cat-b is the ukrainian modeling agency taking the country’s unique youth to the world

We sat down with Cat-b’s founders Marija Pogrebniak and Anja Borovska to talk strange beauty, the moon, falling in love, and flowers in Kiev.

by Symon Zabolotnyi
16 May 2017, 8:00am

Kiev-based Cat-b casting agency has existed for less than year. But, part of the beating heart of Kiev's underground fashion revolution, the agency represents a diverse gang of Ukrainian models and "nodels" and promote the city's alternative youth and new post-soviet reality. Cat-b works closely with its generation of designers to represent its city and country honestly within the global fashion industry. 

With Cat-b, founded by Marija Pogrebniak and Anja Borovska, the agency stakes a claim beyond basic beauty by searching for something transcendent, out of the ordinary — something with depth and feeling. Cat-b is part of a new generation of agencies from across the world disregarding unrealistic, unattainable homogenous visions of beauty and representing a new reality in fashion. 

We sat down with Marija and Anja to find out more.

What made you want to start an agency?
Marija: I was working as a producer on a shoot and Anja was the stylist. During the casting, we realized we wanted to shoot some of our friends and acquaintances, all of whom were, in our opinion, incredibly beautiful — even if they couldn't fit into the tiny samples. We screwed up the shoot, but decided to create an agency. Maybe separately we would never have done anything, but together we did.

What were your first steps?
Anja: Well, we were writing our manifesto for a long time — drawing cat's fangs on the imaginary mascot, all these things. Then we started taking practice shots of each other, then practice shots of friends and friends of friends. Then last summer it began to come together.

What does Cat-b mean to you?
Anja: Literally, Category B. But to us, this mean a non-obvious beauty and an impalpable allure, something you need to take a step back to fully appreciate. Something you need to look at properly. Then, also, it's about cats, too.

Where are the best places in Kiev to find models?
Anja: Literally underground — at the metro stations, in the clubs. Sometimes they're even at the supermarket, working as cashier, sometimes models come to us through lovers or sisters, sometimes they just send us their pictures with a note like: "I wanna be with you and here are my photos from Egypt 2009, but I have not changed much." Also on social media, of course.

How do you break the ice when you meet them?
Marija: I rarely use business cards. Usually I just ask for their social media profile. When I meet people in loud places, I use a draft note I've prepared in advance with emoji flowers on my phone.
Anja: And I will give my business card and run away, shortly after I'll come back and say — "I want to invite you to join us" and ask for a name and a number. Or if I'm feeling shy or having a bad hair day, I ask someone else to ask them for me.

What makes you not want to work with someone?
Аnja: Bad manners and infidelity are tedious and can make us give up. We like people who live their own lives, do pottery, chase butterflies, teach children to draw, and then, for no reason, will agree to participate in a shoot but don't just sit around and wait 'til Hitchcock will invite them to appear in a new thriller.

Is modeling for your models a hobby or a profession?
Marija: It depends. Some are in a rush to get everywhere at once, they don't want to think about the longer term — just do it and move on. Others only want to participate only in those shots that they find useful for their portfolio. There are some saving for college and refuse any non-commercial projects. But most models simply enjoy hanging out with each other. And most, really, just enjoy the kitty gifs that Anja uses in the group chats.

Anja: Usually I just use yawning cats. But recently I've got really into a gif of a monkey riding a dog.

How exactly do your models interact with each other? What is the atmosphere between them: rivals or family?
Marija: Some of them knew each other, some became friends at shoots. Rostok and Zalieskaja became great friends inside of a huge T-shirt while shooting their tests.

Name your ideal masculine and feminine beauty. Maybe some samples from a movie. 
Anja: Alex from Mauvais Sang, Stuart from A Life Backwards, and Chet Baker are all nice guys.
Marija: You also may be wondering which of the Phoenix brothers we prefer. The answer is Joaquin.

Do you have some special business rituals?
Anja: I like to hold conferences at the new moon and use the paper shredder at waning moon.

How do you feel about Kiev at the moment?
Marija: We keep living and working in Kiev, but the landscape of the city changes everyday. Sometimes I miss the entrance to the metro because a flower stall was replaced overnight. It's all precious. We are attracted to an unobvious loveliness — it takes time to come from the explicit to the non-evident. All this time we've been living here. Kiev is beautiful, and the people are beautiful, and, after all, we are working with people.

What's been the biggest difficulty so far?
Marija: As a child I read that if you wanna open a bar, you have to work as a bartender first. But before we started Cat-b, we only worked together once. But we can't really boast. We didn't start Cat-b with knowledge of all the generally accepted rules of how to do this, so sometimes we have issues with clients. But it's also an advantage, because we have no fear and don't come with any pretence.

How many people are working with you?
There's two of us who fall asleep and wake up thinking about the agency. But apart from me and Marija, our friend Ihor Okuniev helps us in many ways. This is the Cat-b skeleton. In addition, there are friends of the agency who are helping us blossom. For example, Symon Zabolotnyi, who is interviewing us right now; Anton Belinskiy, who provided a room for shooting tests and helped us with meeting people; Roman and Yarema, who made our first video. And there are many others who take photographs, do the make-up, provide the equipment, and treat us to wine and diner and liquorice sweets.

How do you define "diversity"?
arija: We lean on our own preferences and there are always biases that we don't even notice. Today certain things are considering intolerant, but tomorrow they can be considered diverse. And vice-versa, too. For us, diversity is the natural effect of the way we think and work.

What are your favorite projects?
Anja: We've worked with plenty of the Ukrainian scene, from Anton Belinskiy to Drag and Drop and Masha Reva. As well as Vogue Ukraine, Lady Gaga, AnOther and Another Man. But really we just love shoots where models are well paid and well treated, where they can find love. We refuse hairdresser shows, although actually, we barely deny any proposals, more often we let models judge for themselves, although we give advice, which is mostly accepted at the end.

So what's next?
Attach a bar to the office and launch a line of tank tops knitted by Anja's mother.


Text Symon Zabolotnyi

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