About 15 years ago there was the first foreign feedback about UFW. British Fashion Council said that Ukrainian Fashion Week was well organized and was much similar to Fashion Week in London. Nowadays from time to time Iryna Danylevska organizes other fashion events like Ukrainian Fashion Games, Best Fashion Award, EuroFashion and others.
Irina, how would you describe the evolution of Ukrainian fashion over the past 17 years?
Traditions of Ukrainian fashion are very old, much older than 17 years. And it's not only the tradition of Ukrainian national costume, which is still very actively used by Ukrainian designers as a source of inspiration, a source of some technological and aesthetic ideas. There were a lot of talented designers during the Soviet era in Ukraine, but the government was not interested in them. For example, Hertz Mepen who was awarded with “Gold Scissors” by Pierre Cardin, but he could not go to Paris to take the award. He was a Jew and it was forbidden for him to leave the country. But the school of design existed. And when we established Ukrainian Fashion Week in 1997, there were some successful designers already. For example, Lilia Pustovit: she won "Golden Button" Grand Prix at "In Vogue" International Festival in Vilnius. She also worked for a year at Daniel Hechter fashion house in Paris.
If we are talking about the Ukrainian fashion evolution, I must say that the most important thing is not about aesthetic, but the industrial revolution that occurred. In 90s there were some studios which have been serving individual customers. Later, there was a definite turning point and it took place thanks to UFW as well. This event disciplined the designers and helped them to work in the right rhythm. They started to create a collection for the next six months, to sell their collections, and to become more successful commercially. And that's how we move to the future. This is something that can help the country to earn money with design and fashion. Now Ukrainian fashion becomes prestigious; and it improves the country's image thanks to successful designers.
How do the foreigners react on Ukrainian Fashion Week?
Feedbacks have been always good. Now our country is more open and there are more experienced designers. They understand that in order to assure the stability of the brand it is very important to be present not only on a local market but also abroad. This can be Europe, the Middle East and the USA. Our designers face foreign experts on different stages of their work process (journalists, retailers, experts), and the reviews are always good. It is very nice and it is very important, because success of every designer is our success. Definitely, there is potential for our designers in terms of entering the international fashion world with "Made in Ukraine" slogan.
Please, tell us about international projects.
The most important international project, which we are currently preparing, includes presentation of 8 Ukrainian designers at the International Fashion Showcase in London. Ukrainian designers have been represented there a couple of years ago already, but in 2016 it will be more impressive project. The platform unites the young designers from around the world; and we talk about more than 20 countries. We participate not like an individual project, but we represent our country. The creative ideas of designers are the main priority there. It is the place where fashion meets contemporary art. We present 8 Ukrainian designers over there: Masha REVA, Yulia Yefimtchuk +, FROLOV, Yana Chervinska, RCR KHOMENKO, LARA QUINT, Dzhus and Monica Bernar. For us it is a great success and, of course, a lot of work. The project involves the proximity of various creative people within the same installation.
What is the fundamental difference between our designers and the foreign ones?
There is concern that the commercial component, which is now very important for designers, can kill artistic part of fashion. But I think that our designers manage to balance. It is also due to the fact that our country is young in terms of fashion industry. Our designers are not spoiled yet by high demand for their collections. This allows them to be creative. Ukrainian fashion is quite emotional and it reflects the world around.
I also want to note that our designers are very different due to the difficult conditions in which they grow and develop. In those countries where fashion is one of the leading industries there is a system of grants, competitions, bonuses that allows designers studying and getting interesting job in the future. In Ukraine it's some kind of individual initiative. For example, since 2000 we organize competitions for young designers named “Look into the Future”. But there is no governmental grant support here unfortunately. Our designers tread a thorny path to become successful. But they are more resistant to stress not only psychologically, but also in terms of business that they create. They grow up in unstable aesthetic environment; nevertheless, they still make their way in life.
A couple of years ago you’ve said that the Ukrainian Fashion Week is not a school. What is it now?
Yes, this is not a school. It is impossible to make a debut show at a national fashion week, if it is not "new names" format. But this is definitely a platform for experiments. We must show how the designer sees the next season, how he/she thinks, as well as to give a signal to buyers and retailers that the brand is stable, it works and all is well. It is also a good advertising platform. The designers use all the materials of the show (photos, videos, publications) in their future work. It serves to confirm their stability. A few seasons ago we’ve openly stated that we are ready to look at any formats of participation, not only the traditional fashion show, but also presentations, performances and installations. It's creative element that must be present at every fashion week. We must support the designer in the desire to create, not just to sell. Experiments are also part of the international fashion week tradition. Fashion is always something new. It is the technological and aesthetic innovation. We do support collaboration between artists and designers.
What would you like to wish young designers?
On the one hand I have lots of wishes, and on the other hand, I understand that the designer as a person, first of all, needs understanding and support. Sometimes designers see and know more about the future than we do. We just need to trust them. I wish them to have more devoted fans. It would be great if these fans could be from different spheres of activity, public administration including, supporting fashion industry. And I wish them to have patience and faith in themselves to stick to their goal in anticipation of change and progress.
According to Focus magazine you are in the list of most influential women of Ukraine. And whose opinion is really important for you?
At present, there are two people in the country who are the conscience of our nation: Lubomyr Husar, the Patriarch, and Lina Kostenko, the poetess. I think if we all attain to the level of these people our country will be fine. But besides them there are a lot of talented, honest and professional people around me. And I'm very lucky in this sense. I have to say that the situation in the country, the revolution and the war, opened for me the people I knew before from the other good side. I am grateful for that since these hard times brought only more pride and admiration about the people I've known and love.
What stores do you usually visit when go abroad?
I go only to children's clothing stores. I like shopping for my grandchildren. To the grocery store I usually go only with the list of things I need to buy. In general I don’t like shopping. I'm happy to come to the boutique or a concept store only if there is some kind of a pleasant event associated with Ukrainian design. Of course, I can use my rank and ask to order some clothes that I have seen on the catwalk. But a real pleasure for me is to come to the designer’s studio. This is completely different. I'm not going there for choosing clothes for myself, but for emotions and communication with wonderful people. This is what I love and appreciate.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak