Art of Style
The Ukranian fashion director has become a cult figure in the fashion world, thanks to her minimal-meets-directional aesthetic. She tells us about her unconventional journey into fashion, taking a career break and why she’s a suit obsessive
I find it tricky when people ask me for advice on how to get into fashion, because – for me – it was a series of happy accidents. Growing up, I always assumed I’d go into publishing; I studied journalism at university. There was absolutely no fashion scene in Kiev when I moved there – no designers and no boutiques – which is probably why I’d never considered fashion as a career path. But when modeling agencies began to spring up in the city, I quickly got involved styling test shoots. This was how I first became friends with John Casablancas, the founder of Elite Models. He was the first person to spot my talent and his encouragement really spurred me on.
When Harper’s Bazaar launched in Ukraine in 2008, they hired me as an editor. It was a serious step up and I did a lot of learning on the job. There were only a few of us working on the team, so we really had to lean in to produce the magazine every month. One of the things I am most proud of is the fact we went from syndicating all our imagery, because there were no local producers or photographers, to creating our own. It took me a year to convince my editor-in-chief to let me do a photoshoot in Kiev. I even offered to cover the expenses personally if we didn’t use the images in the magazine – that’s when she knew I was serious. I was such a kid, so full of energy and enthusiasm. Eventually, I got the green light and flew a team in from Moscow to do what was probably the first ever fashion shoot in Ukraine.
“I always wanted to look different; I was always raiding my mother’s closet and reconstructing her pieces for myself”
Soon after that, I was promoted to senior fashion editor. The very next day, I told my boss I was pregnant and leaving Kiev to spend two years in Bali. Everyone thought I was crazy; I had just gotten this amazing position and it looked like my career was really starting to take off, but I knew I was making the right decision. I gave birth to my daughter Penelope and spent two fantastic, unhurried years just learning to be a mother – breastfeeding, practicing yoga and eating fresh mango on a beautiful island. Looking back, having the courage to take that break was one of the best decisions I ever made. When I returned to Kiev in 2011, Vogue was preparing to launch in the Ukraine, and they invited me to be part of the team. Of course, I said yes, and I’ve been there since day one.
The funny thing about it all is that I didn’t lay eyes on a fashion magazine until I was an adult. I never considered fashion when I was growing up – but, on reflection, I can see that it was always a big part of my life. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all skilled seamstresses. It was something they did to earn a living, and they also had exceptionally good taste. My mother could sew herself a new dress or coat in a couple of hours if she needed to. The Ukraine she lived in was part of the Soviet Union; a whole other world. You couldn’t just go to a store and buy new clothes, so my mother had to create her own pieces. Growing up, seeing that self-sufficiency and creativity had a real impact on my style. Even when I was a kid, I always wanted to look different; I was always raiding my mother’s closet and reconstructing her pieces for myself.
That habit has stayed with me. When I first moved to Kiev to attend university, I would spend hours trawling vintage shops for treasures that I could restore. That’s actually when I first started wearing suits. I would buy men’s styles in thrift stores and tailor them to my body. I was still trying to find my look and experimenting a lot, but I clearly remember the first time I wore a suit. I felt so comfortable, confident and powerful; I felt like me.
The most important thing when you’re buying a suit is to make sure it’s the right cut for you. Seemingly little details – like the width of shoulders and the length of the blazer – are what makes a suit perfect, or not. I believe any woman with any body shape can wear a suit; you don’t have to be slim, or tall, or whatever. By being clever with the proportions, you can create the illusion of longer legs or a narrow waist, whatever you want. I have a very athletic body and love vintage shapes, so I find that menswear works well for me – I’m a big fan of Dunhill. Plus, a suit really does work for any occasion. If I’m wearing one to the office – usually styled with a blouse – I’ll often pop a silk camisole and statement necklace into my bag, so I’m ready for a dinner out, drinks, or whatever else might come up that evening. That’s the magic of truly great tailoring.