwear blueprint, NÉGLIGÉS often makes bold political, cultural and artistic statements in their designs. The brand's name, which means "wasted" in French, was cleverly utilized back in 2014, when the designer sent t-shirts down the runway that read "Negliges Vetements: 'Vetements is wasted.'" When asked about the print, Pylypenko admitted that Vetements remained in the rearview mirror of nearly all streetwear brands in Ukraine at the time, although they were working to define their own aesthetics. Pylypenko often plays with tailoring, which is mirrored in his loose fitting silhouettes and his conventionally unflattering cuts. Additionally, the designs of the garments have a punk yet contemporary feel to them, alluding to a hybrid of references in a single collection.

"My goal is to turn national sorrow into national dignity."

What was the impetus behind printing "Vetements is wasted" on your t-shirts? Were you actively protesting the hype surrounding the Vetements brand?

At that time there was so much hype around Vetements hysteria. People were simply obsessed. Eventually I got fed up with everyone comparing almost every single streetwear brand with Vetements. That's why I decided to use the print to mock the brand that was created explicitly for marketing purposes. Of course, I'm not denying that Demna's talented and has a huge influence over a fashion world. However, time flies and that print turned out to be somewhat prophetic.

My great-grandfather was actually born in Kiev, so I would be very interested to better understand when you believe the post-Soviet fashion scene started to make such a global imprint?

With the advent of a new generation of designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy, already mentioned Demna Gvasalia, Lotta Volkova, and so on, the hype over post-soviet aesthetics went on for several seasons. But as we speak, more and more post-Soviet looking clothes go to the SALE section. Now kitsch and glamour are running the show. Fashion is cyclic and there's nothing we can do about it.

To what extent would you describe yourself as a catalyst in Ukrainian street style?

Now I can only say that there's no Ukrainian streetwear brand that creates clothes with a message behind it. And that's what pushed me towards creating NÉGLIGÉS.

Where do you pull most of your references from?

Since I don't just create conventionally beautiful gowns, I gather inspiration for new themes and collections from articles on new movements, cultural phenomena, raves, and wherever the previous generation got inspired from. My first runaway collection was telling a story about American "Youth International Party" that inspired me greatly with the carelessness and absurdity of that time. The things we currently lack here in Ukraine... mainly due to the current political situation.

Could you elaborate on the meaning behind your brand principle, "linked with contemporary social constructs" Does that indicate using your position within the Ukrainian fashion scene to comment on the Ukrainian political climate? If so, why is this important to you as a creator and brand leader?

I don't like to discuss politics as other designers do, but I do care about it. And that is something I want to express through my work. There was a runway where the main prints were marijuana and a red star. Afterward, guests from Belarus told me they would be imprisoned immediately for that kind of stuff at home. In some places, smoking weed is being legalized. People go on peaceful marches. But in some places you can get incarcerated for having a voice. That is a total nonsense. That's why my goal is to turn national sorrow into national dignity with the help of NÉGLIGÉS.

Sistan Varvara

Mesh Shirt: Sistan Varvara, Cloak & Waist Bag: Bobkova

Executed and creatively directed by Sistan Varvara, this Kiev-based fashion house was founded in 2016. Varvara wanted to create collections that emanated the notion of permanent reasoning. An avid fan of denim patchwork and melding different materials into a single garment, Sistan Varvara is telling a story of the interaction between the spiritual and the material. Varvara's most recent collection sources inspiration from the polarity of society, and the interdependence of human nature. The geometric shapes as well as the linear composition of the garments allude to the political and social divisions within present day Ukraine. However, instead of spotlighting the adversity, Varvara uses her designs to emanate a radiant sense of hope.

"Every piece on our planet has its own beauty — ugliness is a very subjective notion."

My great-grandfather was actually born in Kiev, so I would be very interested to better understand when you believe the post-Soviet fashion scene started to make such a global imprint?

The time is now, some of designers in Ukraine started their labels 20 years ago, but only now can we see that Ukrainian designers have started to influence the world of fashion.

Where do you pull most of your references from?

References can come from every picture which the eyes focuses on. It does not matter whether the picture is nature or urban. Anything can be an inspiration. Every piece on our planet has its own beauty — ugliness is a very subjective notion.

Some could interpret your geometric shapes and linear designs to be symbolic. Do you consider your work to be politically or socially motivated?

No. But, of course, the global issues of ecology and economics imprint on the designer, as well as on any person. But every season we just show our vision of beauty.

What was the driving concept or inspiration behind your latest collection?

The main theme of the collection is a reflection on the polarity of society, its diversity and versatility, the bright essence of progress and its speed, which at this stage lends itself to less and less control. In today's world, everything is interconnected and intertwined, it can not exist apart. In our time, the responsibility of the individual has become weighty, shifting responsibility to social institutions is no longer relevant.

Ksenia Schnaider

Sweatshirt & Pants: Ksenia Schnaider, Jacket: Dastish Fantastish, Shoes: Prada

Ksenia Schnaider is one of Ukraine's most successful designers. Family duo Ksenia and Anton Schnaider founded their brand in 2011 with the intention of incorporating reworked material, digital concepts and Eastern European cultural references into their collections. According to the designer, Kiev was culturally isolated for a long period, however when the world became entranced by Russia's annexation of Crimea, the fashion scene within the former Soviet bloc also garnered recognition. Ksenia Schnaider earned international acclaim after debuting their "demi-denims" — a denim pants/shorts hybrid with a slit at the knee and a tapered leg. The demis catapulted the brand onto a global fashion stage, a position they have been strategically building on ever since. Ksenia Schnaider's most recent collection channels a very coastal feel, and naturally incorporates the designer's affinity for denim.

"I love the mix of pure utility and absolute kitsch."

My great-grandfather was actually born in Kiev, so I would be very interested to better understand when you believe the post-Soviet fashion scene started to make such a global imprint?

Kiev has a very special vibe — part of it speaks Russian, part Ukrainian; we have amazing Soviet architecture mixed with ancient churches and modern buildings covered with messy advertising, green parks and chaotic parking lots near them. I think Kiev was always like this — now and at the times when your grandfather used to live here — Kiev is very eclectic and creative. For a long time Kiev was culturally isolated, all our artists, musicians and designers used to be very local, but for the last 5 years I can see a big splash inside our city. We all started to go global and started working in the international context. When Crimea happened all the heads turned to Ukraine, Russia and everything around the issue. I think that was the point when the fashion world also started to discover fashion in Eastern Europe.

You have spoken of denim previously being considered a luxury, similar to a fur coat in Ukraine. What inspired you to remix the fabric in your "denim-denims" design?

Yes, if you know anything about '90s in the post-soviet reality it would be the fact that jeans were big. So from the very beginning I wanted to work with denim. But what was really important to me is to bring back its cult status — to make something truly revolutionary. So at one point I started experimenting and the silhouette was born. At the time I was surrounded by my friends, who were wearing different vintage banana-pants from flea markets, and an idea started brewing in my head. I went to the local vintage market, bought a bunch and started experimenting and deconstructing them. I experimented and tried numerous options, such as mixing jeans, Bermuda and Banana pants and even a skirt. It was a really magical moment — I just saw something new being born in my hands.

Did you originally design the denim-denims look for the Ukrainian fashion scene or did you anticipate it making its way to other parts of the world?

I was really just designing for myself. I didn't have anything like that in mind — not Ukraine, not any other part of the world, not even a certain type of person. This idea wasn't letting me go and I did it — it's all there is to it, really.

Your designs have a very coastal feel, with the palm trees and distressed denim motifs. Are there specific locations or time periods that have inspired you to build your collections off these styles?

You are talking about the most recent spring 2019 line, and as it happens, we were actually designing it with Ukrainian coasts in our minds. You see, here in Eastern Europe the holiday fashion choices are a concentration of everything out-of-place on the beach. Women in leopard print and on high heels, men in bermudas, Hawaiian shirts and sandals over half-knee socks, full-face make-up and huge wedges, just to name a few. All of that you can easily spot on any Ukrainian beach. I was paying extra attention to all this the last time I went and realized it's a great source of inspiration, I love the mix of pure utility and absolute kitsch.

When it comes to sustainability, you're rather well known for limiting your carbon footprint. To what extent do your sustainable practices influence your popularity among Ukrainian fashion-enthusiasts?

I don't think it's our main asset after all. Both in Ukraine and abroad, people love us for the design, rather than the production. Still, it's very important that people are paying attention to what they buy and we see that more and more now in Ukraine.


Hat: Vozianov, Shirt: Bobkova

Fedir Vozianov, creative director of Vozianov, has built a namesake out of melding technology, avant-garde minimalism and performative exhibitions into his brand's identity. Since his Designer of the Year accolade in 2017, Vozianov has been described as a catalyst of experimentation within the Ukrainian fashion scene. It isn't often that avant-garde and minimalism are used to describe the same designer, however Vozianov has managed to seamlessly and consistently integrate the two concepts into his collections. A former school teacher, Vozianov often references literary classics to allude to deeper meaning. In his spring 2017 collection, Vozianov used his platform to compare and contrast different national approaches to warfare. The designer realized this juxtaposition by showcasing images from centuries past of Ukrainian and American men wearing similar garments, with one visibly armed and the other not.

"I treat avant-garde, not as a style, but as a principle."

Are you using your position within the Ukrainian fashion scene to comment on the Ukrainian political climate?

I can not say that as a designer I am deeply politically involved now. It was quite differently during Maidan, and some time after, when it was almost impossible to stay outside of the political processes.

My great-grandfather was actually born in Kiev, so I would be very interested to better understand when you believe the post-Soviet fashion scene started to make such a global imprint?

To my mind, the post-Soviet fashion imprint started when designers realized their past not only as a bad legacy but as a source of original references.

You've been described as a catalyst for blending simple yet avant-garde designs, how do you meld those two seemingly opposite stylistic principles?

I treat avant-garde, not as a style, but as a principle. From that point of view, clothes that go over the borders of themselves and turn, for example, into pictures, are avant-garde clothes. And it does not matter how simple or complicated they look.

Where do you pull most of your references from?

My main sources of inspiration come from the human body, art as a public space and architecture as an important part of our habitat.

How have your performative shows been received in Ukraine, is that a common creative element to incorporate?

My fall 2015 show Suprematizm 2.0, when 13 suprematistic pictures transformed into a full collection was little noticed by press, but since that time interest is increasingly growing.

RCR Khomenko

Dress: RCR Khomenko

Yasia Khomenko started RCR Khomenko in 2011 with the intention of combining second-hand clothes and the mysticality of children's fairy tales. RCR Khomenko actively blends environmental consciousness into the fabric of their business model. The brand's emphasis on eco-friendly fashion takes shape in their practice of upcycling and the use of vintage fabrics. Yasia has stated that she dreams of "a mass market of second hand." The designer's political stances take shape in her views on social responsibility. While staying true to their environmental consciousness, RCR Khomenko creates playful, bright designs atop feminine silhouettes.

"I try to create an absurd narrative."

My great-grandfather was actually born in Kiev, so I would be very interested to know when and how you think the post-Soviet fashion scene started to make such a global imprint?

Everyone is overdosed with this "safe" european style and starts missing this hard time of the '90s. For me, "post-Soviet" is a very popular theme now — at first it looked like a breath of fresh air but then it turned into a playground for society. I know many people were involved in traumatic realities from early childhood and they seem to be sincere in such a reflection. However many who broadcast this "post-Soviet" style are actually not sincere. Lots try to take a piece of Gosha's popularity. I like the idea of reflecting "the bad taste" that dominates.

You're rather well known for "upcycling." Would you say the driving ethos behind your brand is sustainability?

I like the idea of sustainability, I think the world needs more redesigned garments. However for me, the biggest problem is conscious consumption and the influence of fast fashion on people's minds. Upcycling is not the main theme of my life, but it gives me a very good opportunity to play with the "alternative mass market" idea.

You use a lot of abstract art in your graphic designs, where do you source most of your references from?

I adore Joan Miro, Henri Matisse and Keith Haring, they influenced me a lot. I also like the idea of using different patterns to come to unexpected results, combinations and colors. I also like to play with offcuts from the prints for abstract composition.

You often refer to yourself as a storyteller, are there any tales in particular that have been reoccurring themes in your collections?

I try to create an absurd narrative, like in Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout. So in this case reoccurring doesn't seem to be a fall-out, but a playful transition from one theme to another. Now I'm working on a very unexpected plot and hope to show it this winter.


Jacket: DIMA, Pants: Dastish Fantastish, Belt: Calvin Klein

Founded by 18-year-old Dmitriy Demchenko, DIMA was established two years ago when Demchenko began experimenting with trousers and t-shirts. The brand creates modern conceptual pieces exemplified in DIMA's reversible jacket that doubles as a backpack. Demchenko explains that he wishes to create four different styles of clothing for men, each maintaining a distinct thematic blueprint. The designer told PAPER that one of the concepts in his series is titled "Seven Deadly Sins." Although the brand has yet to fully mature into one of Ukraine's internationally recognized designers, DIMA has established itself as one of the country's up-and-coming talents.

"I am a boy of a new generation."

My great-grandfather was actually born in Kiev, so I would be very interested to better understand when the post-Soviet fashion scene started to make such a global imprint?

I am a boy of a new generation, therefore I can only share my thoughts and feelings. I'm sure that the people I communicate with have a great influence on me. They all belong to a creative society within Kiev, including designers and artists, ranging in age, who are united by a common desire to produce and create the future of Ukraine.

Where do you pull most of your references from?

My sources of inspiration are music, especially the sound of Angel Massive Attack or Bolero Maurice Ravel. I also draw references from books that cover Ancient Greek Mythology and Millennium Prize Problems. In terms of designers, I look up to Alexander McQueen.

Did you study fashion design in Ukraine?

I took cutting and sewing courses two years ago. I do not have design education yet. I'm at the stage of exploring how to combine hands-on approach, on-job practice and education. One year ago, I joined one well established Ukrainian brand and agreed to work for them for free so I can learn their activities and grow. I started with the simplest tasks, than became a merchandiser in the brand's main store. Now I'm responsible for the whole showroom's lifecycle.

Photographer: Yasha Zhylin
Photo Assistant: Yuri Yasharov
Stylist: Nikita Gudzovsky
Grooming: Vadim Kravchenko
Model: David Shyn (AS Management)