Ukraine’s fashion and design community has been quietly on the rise even before the Russian invasion. In the years leading up to 2022, emerging brands and designers from the country had been slowly breaking into the global space. A distinctly crisp, clean, and contemporary sensibility seeped in centuries of craft and regional artistry caught the attention of front row regulars in style capitals.
The first fashion brands from Ukraine that I had the pleasure of writing about included The Sleeper and LessLess Robes. And what struck me the most about these brands was how, ahead of their time, they’ve brought the time honored stories of their country’s identity to modern-day wardrobes worldwide.
When the war broke, fashion brands from Ukraine, much like its people, remained relentless in finding ways to inspire others through fashion. Artisans hand-stitched garments through the dark, cold winter night. It was a clear manifestation of Ukrainian craft fueled by passion and dedication. Brand owners found ways to keep their businesses afloat all while allocating a portion of their sales to the war effort. Through correspondences with courageous brand founders, I was reminded that fashion is by no means a frivolous pursuit. In a time of war and strife, it can inspire, uplift, and create positive impact.
More recently, the Spring/Summer collection of the COAT by Katya Silchenko caught my eye. In the midst of conflict, the brand presented a fashion narrative that was clearly optimistic and full of joy. Confetti prints and hourglass shapes of the garments paid homage to pottery traditions of Opisna, which is a small village in Ukraine. A soothing palette of terracotta, sage and peach contrasted beautifully with pops of blue, tassels and crochet trimmings. It was a refreshing, fun, and vibrant sartorial statement of a fashion brand from Ukraine manifesting victory for its country.
Ukrainian Style Sensibilities In Full Color—And Sprinkled With Confetti
Brand Founder and Creative Director Katya Silchenko explained, “I wanted to present a modern, elevated and renewed version of traditional Ukrainian dressing, without direct quotes or a dated approach. Our voluminous floating dress resembles a traditional vyshyvanka dress. The knitted cardigan is a reference to the Carpathian hutsul costume.” Light frocks, matching sets and organza coats were key pieces from the collection that offered a fresh departure from the minimalist inclinations of most Ukrainian designers.
The collection was launched at Copenhagen Fashion Week, which seemed an unlikely move for a brand navigating its way through a crisis. Katya explains, “Copenhagen Fashion Week, the most creative, in my opinion, gave us a platform to gain more visibility in Europe.” During this time, many local fashion brands were forced to shut down. Only a handful had resources to build their own mini power stations. Most workers had to work through long nights to bring quality workmanship to their products. Katya describes. “Imagine constant blackouts where you only have light for two to three hours. Everything was dark and everyone was shivering from the cold. I desperately wanted to put an end to it.”
Presence at Copenhagen Fashion Week provided Katya the ideal stage for sharing the COAT’s message of hope to a larger audience. “The collection was very patriotic with elements of the Ukrainian national costume,” she describes. “I was representing my country in a such beautiful way at such a difficult time.” Through the collection, Katya expressed her belief that better days lay ahead via vibrant color blocking and bold silhouettes. She asserts, “Fashion during wartime is about giving hope.”
the COAT’s Newly Refurbished Showroom Done In A Time Of War
Katya also decided to remodel the COAT’s showroom in Kyiv. She shares, “I decided to manifest my belief in our victory and invested into our showroom remodeling to keep the fashion business going.” The showroom had been transformed into an art space to showcase treasured objects in fashion. Apart from the remodeling and creating a stronger presence abroad, Katya also managed to secure work for her team of 35. Katya recalls, “At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, we took part of the team and the collection to the west of Ukraine, closer to Poland. I made a post about it on Instagram, and people from Canada, Europe and the US started to place orders.”
“Life goes on even during the war,” she declares. “We have become stronger. Our colleagues are working harder than ever.” For Fall/Winter 2023, the COAT zoomed in on the creative process of artists–painters, dancers, photographers, designers, and filmmakers. The collection, which Katya simply refers to as the Poetic Drop, takes on a subdued palette of gray. “It represents inner steadfastness,” Katya observes. “The softness of the fabrics and silhouettes represent that flexible thinking of a creative person.”
Utilizing light silk crepe, garments from the collection inspire freedom of movement and versatility. The collection features long coats, loose trousers that compliment corset tops, tailored boyfriend shirts, and snakeskin prints. Undertones of athleisure dressing lend a youthful vibrancy to the entire collection. Katya elaborates, “When designing the new drop, I wanted to make women feel truly special… Society and circumstances impose numerous labels and expectations on you regarding your appearance and behavior, but you should never forget about your self-worth. This drop reflects the versatility of the brand’s DNA and opens up new opportunities for customers to express their individuality.”
Compared to last season’s design narrative, Poetic Drops exudes an effortless take on dressing for fall where ease meets elegance. Katya shares, “The whole drop is achromatic, with different spectrums of gray, formed by mixing several opposite tones. Just as a complex personality, it embodies confidence and does not seek to prove his uniqueness to society.”
About Katya Silchenko: From Dance To Finding Purpose Through Fashion
Before going into fashion, Katya was a professional ballroom dancer. She recalls, “I’ve always had an eye for fashion and found it exciting to work on my own costumes. Over time, I began receiving requests for other dancers to create costume sketches for them.” She later worked as a TV presenter in Ukraine. Katya’s status as a personality on television soon drew attention to her unique sartorial style. It opened doors for her to explore creative pursuits, among them a collaboration for a local fashion brand that sold out instantly. It was at this point that Katya began focusing on the creation of her very own label, the COAT.
She remembers, “I decided to create my own studio. Expand the line and production. I assembled a team and it all came together as a brand. Our hero product was a colorful coat. Hence the name, the COAT.” While fashion shows in Ukraine were awash in minimalist, monochromatic garments, Katya went against the tide with color and vibrance. “Our powder pink, mind and lemon wool coats for Fall were an instant hit!” she shares.
Since pursuing a career in fashion, Katya has found her purpose. This was further amplified as challenges of running a business began to unfold during a time of war. “My team and clients motivate me. I feel responsible for our employees and their families,” she intimates. When the invasion began to threaten the lives and livelihood of the people in Ukraine, Katya’s first impulse was to find ways to secure the future of her people. “When they asked if we were going to shut down, I assured them that we won’t.”
In 2023 alone, the Coat has managed to show at Copenhagen Fashion Week, remodel its showroom, and launch several stunning collections. Its clientele has grown globally–perhaps at a larger scale and faster pace than it did before the invasion. Katya declares, “I really love my country. It has given me the opportunity to find my purpose and to grow. Now that my country is undergoing this hardship, I need to be a unit that provides jobs. One day, there will be no war. And everyone will be celebrating victory in our life-affirming clothes!”
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