Six Ukrainian designers presented their collections this NYFW at an event entitled Kyiv Art & Fashion Days hosted at the Mastercard Tech Hub on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. The event’s goal was to help sustain the businesses of these creative entrepreneurs following the devastation of the war in Ukraine which left many of them refugees in foreign lands. 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 vital the show would become when everything changed on that fateful day of February 24, 2022.
Keanan Duffty, designer and Parsons Director of Programs, had traveled to the Ukraine for the 2021 show. He reached out after the war erupted to inquire about the wellbeing of the designers he had met. Along with Kay Unger, Chair Emerita Parsons School of Design, and Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, he began to work, not only to bring the show to the US, but to stage it during the most high-profile period on the fashion calendar, New York Fashion Week.Addressing guests at the launch Duffty voiced a pertinent question: Why is it important to support a fashion event when there is so much destruction taking place in Ukraine? He offered the following response: “Creativity through art and design are key elements to 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.”
Ukraine design on display at second Kyiv Art & Fashion Days
The designers presenting their collections at the special event were Elena Burenina, Bobkova, Frolov, Litkovskaya, Kovalska and Gudu. Models dressed in their looks mingled among guests and a static presentation while international press, buyers and influencers viewed the ranges and made appointments. Other sponsors and donors to the event were 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, “Seeing all of the devastation, loss of life and destruction of infrastructure that is happening in Ukraine, I want to help the creative people there, in order for them to know they are not alone and have some support from us here in New York.”
Founder Tchkonia, designer Elena Burenina, and Lasha, the Creative Director of GUDU were unable to make the trip due to visa issues, but FashionUnited spoke to Maya Persaud who was representing Burenina.
Pointing to the rail of elevated essentials behind her such as a mustard coat cut with a luxurious ease next to a sharp blazer 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 really important to her as she pays close attention to detail and finishings," said Persaud.Persaud, the founder and director of Espero Organization, a non-profit which 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 spent years working with displaced Afghan people. “But they have been on Refugee Road for many years whereas for the Ukrainian refugees, it’s all new, a completely different lifestyle overnight," she said. "France has done an excellent job handling the crisis in Ukraine, but for employment if you don’t master the French language it’s almost impossible.” Partly subsidized by the government, Espero employs refugees for a period, from 6 months to 2 years, manufacturing for other designers in a circular economy which brings income to the organization.
Persaud’s aim is to change the stigma and stereotypes around refugees. “They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, agricultural workers,” she said. And they are also fashion designers determined to rise from the ashes; Burenina’s operations in Ukraine are now gone.
“Unfortunately her atelier has been ransacked and vandalized. She had to start from zero 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 using 100 percent dead stock fabric to be presented during Paris Fashion Week.
Although unable to witness her brainchild initiative come to 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. As I am Georgian, I know what it is as 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 as never before. 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 the following event to toast the success of Kyiv Art & Fashion Days 2022.