The Ukrainian designer Svitlana Bevza’s self-monikered brand has become a force to be reckoned with within the fashion industry; a regular New York Fashion Week shower who has a consumer base which spans around the world. However, the brand has recently faced extreme hardships due to Russia’s invasion of the country.
Having its factories based in Kyiv, Bevza refuses to give into Putin’s threats, knowing that now more than ever, it is important for Ukraine’s beauty and culture to be received and recognised worldwide through fashion. Not only does the designer instil hope in her people, but she also spreads a crucial message worldwide: Ukraine will not be defeated.
Bevza Metalmagazine 1.jpg
I want to start off by lauding your bravery and strength. As a Ukrainian designer, I can only imagine how hard these past months have been for you, one day showing your Fall/Winter 2022 collection in New York, and the next having to flee your home to find a safe refuge for you and your children all whilst having to relocate your business out of Ukraine. How have you approached such an unmountable task?
I had no other choice. There are two kids depending on me and I couldn’t risk it and keep them in Ukraine so I had to find a place and schools for them because they have to continue their education. Within my business there is a whole team depending on me, so for one month and a half, those from my team who stayed in Ukraine were hiding in basements or at homes. We felt that in Kyiv there were more or less secure situations, we decided to restart everything. It was very important for me to go on as a voice in fashion to tell the visual story of Ukraine and of our culture and heritage through symbols to show what we are fighting for, especially the spikelets and the wheat.
Celebrating your Ukrainian heritage through your brand is a key element of Bevza. Could you talk to us about this?
It’s important for me to show my Ukrainian heritage because I’m a native Ukrainian and I lived there all my life until I turned 39. I really love my country and its beauty. But the thing is that the culture is very rich but it was muted by the Soviet Union and it was muted by Moscow for a lot of years. It was even dangerous to wear Ukrainian embroidered shirts in the 60s because you could be put to jail for it. I do it so that the world doesn’t know about Ukrainian culture just because of Russians.
Can you tell us about some of the Ukrainian cultural codes you have recreated or were inspired by for your garments?
In Spring/Summer 2023 there are multiple symbols of cultural and traditional costumes used in the collection. For instance, the wrapped skirt shape comes from a traditional Ukrainian skirt called plakhta – it's actually a square piece of fabric that is just draped and put on the body with the belt. The traditional plakhta used to be very generously embroidered, but I showed it in a minimalistic way and very simple with ought the belt but with the zipper so it's easy to wear.
The other things include the triangle shawls, hustkiy, which are put on mini triangles and the shawls are also put on the dresses. The shawl is traditionally worn on the head or on the shoulders in Ukraine as a symbol of a rich family and it is handmade and embroidered. To have a shawl painted in a Ukrainian family, for a woman meant to have the status so that they could have this shawl, was a very important gift when somebody gifted it from one family to another.
The shapes of sleeves on jackets and tunics, repeat the shape of the sleeves of traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts vyshivanka. We used it multiple times as well as with the spikelets. The little handmade braids are shown in accessories and on the bottoms of capes, so there is a lot of handwork in the collection, and Ukrainian artisans are very good at handwork. As well as hand-knitted fronts of dresses and tops, and there is a hidden symbol called a star that is usually hand-sewn on Ukrainian embroidered pieces. And, of course, the main thing is the spikelets that are shown in jewellery pieces.
Bevza Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Are you finding your dedication to Ukrainian culture more relevant than ever now? Have your creations found themselves to be a reminder of what it truly means to be Ukrainian in a time in which the country is at risk of erasure?
We launched this jewellery in 2019 and the spikelet is the main symbol of Ukraine of the fertility of the land. Now it happens that Russia stole wheat this summer, and actually, it is not the first time. They did it in the 40s and it caused massive hunger in Ukraine. They did it during World War II, even though we were fighting together against Germany. But still, the policy of Moscow was to take everything from Ukraine, so basically, the spikelets, the fields rich in wheat is one of the main things we are fighting for. It is not only about the beauty of the fields, but Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat and many countries depend on Ukrainian wheat, so now they're lacking it. There was one special necklace with black grains, and we called it burned spikelets, and it is like a memory of the burnt fields by Russians this summer in Ukraine. So it is a very special thing to me.
Your Spring/Summer 2023 collection was created and shown during the midst of wartime. How was this collection at New York Fashion Week different to other shows in terms of production and show?
The process of production was insane, actually. It was our first experience with one hundred per cent risk. I did it online with my team. I spent time with my kids in Portugal and sent sketches and made video calls with my atelier in Kyiv. I am lucky to have this team that has known me for years, they know what I want, we understand what fabrics we should use for this collection and so they just managed to do this. The first time I saw the collection was when I flew to Ukraine in early August to shoot the lookbook.
Have you found the fashion industry to be supportive of you and your brand whilst in this time of need?
The fashion industry was very supportive during these tough times. Especially during the beginning of the war, we had to deliver our Spring/Summer 2022 to buyers and we couldn’t do that because our planes stopped flying and all the delivery services from Ukraine couldn’t work so I was amazed that none of the buyers cancelled their orders. They just sent us emails that they understood the situation and would wait. We delivered orders for Fall/Winter 2022 right when the delivery services in Ukraine opened. It took time but nevertheless, this support was very important and touching for us because I understood that behind the fashion industry there are real people that care and understand what is going on in Ukraine. Fortunately, we delivered the Spring/Summer 2022 collection as well as we managed to produce the Fall/Winter 2023 in Ukraine during the war and delivered it to the stores. So what we have now in Moda Operandi, Selfridges or Bergdorf Goodman stores was produced in Ukraine during the war.
Bevza Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Your latest collection saw tributes to Ukraine in many forms, notably the aforementioned wheat symbol, which can be seen in your jewellery designs or in the pleated motif of certain pieces. We also saw tops inspired by bulletproof vests, a nod to the ongoing war. For someone watching your show, Ukrainian or not, what would be one key takeaway you would like them to leave with?
The key takeaway for the people to leave with, I suppose is the spikelets. This is a very important thing. In Ukraine during the war, girls still bought spikelet earrings and necklaces and their demand even grew. So, when we couldn’t deliver goods to other countries, our business, during some months, survived by selling the spikelets. The ladies that left the country as well as those who stayed in Ukraine, I understood that it was very important for them to have those as a Ukrainian symbol to warm them spiritually somehow. And what I understood is that people that are supportive of Ukraine and have just started to learn about the country wonder: “Who are these people? What is this all about?” They are also interested in spikelets.
So, those who support the country have the spikelets now and I think it’s very important for them to have them. Why? People are starting to understand that Ukraine is cool and the spikelets are great and we are all connected in this situation because by supporting Ukraine, their support will come back because the country is fighting for all of Europe. That’s why all these countries are helping us and why the United States are helping us with weapons. Nobody wants Russia to go forward because if Russia were to capture Ukraine, Putin wouldn’t stop there. He would go further. Russia is a danger to the whole civilised world. That’s maybe why people have started to understand the importance of the spikelets, of this symbol, of Ukraine’s importance on the global scene, that’s why people appreciate it. Anyways, spikelets are also beautiful so probably they also like its aesthetic.
Your shows all have one thing in common: the showing of a white dress. The colour white, notably in the form of a dress, has become a primary symbol of Bevza. Why is that?
Yes, I always dedicate a big role to white garments, especially to the white dress concept. The colour white is always a blank sheet of paper and wherever you were in your life yesterday, you can always start the day with something new and fill your life with the positive energy of white. I always associate white with freshness and openness to the world and trust and hope. That’s why white is always present in Bevza.
Also, technically it is one of the most difficult colours to play with. But at the same time, that is why it is so interesting to me and to our audience. Even when we produce the white coat in super non-commercial colours and when we produce the same coat in other commercial versions like grey, we always see that white coats are in much bigger demand.
You have also called yourself a ‘minimalist’ designer, as can be deduced from your elegant yet straightforward garments. Where does the affinity for this style come from?
First of all, I create things that I like in person, so in our creations, there is a lot of me. There is a lot of Svitlana in it. And minimalistic garments, or what I would call classics, are those which serve you for a long time. We use a lot of sustainable and zero-waste technologies and sustainable materials but the designs are also important. You have a coat or a dress you wore this season and you forget about it and put it in your wardrobe. Then in a year or 2, or 5 years, you find this dress and you wear it again. So, for me, it is very important to create things that can be a great investment. When you buy a coat there is a reason: it’s good quality, it has a neoclassic design, it’s made with sustainable technologies and there is no need to buy a lot of things every season just to throw them away.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Bevza?
My dream is for a better future for our planet in fashion industry terms, in changing the attitudes of people towards consumerism. I want to become a powerful example of a new format of fashion and consumption that does not harm nature by buying things with meaning.
Bevza Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 11.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 16.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 18.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 19.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 21.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 20.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 22.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 23.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 24.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 25.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 26.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 27.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 28.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 29.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 30.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 32.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 31.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 34.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 33.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 36.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 35.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 37.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 38.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 39.jpg
Bevza Metalmagazine 40.jpg