Six Ukrainian designers presented their collections this NYFW at an event titled Kyiv Art & Fashion Days held at the Mastercard Tech Hub on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. The event’s goal was to help sustain the businesses of these creative entrepreneurs after the devastation of the war in Ukraine that left many of them refugees in foreign countries. Kyiv Art & Fashion Days was founded in 2021 by Sofia Tchkonia as an initiative to give homegrown talent international exposure. Tchkonia had no idea how important the show would become when everything changed on the fateful day of February 24, 2022.
Keanan Duffty, designer and Parsons Director of Programs, had traveled to Ukraine for the 2021 show. After the war, he broke out to inquire about the welfare of the designers he had met. Together with Kay Unger, Chair Emerita Parsons School of Design, and Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, he set to work not only to bring the show to the United States, but to stage it in the most high-profile period on the fashion calendar , New York Fashion Week.
Addressing guests at the launch, Duffty asked a pertinent question: Why is it important to support a fashion event when there is so much destruction going on in Ukraine? He gave the following answer: “Creativity through art and design are key elements of human existence. Personal expression is what makes us human. Culture is a road map from the past into the future, and it must be maintained and celebrated.”
Ukrainian design exhibited at the second Kyiv Art & Fashion Days
The designers who presented their collections at the special event were Elena Burenina, Bobkova, Frolov, Litkovskaya, Kovalska and Gudu. Models dressed in looks mingled among guests and a static presentation as international press, buyers and influencers viewed the ranges and made deals. Other event sponsors and donors included Fashwire, The Ned, Chris Constable PR, Milk, Creatively, Tommy Hilfiger, Carmen Busquets, LaForce PR, Luxury Detours, Carolina Fantastichini, CFDA Runway 360 and Retailers United.
Duffty said: “When I see all the devastation, the loss of life and the destruction of infrastructure happening in Ukraine, I want to help the creative people there, to let them know that they are not alone and have some support from us here in New York.”
Founder Tchkonia, designer Elena Burenina and Lasha, creative director of GUDU were unable to make the trip due to visa issues, but FashionUnited spoke with Maya Persaud who represented Burenina.
Pointing to the rail of elevated essentials behind her, such as a mustard coat cut with a luxurious ease next to a crisp blazer in the exact shade of a Granny Smith apple, Persaud described how Burenina had established her business ten years ago in Ukraine, but is now based in Paris, France.
“Impeccable tailoring is very important to her, as she pays close attention to detail and finish,” said Persaud.
Persaud, the founder and director of the Espero Organization, a nonprofit that finds jobs for refugees skilled in tailoring, was introduced to Burenina through a mutual fashion industry friend. “Refugees don’t start from zero, they start from minus zero,” said Persaud, who has worked with displaced Afghan people for many years. “But they’ve been on the Refugee Road for many years, whereas for the Ukrainian refugees it’s completely new, a completely different lifestyle overnight,” she said. “France has done an excellent job in dealing with the crisis in Ukraine, but for employment if you do not master the French language, it is almost impossible.” Partially subsidized by the state, Espero employs refugees for a period, from 6 months to 2 years, and produces for other designers in a circular economy that brings income to the organization.
Persaud’s goal is to change the stigma and stereotypes surrounding refugees. “They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, agricultural workers,” she said. And they are also fashion designers determined to rise from the ashes; Burenina’s business in Ukraine is now gone.
“Unfortunately, her studio has been ransacked and vandalized. She had to start from scratch in Paris as a refugee. She came with 3 cats and 2 people from her team.” But Burenina and Espero are currently collaborating on a collection with 100 percent dead fabric to be presented during Paris Fashion Week.
Although Tchkonia did not witness her arrival in Manhattan during New York Fashion Week, Tchkonia was there in spirit and in the words of her statement: “Ukraine is fighting for all of us, for the freedom and democracy of the world. Being a Georgian, I know what it is since we had the war with Russia and 20 percent of my country is occupied. Ukraine became my second home, I love the people and how brave and patriotic they are. Ukrainian creatives are very talented and interesting, and they need support now more than ever. I really hope that this terrible war will end soon, my beloved Ukraine will win and we will continue with the new energy.”
A cocktail party was held on the rooftop of Donna Karan’s Urban Zen space in Manhattan’s West Village following the event to toast the success of Kyiv Art & Fashion Days 2022.