Vena Brykalin left Ukraine just hours before Russian tanks entered the country. As Fashion Director of Vogue Ukraine, he was on his way to Milan for Fashion Week, and watched the invasion of his homeland from afar as the fashion industry’s twice-yearly round of runway shows rolled on. By the time he arrived at Paris Fashion Week, he had realized he would not be going back just yet, and has stayed in Europe ever since, working to spotlight Ukrainian creativity and rally the fashion industry for support.
“[Being at Fashion Week during the invasion] felt absurd and painful, but also in a weird way, getting on with the job felt important as we could put our network and contacts in the industry to good,” he says. Incredibly, the Vogue Ukraine team are still publishing online, working virtually from wherever they are, to keep their country’s creative voices heard. Vena believes that ‘keeping Vogue afloat is part of our cultural diplomacy,” and as one of the few internationally recognized Ukrainian media brands, they hope to be back in print later this year.
In Paris, he met with jewelry designer Charlotte Chesnais, who offered her currently vacant future flagship store on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. With former Vogue Ukraine creative director Sofiya Kvasha, they came up with the idea for a project to support Ukrainian creatives, funded in part by Fashion Girls for Humanity, a US-based organization that channels funds and support from the fashion industry to communities in need. The city’s creatives stepped up to the table, donating their time and talent to the cause; M/M Paris took care of visual identity, Avoir handled set design and press agency Lucien Pagès mobilized to get coverage.
The first of three chapters of the show opened on May 7, with two more in the works for the coming weeks. Genesis draws on the country’s folkloric and rural past, presenting art, rugs, homewares, objets d’art and fashion in tactile natural textures with a focus on hand-craftsmanship. “Historically, Ukraine is a matriarchy, but the line-up was unintentional,” says Vena, of the almost exclusively female roster of artists and designers.
Yet there is an undeniable connection to the feminine and the power of the mother figure in the work on show, from the traditional vyshyvanka embroidered shirts and bedsheets by Vita Kin to the sensuous curves of Nadia Shapoval’s ceramics, made using clay from the Donbas region. Elsewhere, are ear-of-wheat jewelry symbolizing prosperity and fertility by Bevza, and hand-embroidered table napkins customized with Russian military helicopters by Masha Shubina. ‘Le Corps qui se Cherche’, a sculpture by Paris-based Ukrainian artist Olga Sabko sits in the window, while upstairs, the remaining 14 minutes of a film that was made in the 1960s and partially destroyed by the USSR, plays on a loop, providing a thought-provoking backdrop to the contemporary Ukrainian fashion in the attic.
“The art works in a different way when it’s taken out of a Ukrainian context and put into yours,” says Vena. The next two chapters of the event after Genesis, will be Actualité; focusing on the current globalized present and its roots in Perestroika, and Futur; a heady look forward into a sustainable, utopic creative future. Art and fashion might not seem to be of vital importance in the current context, but they have a big role to play defining culture and identity, as well as economics and politics.
Moreover, each of the designers and artists on show at Tripolar has a story to tell, most of them have had to leave Ukraine, many of them have lost stock they had sunk their savings into, or, like LVMH prize-shortlisted fashion designer Anton Belinskiy, have seen their workshops destroyed. Yet, they continue to create, to make music and art, to tell their story in a way which is now more important than ever.
Perhaps the most significant piece on show, is a life-size soap cast of the gun-shot body of artist Maria Kulikovska, who is now exiled in Austria with her young baby. It was lent by a private collector, driven over from Munich to Paris for Tripolar, and is the only example of her work now available outside of Ukraine. Fragile and ephemeral, there is also an incredible strength to this wounded woman, who seems to preside over the space with grace. “She arrived at midnight, the night before we opened,” says Vena. “I think she gives the exhibition all its sense.”
Tripolar is at 169, Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France, the next chapter will open in June. Follow @tripolar.ua on Instagram for news about upcoming events.