The Vogue Philippines’ cover story featured a roster of international labels, one of which was J’amemme of Ukraine.
In the war-torn East, one designer uplifts a community pleat after pleat. “I try to convey to the world that among all the chaos and horror there is something beautiful,” Ukrainian designer Julie Yarmoliuk of J’amemme tells Vogue about weaving a thread of optimism into her pleat-heavy collections. “Even now I can’t sit down and cry because we have to be strong. We must work, we must raise our heads and move forward.”
Yarmoliuk’s gateway to fashion began as a buyer in the luxury segment. She was a fashion week regular and decided to create her own ensemble for Milan Fashion Week—with plenty of pleats in tow. “Pleated textures seemed to be the most outstanding, so I had two colorful dresses made to order. To my surprise, they made a splash,” the Kyiv-based creative says, recalling how her clothes landed in street style compilations. The acclaimed designer realized that architectural forms were covetable for fashion enthusiasts, so she went against the grain of statement dresses only being sold by couture brands and began her foray into design.
Solid yet easygoing, her pleated pieces are comparable to architectural structures with billowing sleeves and plenty of volume. One of her pleated dresses from her Spring/ Summer 2022 collection is even featured in the Vogue Philippines debut cover. Inspired by the late great Issey Miyake, J’amemme’s designs play with unconventional forms. Completely hand-crafted in Ukraine, every garment is made from scratch at the brand’s atelier in Kyiv by craftsmen who hand-assemble each dress. Due to the material’s specificity, every design is distinct, a bonus her clientele appreciates. With longevity in mind, she envisions pieces that will be relevant thirty years from now. Bold cut-outs, lightweight co-ord sets, pleated organza dresses, and wool kimono sleeves are rampant throughout the designer’s polished collections.
These days, the designer clings to fashion even more as a vehicle for a promising future, to communicate a message of hope. Every garment speaks to the fighting spirit that underlines every collection. Amidst wartime struggles, the power of creativity shines through and reverberates throughout Ukraine and beyond. Yarmoliuk remarks, “Fashion is a form of escapism for me, a flashback to peaceful times, so everything I do is antagonistic to what is going on.” By working on her pieces, she is able to keep moving forward—bringing forth the dynamic optimism that is hinted at throughout each bold, simplistic shape within her designs. Ukrainian identity is the centerpiece of every garment, electrified throughout every pleated detail. With a silver lining in sight, the designer soldiers on within the fog and mire.
As the world attempts to weather through the chaos, what J’amemme sheds light on is the shared sense of humanity that radiates through Ukraine’s people. “Even now I can’t sit down and cry because we have to be strong. We must work, we must raise our heads and move forward.” Below, Yarmoliuk recalls Miyake’s lasting influence, designing at a turbulent point in time, and what the world can do for her people.
In your 2021 Pre-Fall collection, you merged Japanese culture and European functionality. The late Japanese designer Issey Miyake was known for his legacy in pleats. How do you feel about his work? Do you draw inspiration from him? How do you feel about his passing?
Issey Miyake is the father of pleating, he made it famous all over the world and I truly admire his talent. I followed him a lot for inspiration, everything he did was a piece of art. He did so much for fashion and, to be honest, I was very upset to learn that such an artist died. He was a pioneer in pleating and we will always remember him as an outstanding phenomenon.
In the midst of this chaos in the world, how is fashion bringing you optimism? What is it like designing? How do your collections reflect the times?
Thanks to fashion and my work, I stay afloat and sane in the situation that is happening in the world right now. I completely immerse myself into the creative process and try to forget about the chaos. That is when I find myself on the same creative wave with my team. We close the studio doors and work, not feeling time, day or night. It is so rewarding and helps our entire team to abstract from the outside world, from the grief and pain. Fashion is a form of escapism for me, a flashback to peaceful times, so everything I do is antagonistic to what is going on.
What about Ukrainian people inspires you? What do you want people to know about your clothes?
The Ukrainian people, of course, inspire me with their steadfastness, rebelliousness, willpower, and fortitude. We are a small country fighting against a huge empire. We are indestructible and we will never give up, no matter what, we will stand and endure. We are the bravest.
The world has its eyes on Ukraine. How do you feel about that as a designer?
I wish the reason for the attention was different, but nevertheless, I am grateful to the whole world that supports us, the fashion world that supports designers. And I’m just for the fact that we were in the spotlight. Because we are a civilized European country, which was treated unfairly by Russia. We stand for the civilized world and we also deserve peace.
What kind of future do you envision for your brand?
I definitely see a prosperous future for my brand, I see it scaling to different markets. I was planning a huge expansion last spring, unfortunately, it is still being postponed. But I would like us to be a world-famous brand, to have my own big production, to participate in big podiums and of course to be loved and worn by celebrities.
How can we manifest a hopeful future for Ukraine?
I am personally visualizing peace. I wish only prosperity for my brand and my country and I will do everything that depends on me.
In this tumultuous time, how can we demonstrate our shared humanity through clothes?
So many influencers, celebrities, and public figures have been wearing yellow and blue, the colors of our national flag! This is a great example of an outfit being a political statement, even by the color scheme choice. The easiest way to start is with blue and yellow accessories or jewelry.
How can the world support Ukraine at this time?
The best way to support is to buy anything marked “Made in Ukraine” to support the economy, we could not be more grateful for this. Logistics have now been restored so there are no problems with the deliveries now. Consider buying from Ukrainian designers, rest assured, you will not be disappointed once you receive your package due to the high quality, smart tailoring and Instagram-friendly designs.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.