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Culture Trip meets the menswear brand weaving activism and workwear together in Ukraine.
The era of the New East is upon us: Credit exciting new talent such as Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia, the age of Instagram discovery or an ennui with the shows from the four capitals, but the fashion world’s interest in style in Ukraine and eastern Europe in general has crested to a obsession over the last year. Something about the stark, industrial nature of the post-soviet aesthetic, coupled with an energetic new approach to athleisurewear from the region’s designers meant all eyes swivelled from decadent couture to the gritty, DIY approach of the new fashion guard.
While Ukrainian Fashion Week SS18 will give some of these designers a structured platform to speak to international audiences, other brands are weaving their home-grown aesthetic into their marketing approach, and using social media to speak to audiences directly. One such example is the Ukrainian-based fashion brand Kiev Workwear. Led by a mysterious design collective, the label is setting a radical new agenda by directly combining style and politics. Operating with the slogan #LoveYourHomo the label is directly celebrating and promoting gay culture in Ukraine, at a time when (often violent) homophobia in the region remains rife.
As part of our Behind the Seams series, Culture Trip caught up with the creators of Kiev Workwear to talk politics, Ikea and fashion in Ukraine.
Culture Trip: How did the idea for this project come about?
Kiev Workwear: The idea came about when by chance we ended up we had the original Ikea logo jacket in our hands. We were instantly attracted to the logo, and the whole Ikea world that it embodied. This happened last winter, just before Balenciaga caused the whole Ikea hype. Observing the phenomena, we realised that we were onto something, and so we built up our team around this, in the first months of 2017. We had clear vision of our concept and so the design office started working on the first capsule collection, which has just come out now.
CT: What was it about the Ikea logo which resonated with you?
KW: The Ikea logo is a statement in itself; it’s one of the most popular and recognisable logos in contemporary industrial image history. The block rectangle plus oval figure paired with two of the three primary colours (blue and yellow are also Sweden’s flag main colours) are the perfect combination for a strong visual impact, easy to understand and appealing for the eyes. We wanted to pay homage to our city playing with the lettering/logo and found it incredibly interesting to use the logo for a totally different product, while also carrying such a strong image and message. Most important for us was transforming ‘Love Your Home’ into ‘Love Your Homo’, which turned to be our key slogan for this collection and DNA for the further ones.
CT: The aesthetic is functional and quite understated – what are your design references?
KW: The marketing and the design team focused immediately on workwear as representative of a new solid aesthetic that they wanted to develop. The main inspirations come from the working class aesthetic in eastern Europe, with an understated taste that shares a homosexual message through real workwear clothing. Our references come from the working class world, and of course Gosha Rubchinskiy, Demna Gvasalia and Lotta Volkova are a big inspiration to us. We decided to create our own concept and work hard to share our personal message. Rei Kawakubo and all of the Comme des Garçons’ structural and material research is necessary to understand the workwear aesthetic on its maximum level of beauty and aesthetic quality. We’re also influenced by Prada’s minimalism from the 90s, especially given what ‘ugly’ now represents in the fashion system.
CT: Fashion-wise, there’s a lot of focus on Ukraine at the moment. How do you find the scene in Kiev, and how has it changed over the last years?
KW: Kiev has become the fashion capital of the new east! We believe in the power of the underground creative scene that has been evolving fast over recent years, also thanks to what is happening in global fashion, eastern European designers are now some of the most influential in Paris. Most of the eastern European countries haven’t produced a substantial amount of new fashion designers, apart from Ukraine, creating collections in the middle of economic and political crises. The most important peculiarity in Ukraine is that designers don’t need to invent an identity for themselves, they wear it everyday because personal and political really go hand in hand.
CT: The message #loveyourhomo is both political and uplifting. What are you hoping to achieve through your account and through the clothes?
KW: #LoveYourHomo is our statement no matter what the collections look like; we want to keep the focus on the social and political message in our working class aesthetic, which represents a whole big world by itself. We speak to everybody and want to carry the idea of gender equality, especially for some parts of the world like here in eastern Europe where it’s more than often forgotten; look what is happening in Chechnya and Russia too through homophobic laws that shut out individual expression of identity. We want to make our little part and represent ourselves in a very fast changing world. People are starting to really appreciate our message and the way we communicate it and this makes them want to be a part of it spontaneously.
CT: Do you find that you’re selling to a Ukrainian or international audience?
KW: Our audience is mostly international. Europe is a big focus for us, but we are also getting attention from the United States area thanks to our very first interview on Milk Magazine New York.
CT: What are you plans for the next year, where do you want to take Kiev Workwear?
KW: We are looking forward for collaborations with young talents, mostly spotted by Instagram, and share artworks along with our collection. We are also preparing a space on our website for those who want to share their experience of the working class environment as homosexuals. We want to give a free space to young editors, contributors, photographers and make them use our platform to challenge their talent. All of our team was built up like this and we are proud of their amazing work. Regarding the next collection, we have big surprises with a fresh new aesthetic coming from another working class world, always keeping in mind our slogan #LoveYourHomo.