Litkovska and Anna October: Ukrainian craftsmanship in Paris
To carry on against the backdrop of war has been a major challenge for Ukrainian fashion designers. This has not only been an economic challenge, with brands forced to fight for survival, reorganising their businesses or relocating their workshops to other countries, but it has also pervaded their designs with almost philosophical ideas on social issues. The value of clothing itself or the meaning of organising fashion events while their country of origin is still under bombardment are questioned and inevitably influenced their designs, such as those of two leading Ukrainian designers, who presented their optimistic collections in Paris.
The last time Lilia participated in Paris Fashion Week was at the end of February. At that time, the designer became the ambassador of Ukrainian design through an emotional presentation at the Tranoï trade show and began to settle down in the French capital, leaving behind her atelier in Kiev. Under her simplified Litkovska brand identity and with renewed strength, the designer became part of the official calendar of the last edition of fashion week, where she presented her creations with the perspective and commitment gained after several months of war.
"This collection is a form of protest. I have strong opinions about what is happening in Ukraine and fashion is a way of reflecting what is happening in the world," explained the designer about her presence at Paris Fashion Week.
Her participation came in the form of a no-frills show that was open to the public in which the models paraded casually through the Tuileries Gardens until they reached a merry-go-round on which they took their places, directing their gazes at the audience. The merry-go-round was then started up to the rhythm of a traditional Ukrainian song called 'Vesnianka', just like the collection, which ended with shouts of "Slava Ucraini" (Glory to Ukraine) and a tearful Litkovska, wrapped in the blue and yellow flag of her country.
True to its signature Ukrainian craftsmanship, the brand showcased the charm of its artisanal range with different reinterpretations of menswear-inspired two-pieces, including jacket and skirt versions. Crochet hoods, embroidered layers and fringed finishes, jackets and coats woven using artisanal carpet-making techniques, denim deconstructions and a long satin off-white dress reflected the elegance of the collection, which aimed to promote Ukrainian savoir-faire and make its value known to the world.
"We cannot create art without artisans," concluded the designer, determined to pay homage to craftsmanship and tradition.
Anna October, another temporary Parisian by adoption, made her debut at Paris Fashion Week with a presentation that took place at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in the former atelier of French engineer Gustave Eiffel located in the seventh arrondissement. In a less solemn format than the previous fashion show, the brand opted for a bucolic, lighthearted and convivial setting, with models interacting with guests at a sort of mid-afternoon picnic in the garden.
"My starting point has always been the woman's body in order to create beautiful textures and silhouettes that are flattering. My work consists of bringing light and air to clothes, it's my way of understanding femininity," the designer explained about her first time at Paris Fashion Week.
The premium brand, which retails its garments in around thirty physical and online points-of-sale such as Moda Operandi and Ssense, drew inspiration for its spring collection from gardens as well as from author Vita Sackville-West.
Like Litkovska, October turned to artisanal techniques such as knitting and crochet, used to construct delicate dresses on the models' bodies. The patterns found their inspiration in vintage markets in Greece and France, as well as in the archival collection of the Ukrainian museum Ivan Honchar. Femininity was expressed in a palette of pastel colours, silky, form-fitting fabrics and delicate floral references, such as the bodice of the dresses constructed from tulip petals. Ukraine was also represented in the form of drapery made from braided fabrics, a symbol of femininity in the country.
"It's work that could be done by machine, but that doesn't make sense to me. The idea is to preserve craftsmanship and traditional techniques, a way of bringing the rustic into the city," said the designer, who returned to Ukraine after six months living in Paris, acknowledging the inevitable influence of both countries in the delicacy of her latest designs.
"The changes the world is going through make you reconsider your priorities, to focus on what you really want to do, what is beautiful and true," she said, reflecting on the impact of the current geopolitical context on her creative process.
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