Ukrainian fashion designers brave Russian missile attacks to create statement pieces for London Fashion Week

Ukrainian designers sent out a defiant message at London Fashion Week on Tuesday with clothes made from the neckties their menfolk no longer wear and butterfly motifs to symbolise the “fragility of life”.

The three collections by fashion labels Kseniaschnaider, Paskal and Frolov were put together in Ukraine despite constant interruptions from missile attacks and air raid sirens.

“I think it’s really important not to stop,” said Ksenia Schnaider, one half of the husband and wife team behind the Kseniaschnaider label.

The designer has been travelling back and forth from Ukraine and her new base in the UK, where her daughter is at school, since taking the decision to carry on with fashion despite the war.

Schnaider feared she might “never be able to create again” after being forced to leave Kyiv last March.

But after travelling to Hungary, then Germany and finally Britain, she decided she had to continue for the sake of herself and her team.

“You can’t stop even if reality is terrible, you should continue doing what you do best, still be creative, try to bring beauty to this world of tragedy,” she told AFP backstage. “There’s a lot of new meanings in this, it’s not just being a fashion designer like it used to be, I need to save my culture and my traditions.”

Kseniaschnaider’s Autumn Winter 2023 collection featured plenty of the brand’s trademark denim along with blazers and skirts made out of surplus stocks of neck ties now that Ukrainian men have swapped them for military fatigues.

“It’s really meaningful because Ukrainian men don’t need ties now because they are fighting,” she said.

– ‘You can’t sit and cry’ – Julie Paskal said all four of the designers behind the three labels had been conflicted over whether it was right to carry on with fashion as the war unleashed by Russian President Vladimir Putin still rages.

But she felt they made the right decision and was “incredibly grateful” to London Fashion Week for hosting them while their own annual event in Kyiv is displaced.

Her laser-cut appliqued “butterfly” creations were inspired by the “fragility of life and death”, Paskal said.

The war had brought “dark times in our country” but “this is a balance we need to have,” added the designer, who is now based in Germany but regularly travels to Ukraine to keep her label going.

“I think that for all of us it was a kind of will to go forward because… you can’t just sit and cry, you need to move, to do whatever you can,” she said.

Frolov designer Ivan Frolov — originally inspired by drag and transgender culture — looked to Ukraine’s “cultural heritage” in his creations with hand-knitted sweaters with the Ukrainian wheat ear fertility symbol and corset dresses embroidered with Swarovski crystals.

The fashion extravaganza came on the day Putin blamed “Western elites” for fuelling and escalating the conflict.

In a statement, Ukrainian Fashion Week said: “Creating collections is our resistance to war… and a reflection of the courage of all Ukrainians.”

London Fashion Week wraps up later Tuesday.

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