Iryna Danylevska, founder and CEO of Ukrainian Fashion Week: 'Fashion demonstrates solidarity'
Eight months after the first Russian offensive in Ukraine, founder and CEO of Ukrainian Fashion Week (UFW), Iryna Danylevska talks to FashionNetwork.com about the support of the fashion world during the last fashion week and the situation of Ukrainian designers today.
FashionNetwork: You have built many relationships with fashion week all around the world, were you surprised by this international support?
Iryna Danylevska: Surprised, pleased and inspired. What is happening with the 'Support Ukrainian Fashion' initiative is a special case for the world's fashion industry. Nine fashion weeks as Berlin, Madrid, Copenhagen, Brussels, Budapest, Vienna… hosted Ukrainian designers as part of the 'Support Ukrainian Fashion' initiative by Ukrainian Fashion Week. Thanks to this support, almost 40 Ukrainian brands did not lose the SS23 season. That was the most difficult and tragic season in the history of Ukrainian Fashion Week. Nevertheless, the 51st season of UFW took place. In this tragic time for Ukraine and difficult for the whole world, fashion demonstrates not only diversity, inclusiveness, sustainability and freedom. Fashion declares commitment to humanistic and democratic values. Fashion demonstrates solidarity.
FNW: How was the Ukrainian Fashion Week organized before the war?
ID: Ukrainian Fashion Week was founded in 1997. We are the first fashion week in central Europe. We have always been very proud of the fact that, regardless of any political or financial circumstances and cataclysms, Ukrainian Fashion Week has not missed a single season in 25 years. For 2022, we were preparing many big projects for the 25th anniversary of UFW. We announced them during the 50th season of the UFW in early February. However, a few weeks later, on February 24, Russia started a full-scale war in Ukraine that changed the lives of every Ukrainian.
FNW: Paris, London, Milan and New York fashion weeks did not join you the 'Support Ukrainian Fashion' initiative . How do you explain this?
ID: Firstly, it is necessary to mention that they "have not joined" the 'Support Ukrainian Fashion' initiative. Although in Paris, Milan and New York took place events with the participation of Ukrainian designers. For instance, a Vogue UA Ukrainian Designers Showcase took place in Paris during Paris Fashion Week. Designers, who are residents of UFW and were "born" on the UFW catwalk, took part in this presentation. Secondly, the 'Big Four' (fashion weeks) are a big bureaucracy. And last but not least – fashion is a very convincing platform for millions, where you can and should talk about the most important issues. Therefore, thirdly, and actually, firstly, "Ukraine" sounded on all catwalks of the world this season. And this is the most important!
FNW: What were the conditions offered by the various fashion weeks to Ukrainian designers?
ID: Some fashion weeks offered a reduced participation fee, others offered free participation for UFW designers and some took over all the expenses of organizing the show and paid for the designer's flight and accommodation in their city. Each fashion week offered what it could. Both UFW and the designers treated each proposal with understanding and gratitude. Our team's responsibility was to suggest designers for each fashion week whose participation would be the most effective for both a particular designer and a particular fashion week. And also, that the conditions of participation, including financial ones, were suitable for a particular designer or a group of designers
FNW: Some of the fashion week organizations are disconnected from Ukraine situation?
ID: I can answer not professionally, but rather emotionally. Yes, they are disconnected. And they have the right not to fully understand what is happening in Ukraine. Even we, as Ukrainians, sometimes can not fully understand what is happening. We still can not believe, or rather accept, that an independent European country was attacked by a neighboring country. That our cities are destroyed by missile attacks. That in 2022, the Russian army kills, rapes, and maims the civilians. That captured Ukrainian soldiers are being starved and tortured. That Russian missiles fly in museums, schools, kindergartens and residential buildings. We Ukrainians are going crazy from such a reality. Pain, grief, anger, suffering – that's what we feel. Sometimes the brain refuses to believe that this can happen in the civilized world. Why should it be surprising that someone in Europe can not fully grasp all the horror that is happening in Ukraine.
FNW: How did you manage to unite Ukrainian fashion designers around these different events in times of war?
ID: We knew very clearly what and how we needed to do when creating the 'Support Ukrainian Fashion' initiative. Yes, it was not easy. During five months of preparation, we wrote several hundred emails, held dozens of online meetings. We knew all the conditions of participation in each fashion week to the smallest detail. We clearly understood which format will suit the brand and which country's market will be interesting for it. Moreover, from the first days of the war, we kept in contact with the designers. We knew who was sewing new big collections for the season, and who was preparing capsules. We knew who was outside of Ukraine and who was in the country. The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy helped us with permits for male designers to travel abroad. Since the beginning of the war, for men to travel outside of Ukraine, permission must be obtained from the Border Service of the country, women can travel at their own discretion. Therefore, everything was clear and organized. Still nervous, of course, but organized. However, the feeling that you have held nine Ukrainian Fashion Weeks, and not one, sometimes arose.
FNW: Tell us about the situation of Ukrainian designers?
ID: The war has changed the lives of each of us. Ukrainian designers began to use their sewing capabilities to support the Ukrainian army. Someone donated money for the wounded or for the needs of refugees, someone volunteered, someone helped lonely elderly people, someone fed homeless dogs...Vorozhbyt & Zemskova sewed covers for bulletproof vests on sewing machines that had only "seen" silk dresses before the war. Andre Tan sewed clothes and underwear for the military at its factories. Young designers Sidletskiy, Starchak sewed jackets and hats. Kachorovska, Marsala instead of women's high-heeled shoes produced military shoes. The Сoat brand created sneakers with the national flag together with the Italians, and all the proceeds from this project was donated to the army. And there are dozens of such examples. The phenomenon of Ukrainian fashion is that despite all these cruel circumstances, most designers continued to create. That is why we considered it the duty of Ukrainian Fashion Week to support Ukrainian brands and do everything to make their SS23 collections known to the world.
FNW: Have any Ukrainian designers left the country ?
ID: Today, many brands continue to work in Kyiv. Someone relocated their business and moved to the western part of Ukraine to Lviv, Chernivtsi or Ivano-Frankivsk. There are brands that have moved abroad or part of the team, as mothers with children, temporarily live and work abroad, and part of the team in Ukraine. Most of the brands keep their production in Ukraine, so it also makes it possible to pay for the work of the Ukrainian team of the brand and pay taxes to the state. Regardless of whether you are in Ukraine or temporarily abroad, you either help or stay away. It seems to me that there are no indifferent people among the Ukrainian fashion community.
FNW: Today, how many designers are gathered under the banner of the Ukrainian Fashion Week?
ID: During the 25 years of Ukrainian Fashion Week existence, we presented more than 300 designers. I think we can talk about 60-70 brands participating in Ukrainian Fashion Week or our other projects. Ukrainian designers are very different. Some create more conceptual things, some focus on new technologies and sustainable fashion. Litkovska, Bevza, Frolov, Ruslan Baginskiy, Vita Kin, Gasanova, Gunia Project... and many other world-famous Ukrainian brands create modern fashion clothes using folk techniques or design. It has become a hallmark of Ukrainian fashion. To give a general description, Ukrainian designers create clothes of very high quality in terms of design and production. And, in my opinion, very emotional.
FNW: What are the plans for Ukrainian Fashion Week for the next season?
ID: Traditionally, Ukrainian Fashion Week seasons take place in early February and early September. Before fashion week in New York. It is difficult for me to predict now how the hostilities will unfold. Will we be able to safely hold Ukrainian Fashion Week in February in Kyiv, or not? We believe in winning the war! But we do not know when it will happen. Therefore, we are thinking about the formats of the Ukrainian Fashion Week in Kyiv and are also starting to negotiate with our colleagues abroad.
FNW: Where can customers can buy Ukrainian fashion brands ?
ID : Ukrainian fashion brands are presented on global online platforms: Farfetch (Anna October, Bevza, Ienki Ienki, Litkovska, Ruslan Baginskiy, Sleeper, Vita Kin); Net-a-Porter or Luisaviaroma and Angelforfashion.com; in well-known places, where they can be bought offline, for instance in Rinascente in Italy, in Selfridges in Great Britain or Globus in Switzerland etc.
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