According to Julie Pelipas, when it comes to fashion in Ukraine, “we have always had to battle for something.” The former Vogue Ukraine fashion director, who now runs Bettter, a Kyiv-based vintage tailoring brand, reflects on a sector that has just recently grown on the global arena. Her statements, however, have extra venom in the backdrop of Russia’s February 24 invasion. Mariupol-born Pelipas, speaking via video link from her home in Kyiv at the end of June, attributes her compatriots’ sense of drive and willingness to reinvent themselves to the absence of an established fashion industry. “Because [Ukrainian designers] did not grow up in a system that schooled them about the rules, there is that bit of wildness in their approach,” says the author.
While a comfort zone is not the same as a conflict zone, the desire for adventure is becoming increasingly important. How else do you handle a staff evacuation where you have to rely on the charity of a minor Turkish supplier to personally travel to the border to rescue your Kyiv-based crew, as occurred to the designers of Sleeper, a loungewear brand whose feather-trimmed pyjamas have been on Sex and the City? How else can you adapt when orders are pouring in but your crew has fallen to a third of its previous size, as designer KseniaSchnaider discovered after fleeing Kyiv with her 11-year-old daughter?
Ukrainians have already visited here. It’s no coincidence that Ukrainian designers began to make an impression in the west as the country stumbled through a period of social instability in 2014. In the midst of a brutal revolution, Zaporizhia-born Anna October, Crimea-born Helena Lumelsky, and Odesa-born Julie Paskal made the inaugural LVMH Prize shortlist, gaining big-name worldwide stockists in the process. Anton Belinskiy, born in Kyiv, joined the list the following year.