for young ukrainian designer, yulia yefimtchuk, fashion is always political

Yulia Yefimtchuk's spring/summer 16 collection is inspired by tumult and political instability of her Ukrainian home, constructivist art and combative sexuality.

13 January 2016, 10:35pm

Fashion and politics have always been linked; sometimes obliquely, but the best clothes by the best designers always make statements. Sure sometimes fashion and politics means discussing Angela Merkel or Hilary Clinton's wardrobes, or reductive deliberations on economic activity and the length of hemlines. But for the young Ukranian designer Yulia Yefimtchuk, fashion and politics have become inescapably entwined.

The designer lives and works in Kiev, Ukraine's capital. She finished her degree in fashion at the State University of Decorative and Applied Art and Design in Kiev in 2009. In 2014, she presented her collection to an international audience as a finalist at the Hyères Festivals. She didn't end up taking home the main prize, but jurors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon summarily created their own prize for her and ordered her collection for Opening Ceremony. And that - I'll venture to say - is much more valuable than any already existing prize. 

Yulia Yefimtchuk's fashion draws influences from the Russian constructivist movement of the early 20th century, it featured equally in art and on Communist propaganda posters, is was representative of the brave new world Russia was entering. The phrase, My God, Help Me Survive This Deadly Love, is daubed across autumn/winter 16 collection - inspired by famous piece of the graffiti on the Berlin Wall, showing a kiss between USSR premier Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker.

The word "Spring" in Cyrillic adorns the creations for her just released spring/summer 16. Inspired by Michael Kaufman's film, In Spring, which documents the construction of the city of Kiev in 1929, and the beginning of spring, and the city and the nature's awakening.

Consequently, the uniform-inspired clothes that are the DNA Yefimtchuk are enriched by frills, checkered transparencies, flashes of bright colour and suggestive cut-outs. An accompanying film for the collection was shot in Berlin and features the poem, Spring Again, Hope Again, by Ukrainian poet, Lesya Ukrainika. We spoke to Yulia Yefimtchuk about her inspirations and the possibilities of political fashion. 

You live and work in the Ukraine, what does this place mean to you?
The political situation in the Ukraine is not stabile, but there are great people there. My friends and family live here and they're always willing to support me. There isn't a stalemate here. There will be a solution to every difficult situation.

How political can fashion be?
Politics is everywhere, even love is political, and fashion and art are always political. Fashion is connected to politics because politics impacts the systems we live within. 

Does it have to do anything about the designer's background and place of residence?
In a certain sense it does have to do with where a designer lives and works. But in principle, politics are global and influence everyone.

Fashion likes to draw political inspiration from current events. How can how do you transform these into something beautiful, something you want to wear?
History has shown that conflict has also produced amazing art. Maybe because we have to find light and hope somewhere amidst the chaos and misery. When this hopeful light is turned into something artistic, people want to take part in it, to wear it, to read it or to look at it. 

Do your collections have references to this interplay between politics and culture?
You always see the connection between politics and culture in my work, but finding the right way to express this connection in fashion isn't easy. I often find the answers to my questions in history or in art.

Has the political situation in the Ukraine in the last few years changed your work and the aesthetics of your fashion?
My aesthetic hasn't changed. But it has influenced the way I work, because the political situation brings instability with it and you have to adjust to that. 

Why do use Cyrillic script on your clothing?
Cyrillic prints are my way of talking about current events in Ukraine. They're also influenced by my father and his work for the Soviet Union. He was an artist and was making Soviet posters with slogans. This aesthetic has always fascinated me, it's very strong.

Your silhouettes are always very terse and almost combative. What do they say about a woman's body?
The female body is very sensitive and I want to protect it. I really don't like the idea of showing sexuality; I think that's vulgar. I prefer to keep the body's sexuality hidden, where you can only see it through the burning in a person's eyes, by the strong silhouette of their clothes. By creating these kinds of clothes, I'm trying to show a woman's interesting inner world.

You also describe the "female body as an instrument," which is an important reference in your collections. What does that mean?
It's just about playing with contrasts.

How important are colours for you? You use a lot of red, white and black in your collections. Is their interplay important, or does each colour have a certain meaning for you?
On the one hand, the colours stand for the artist Kazimir Malevich, who I admire. Furthermore, these colours represent my roots, red, black and white are the colours used in traditional Ukrainian clothing. But then I've given each of the colours meaning: black stands for work, red for joy and white stands for peace. 

Another Ukrainian designer who works with national costumes is Vita Kin. Her use of it seems to be more traditional, while your fashion seems to be more progressive and even provocative.
For me, national Ukrainian traditions are so subtle, that I'm afraid of referencing them. I'm not ready to do that yet. Symbols and colours need to be in harmony. Our forefathers use them to protect themselves and their families. I don't always agree with what Vita Kin does in all aspects of her art. But everyone is going to do what they want to do. My fashion isn't just for Ukraine, it's for the entire world.

Mood Board SS16


Text Lisa Riehl 
Photography Michaël Smits
Production and styling Erik Raynal
Haare and Make-up Marianna Serwa
Model Petra @ Elite Prague
Video Fritz Marlon Schiffers
Styling Erik Raynal
Models Benjamin, Adam and Hannes @ Tomorrow Is Another Day