While Eurovision may have recently captivated a global audience, showcasing Ukraine as a platform to celebrate a melting pot of musical talent from across the world, the Ukrainian fashion scene is has been operating under-the-radar for some time, gaining international respect as it goes along. Indeed, some have proclaimed Kiev the style capital of the New East, as fashion designers reflect on and react to the ongoing crises in the region.
London-based Ekaterina Kukhareva knows all about this, having grown up in the country before moving to Denmark, then the UK. As part of our Behind the Seams series, we caught up with the designer to find out more about her work, and why Ukraine is becoming a great place for fashion inspiration.
Culture Trip: You grew up between Denmark, Ukraine and England – how did each place influence your design aesthetic?
Ekaterina Kukhareva: I bring a piece of each country and its culture into all my designs. Ukraine has a very rich culture, nature and love of colour, prints and patterns – even our Easter eggs are special and intricately decorated. Denmark balances this innate need in me to go over the top, it grounds me. And England is what gives me the courage to put my designs out there, without feeling the need to conform to certain standards or style, without fear of judgement, misconceptions or preconceptions. In that respect, England has always been open to new designers and supported us in every each way, allowing me to continue experimenting while finding my feet.
CT: Why was it important for you to bring manufacturing expertise in-house?
EK: Because my design process is so intricate, I like to have total control of the production process, from yarn selection and fabric production, to final approval of the garments.
CT: How did you become interested in pattern and print?
EK: During my studies at Central St Martins, I was presented with an opportunity to experiment with patterns and prints. Once I started exploring patterns, colours and yarns using various knitting techniques, it felt natural, organic and that love affair has not stopped since. Years later I am still challenged and amazed by the endless possibilities before me when it comes to designing patterns and turning those textiles into finished garments.
CT: What are your favourite materials to work with?
EK: I mainly work with viscose, but lurex plays a major part in all my collections. A bit of sparkle and shimmer never hurt anyone; it instantly uplifts the garment and mood!
CT: What inspires you and looking at AW17 specifically, what were the influences for the collection?
EK: For the Autumn/Winter 17 season I wanted to experiment with different knitting techniques, especially ones which closely resemble lace, in its patterns and overall look. So, with a bit of research and experimentation, I got my inspiration from Ophelia’s character in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. I created a contemporary wardrobe for Ophelia’s character, if you will, but with a bit of edge and a feminist outlook.
CT: What have been the biggest challenges of launching your own label?
EK: It has been a steep learning process, with challenges arising on daily basis! I think the biggest challenge at the beginning was just finding my groove. Once you go through a couple of seasons juggling, designing and sampling the new collection, while trying to promote, sell and produce the previous one, things start to fall into place. The biggest lesson that I learned early on is the best advise that I can give to anyone starting their own business – stay on top of your paperwork! Organisational skills are tested to the limit and VAT returns, bills and invoices just pile in. It may be mundane, but if you don’t keep on top of it, you will drown!
CT: Given your international background, why did you choose to locate your brand in the UK?
EK: I spent my formative years here, started my family here so it was only natural to have London as my base for the brand and for my studio. I juggle a hundred things simultaneously, from redecorating my house to sampling and dealing with PR. So, physical proximity is of utmost importance!
CT: Is Ukraine a good place to be a designer at the moment?
EK: Recent events have put Ukraine on the world map in a major way, maybe not for the best reasons, but it gave a lot of young and established local designers a great platform for exposure. The traditional Ukrainian fashions became a forefront for nationalist and patriotic movements, and made our traditional vyshyvanka instantly recognisable. Alongside it, a lot of contemporary designers gained exposure. Coupled with cheaper labour (compared to the rest of Europe), untapped pool of resources and talent, and Ukraine is definitely a lucrative place to be.
CT: You offer a made-to-measure service, why was it important for you to offer a bespoke element alongside your RTW collections?
EK: Even before officially establishing my business I have always had friends asking me to make something for them, usually for special occasions such as engagement parties, wedding parties or big celebrations. It always gave me great pleasure and joy, working with people one-on-one, and helping them realise their dreams through my designs and textiles. Made-to-measure is my way of keeping in touch with the ‘Ekaterina Kukhareva’ woman, it’s my way of connecting with the woman that I dress. It is an invaluable source of inspiration!