At the end of September, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend "Fashion, Ukrainian Style," a runway show of contemporary wearable art at the Ukrainian Museum in New York City. This presentation showcased the collections of three designers: one based in the US, Elena Vasilevsky, as well as two from Ukraine, Oksana Karavanska and Katya Pshechenko. The event was organized as the capstone of a recent exhibition in the museum entitled "Out of Tradition: Contemporary Decorative and Applied Art," which showcased 150 works of decorative art (including pieces produced by the above-mentioned designers) all rooted in the rich culture of Ukraine.
The runway show was definitely a highly anticipated event; tickets were sold out quickly six weeks beforehand, and organizers had to add a second-floor gallery in order to accommodate the waiting list. The eager audience was treated to four different collections: Oksana Karavanska pret-a-porte meets couture, Katya Pshechenko pret-a-porte, and two collections by Elena Vasilevsky - pret-a-porte and a jewelry show.
I've been eager to see Karavanska's collection, since I remember her as a prominent fashion designer from my teenage years. As the first model entered - I knew we were in for a special treat. The twenty pieces selected for this show were mostly white and black, with hints of mocha. Accessories - shoes and flower crowns - provided some of the color accents in green, red, pink and blue. Each piece was intricately embellished with delicate embroidery, openwork and exquisite details. I got the feeling that if I were to hold one of these items I would have to do so with extreme care for its dainty embellishments and luxurious fabrics. At the same time, the silhouettes were strong, modern and architectural. This juxtaposition of fragile feminine embroidery with a strong modern silhouette in neutral colors felt really timeless and eternal. It reminded me of traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts or "vyshyvanky" - they can be really old and intricately-embroidered but remain strong against the flow of time and changes of fashion.
I got to talk to Karavanska, who was very gracious and enthusiastic to explain more about her creations. I was curious to find out about the meaning behind the name of the collection - "The Garden of Unmelting Sculptures." Karavanska explained that this collection is dedicated to Lina Kostenko, a famous Ukrainian poetess who published a collection of poetry with the identical title. This name seemed very appropriate to Karavanska because it conveyed something that is beautiful and eternal - a collection of works of art resistant to time. And so Karavanka's aim was to produce wearable art, an exquisite collection of hand-made couture pieces with technically-difficult detailing and everlasting appeal. Above all, her desire was to leave these special pieces to the next generations with pride - her contribution to fashion, art and the timeless tradition of "vyshyvanka".
We also chatted about Ukrainian fashion and its international reach. According to Karavanska, Ukrainian fashion is taking small steps abroad, and she was delighted to bring her collection to the US. This personal connection with her clients and people who are interested in her designs is very dear to her. For this reason, she stopped showing her collections at Ukrainian Fashion Week but instead started organizing private fashion shows for her dedicated clients in Lviv. She hopes to build similar relationships abroad, and I certainly hope that she'll come back to New York City with more collections to show.
I didn't get the chance to speak to the other two designers, Pshechenko and Vasilevsky, but I'd like to make several observations about their collections. Katya Pshechenko is a young, talented designer from Kyiv, who not only designs clothes but also accessories such as hats and jewelery. Her collection had a unique feel: feminine silhouettes executed in unexpected fabrics that added structure and dimension to the designs. Matching hats, necklaces, headpieces and handbags made the collection very cohesive. I was especially fond of her long coats paired with tall rectangular hats; they reminded me of Kyivska (Kievan) Rus', the predecessor of modern Ukraine, and its women, specifically its princesses or "knyahyni." NYC-based Elena Vasilevsky presented two collections: beautiful jewelery pieces and a ready-to wear collection that was very feminine and seductive, executed in lace, rich brocade, leather and fur.
The runway show was followed by a Viennese coffee reception, open access to the exhibition, a silent auction and interviews with the designers. Overall, it was very inspiring to see modern Ukrainian designers and other showcased artists drawing inspirations from Ukrainian tradition and culture, while creating something unique and modern. I'm looking forward to attending more fashion events in the future, and, in the meantime, if you're interested to find out more about current Ukrainian designers, please visit Ukrainian Fashion Week. And if you travel to NYC - make sure to stop by the Ukrainian Museum and check out their special exhibitions! Enjoy more photos from the event and exhibit below:
All photos were taken by me.