“Specifically of style, because in the ’90s we had a deficit of everything,” she says.
Denim was one such item. Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, denim, representing capitalism and rebellion, could be found only on the black market in Ukraine. Afterwards, it was a symbol of privilege (available to those who could afford to travel). Now some of the world’s coolest and most innovative denim comes out of Ukraine, such as the designs of Bevza’s contemporaries Ksenia and Anton Schnaider, whose reconstructed jeans have become a Vogue-approved cult item.
Similarly, the Ukrainian fashion industry has seen a groundswell of interesting designers alongside Ksenia Schnaider – such as Sleeper, milliner Ruslan Baginskiy and Vita Kin – become global names in recent years.
This success illustrates social change in Ukraine, but also speaks to fashion’s unquenchable thirst for the new and fresh. Fashion buyers now attend fashion weeks well beyond the big four of New York, Paris, Milan and London in search of it, and social media has aided discovery too.
Ukrainian fashion is certainly having a moment; [in] the past year we have seen a lift and rise in the designers from that region.
— Libby Jane Page, Net-a-Porter
Fashion always likes to find a destination and an era and claim it; take Japan in the 1980s with the rise of labels such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons and the recent obsession with Danish fashion brands like Ganni, Saks Potts and Cecilie Bahnsen.
Bevza has remained true to the vision she had when she launched – a belief in elegance and clothes that last. Each collection is centred on her affinity for white dresses and shirts, and stays steadfast to her values.
Sustainability is something Bevza is conscious of. Hailing from a fur-heavy country, she makes faux fur coats, and about 40 per cent of her fabrics are sustainable, including a range of knits launched last year made from recycled plastic bottles.
“It’s the value that it brings, it may be some cultural or historical or sustainable value that can make the brand real and close to people,” she says. “Because people have the right to think and to know what’s beyond the clothes and who’s standing behind the story and what you are telling people with your clothes.”
Bevza sees this value in the way the Ukrainian fashion industry comes together to support each other and the wider community.
Case in point: throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Bevza has been one of several Ukrainian fashion designers volunteering resources and time to support the country’s frontline medical workers with the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and delivering it to hospitals.
She agrees there is a plethora of creativity coming out of Ukraine. In a strange way, she says, the recent tensions between Ukraine and Russia have had the silver lining of spotlighting Ukraine.
“Everybody knows about … the situation between Ukraine and Russia. It also played a negative role to our economics, but maybe a kind of positive is the awareness about what Ukraine is. Because there are a lot of talented Ukrainian colleagues who became popular this year because all the world paid attention to Ukraine,” she says.
Libby Jane Page, senior fashion market editor at luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter, agrees Ukraine is one of fashion’s hot spots right now. She says Sleeper, which specialises in “party pyjamas” and loungewear chic enough to wear outside, has high sell-outs on the site. Net-a-Porter has increased its buy each season since February 2019.
“Ukrainian fashion is certainly having a moment, I would say the past year has been where we have really seen a lift and rise in some of the designers from that region,” she says.
“They’re managing to ensure that they have a unique point of view and a signature DNA that runs throughout their collections, which for us, when scouting new brands is a key criteria.”
Page has noticed that many Ukrainian designers are leaning towards a sense of “minimalism with a twist”.
“The designers tend to use a lot of deconstruction and pieces with unexpected details,” she says. “This happens to be very in-line and on the pulse with what’s currently happening in the industry, which has helped them to rise up and feel very relevant.”
Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa, the former fashion magazine editors who founded Sleeper in 2014, say this output of creativity and global recognition is of particular importance to their country.
“After the collapse of the USSR this is the first generation of people who have a voice in the international arena,” says Zubarieva. “Before that there was no field where one could manifest oneself.”
As a result, Varetsa says for many Ukrainian people, self-expression through clothes is important.
“Ukrainians love colours, bright clothes, their clothes have character.”
One such colourful designer is Vita Kin, whose eponymous brand has made traditional Ukrainian techniques such as embroidery (the brand works with Ukrainian artisans) covetable to women all around the world. Her chic holiday-ready folk dresses have been worn by fashion editors and influencers such as Leandra Medine, founder of the Man Repeller website, and Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo.
Matches Fashion fashion and buying director Natalie Kingham says the brand is a success for the e-tailer.
“Vita Kin’s strong fashion point of view, unique embroidery techniques and bold use of colour has proved popular with our customers since the collection launched in spring/summer 2015,” she says.
What’s more, says Kingham, the brand offers customers something crucial: an “it” factor.
“Our customers are searching for special pieces that they can wear for seasons to come and her use of traditional Ukrainian embroidery, and work with skilled artisans in Kiev, make each item feel like a collectible, walking piece of art.”
Need to know
You can find a selection of Ukrainian labels on Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion.com