London Fashion Week (LFW) is a clothing tradeshow held each year, and hence a great chance for young international designers to distinguish themselves at an international level. After the fall of the Soviet Union, former members faced challenges trying to enter the market on equal terms due to broken fashion institutions. Now, however, the countries’ fashion activists are working hard to re-establish a lost connection between the designer, industry and customer, the main struggles being dying textile factories and a lack of cooperation between these factories and designers. Yet today we can see them here – Ukraine, Czech Republic and Slovakia – with their own rooms at ‘Fashion Utopia’: a series of special fashion stands from 24 countries in the West Wing of Somerset House.
Traumatic recent events in Ukraine have both expanded awareness of the country worldwide – thus plunging the designers into the international market – and dictated their style-choices too. Contradictory and rebellious, the Ukrainian stand was distinct from those of other countries, with a construction of light wood and wire mesh showing garments hanging on ropes as if drying on a washing line. With plain fabric contrasted with colourful prints of sometimes hideous, sometimes comical girls’ faces, the effect was one of beauty found in frightful things. Yana Chervinska, describing her collection as both girlish and monstrous, claims to depict the bizarre transformations of female nature. The opportunity to exhibit such garments in London is, she feels, proof of a considerable success.
Vibes of innovation and creativity radiated around the room with the new era of Czech designs. There were garments for all tastes and some of them surprising in their simplicity, like a collection of plain black and white shirts. More sophisticated designs included the works of Filip Jakab based on the idea of everyday life as a constant questioning. He combines fabrics by sewing ripped shreds on top of base material so as to mislead the viewer – as if these were random flaws – yet avoids vulgarity or fussiness by sticking to colour unity. Another outstanding designer, Sofya Samareva, exhibited a unique set of hats from a range of collections. Imitation of human hairstyles was dominant, representing the idea of change: these are something we’re easily able to alter in our daily routine.
Slovakia stood out with its clear use of modern technology: ‘Fashion Source Code’ being a presentation projected onto a book with the designers’ sketches and things which had inspired their work. It looked very contemporary, designer Barbora Kubíčková accompanying her prints of childhood – complete with outsize details, bold prints and a rainbow of colours projected on top – with a hash-tag as the symbol of a modern generation. Another Slovak designer, Andrea Pojezdálová was inspired by traditional Slovak clothing worn in the 18th century. It’s based on very simple geometry: rectangles and squares, with the fabrics equally commonplace: wool, leather and cotton. One of the display’s designers, Jan Sicko, believes the exhibition is based on two aspects: something very solid and constant and something always changing.
Interesting thoughts if not fashions came from Poland, who did not enter designs this year. ‘When we ask an average person what they know about Poland,’ said Paulina Latham, Head of Events at that country’s Cultural Institute, ‘…usually it would be potatoes, workers and babushkas. The reality is that we have actually a lot of brands becoming global, the problem is that some of them hide nationality’. Appropriately, the country’s fashion history will soon be published in Polish Fashion Stories, a book replete with distinctive national icons and designs.
Overall the Central and Eastern European displays showed considerable innovation and creativity, yet never lost touch with tradition, leaving space for national and classic patterns. It’s interesting too from a political point of view how the relatively young democracies are showing both diversity and originality, experimenting and playing with trends and designs. Next year we’ll see further results of such experiments, and – one hopes – another batch of up-and-coming designers making their way in the industry.
London Fashion Week was supported by a number of CEE Institutes, including the Czech Centre London, and the Ukrainian Embassy.