It was 1943 when New Yorkers threw the very first fashion week. London and its chic European neighbours, Paris and Milan, caught on between the late 50s and early 80s, and the Big Four has been ever since – showing during biannual fashion months.

This exclusive circuit has since inspired smaller fashion weeks across the globe, including Berlin, Sydney and Madrid, with each sharing the commonality of Mercedes-Benz sponsorship. Ukrainian Fashion Week, which debuted in 1997 as Eastern Europe’s first fashion week, is also under this umbrella, as are its neighbours Russia, Georgia and Serbia. 

I had the opportunity to discover Ukraine’s 22nd iteration from its capital Kyiv over a weekend in the summer of 2019 – nabbing a first look at Spring/Summer 2020 collections from local designers. But before a virtual invitation landed in my inbox, I was among the uninitiated. I was yet to learn that Kyiv hosts a biannual fashion week on a similar scale to London and I certainly wasn’t clued-up with the talent. 

Ksenia Marchenko on Ksenia Schnaider's aesthetic. 

A few Ukrainian designers sounded familiar, including Anton Belinsky, Paskal and Ksenia Schnaider, who have generated interest in the post-Soviet state’s fashion scene with their deconstructed collections that come loaded with social critique and art references. Their works had crept into my consciousness through Instagram’s algorithm – though it wasn’t all that helpful considering all three were showing in Paris instead of Kyiv. 

Anton Belinsky, who was nominated for LVMH prize in 2015, first showed on the official Paris Fashion Week schedule in AW17 alongside architecture graduate Julie Paskal of Paskal, who you’ll find stocked at Dover Street Market. Meanwhile, Ksenia Schnaider, by designer Ksenia Marchenko and Russian graphic designer Anton Schnaider, is set to show its Spring/Summer 2020 collection on Gallic shores. “I love my home town, but it’s too small for me and my ambitions. We’re now an international brand so it’s important for us to show there,” Ksenia explained to me.


The main event
The majority of shows took place at Ukraine’s flagship cultural institution Mystetskyi Arsenal (similiar to what 180 The Strand is to London), while a handful of designers opted to pop-up around the city. Lake Studio, who have been showing on the schedule since 2014, chose a renowned cultural hub that looked over the Dnieper River. The models favoured heavy eyes and sleek ‘dos, while the collection featured ankle-grazing metallic and sheer, voluminous dresses – complete with comfort-first sandals. It was designed with the cosmopolitan woman in mind.

Things were a little different for Jean Gritsfeldt; a little off-kilter perhaps. The designer, who joined the schedule in 2012, led us out of the city and into a stable at the up-market Equides Club for his equestrian-themed collection, Centaurs’ Racing. I enjoyed 15 minutes of dressage from a front-row seat with fellow international press, while backstage models slipped into jockey skull caps, deconstructed jumpers, tailored trousers and blazers, denim dresses and full silk looks. Medieval mythology and Ascot served as the collection’s abstract inspiration – artificial manes and rope motifs supposedly nodded to this – while trending futuristic shades were thrown in for the hell of it.

Lake Studio.

Back on the catwalks at Mystetskyi Arsenal, Poustovit, Theo and A.M.G were a few of the designers that impressed. Liliya Poustovit – a Kyiv fashion scene stalwart since its inception – whisked us away to the South of France with her bright, billowing dresses. She found inspiration in the iconic La Colombe d’Or hotel, in the village of Saint-Paul-De-Vence, where artists like Picasso and Matisse used to holiday.

Jean Gritsfeldt.

It was a world away from summers in the South of France for Theo, who designed with city-slick businesswomen in mind. The designer experimented with proportions, putting Grace Jones to shame with exaggerated 80s-style power shoulders. A similar empowering theme also persevered at A.M.G. by Aliona Bettyar. She channeled it through tailored looks, including a beige two-piece leather suit and 70s-esque lime shirt combo that wouldn’t look out of place on a New York runway. I was taken back by how many collections did indeed have international appeal on my whistle-stop tour. 


I crammed in as much fashion as my two-day long schedule allowed, and got a good flavour for Ukraine’s fashion scene: experimental and underrated are my parting thoughts. I missed out on sustainability discussions over the event’s subsequent days – but knowing a conscious approach is front of mind shows that perhaps it’s not as far behind the Big Four as we think. Who knows, maybe London designers will pinch cues from Kyiv and opt for Ascot Racehorse over Brewer Street Car Park next season.

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