The designers want the world to know that they are persevering despite circumstances.
This past Tuesday, six Ukrainian designers, Frolov, Litkovska, Bobkova, Kovalska, Gudu, and Elena Burenina, had the opportunity to showcase their spring 2023 collections during New York Fashion Week at the Mastercard Tech Hub in the Flatiron district. The day after, the group was also celebrated at Donna Karan’s Urban Zen space in the West Village. “It’s very important to show solidarity with other creators in other regions of the world—particularly with Ukrainian designers right now to show what is happening,” said Keanan Duffty, the Director of Fashion Programs at the Parsons School of Design. “We want our friends in Kyiv to know that we have a symbiotic relationship and connection with them.” International support for Ukrainian designers has poured in since Russia invaded Ukraine this past February, a war that has uprooted millions of lives, including that of the people behind these labels.
One name to note was Ivan Frolov, whose label Frolov is based in Kyiv. The designer, known for his custom eveningwear, has remained in Kyiv since the invasion, and he and his team shifted from designing clothes to producing bulletproof vests for Ukrainian volunteers. Later, when he was able to resume production, he received donated deadstock fabrics from French houses, including a black minidress made out of sparkly black sequins. “We worked on this collection through air alarms,” he says.
Some of the designers were inspired by traditional Ukrainian handiwork or motifs, including Lilia Litkovska of Litkovska, a veteran couturier from Kyiv. When the war broke out, she relocated to Paris and has since traveled back to Ukraine only a handful of times. The designer was recently in the news after Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska wore two different Litkovska looks for her July visit to the United States, which included a visit to President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.
Litkovska’s collection was inspired by vesnianka, an ancient Ukrainian song that focuses on the return to spring. “Our spring cannot be stolen,” she said at the presentation. Although there were more Ukrainian motifs than usual for the designer, the traditional Ukrainian folk handiwork was an artful addition, serving as a colorful contrast to Litkovska’s minimalist suiting. In one look, she draped a beautiful optic white scarf embroidered with Ukrainian flowers over a suit and riffed on traditional vyshyvanka stitching in an oversized men’s tunic.
Currently in Paris, Litkovska has had no shortage of people reaching out to her. “I got so much support from the international community,” she added, noting that the president of Paris Fashion Week had also contacted her.
Similarly to Litkovska, Kristina Bobkova of Bobkova fled Ukraine and settled in a small town outside Frankfurt, visiting Ukraine a few times since then. Most recently, she showed her collection inspired by the blossoming chestnuts of Kyiv at Berlin Fashion Week, where she was invited to present. Yet, all of her materials and production are still in Ukraine. “Our main goal is to save the culture of our country,” said Bobkova. “And we should use Ukrainian production.”
It’s certainly not easy to keep producing in Ukraine, where the majority of these labels make their wares. While activities in Kyiv are slowly resuming, there are still internal issues to be dealt with. Litkovska had to move her production from Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, to different factories in central and west Ukraine. There are no planes to ship anything, so every week, Frolov sends someone from his team to deliver packages by train, often traveling 14 to 16 hours in total to the Polish border of Ukraine, then to Warsaw or Kraków. “It works,” he says. “I got here [to the United States] that way.”
This story was originally published on Vogue.com