We get to talk with the designer family duo behind Kseniaschnaider, Ksenia and Anton Schnaider, about working together, responsible ways of creating fashion or how their fun and original designs are born. Experimenting with denim never seemed so fun: going through the work of this Kiev-based brand is discovering new horizons of what fashion can turn into.
Their demi-denims, the fur coat made of denim or their asymmetrical trousers are their most iconic pieces. The brand’s DNA involves denim in all of its forms, but Kseniaschnaider is growing and searching for new ways to expand their horizons. An example of that is their menswear Spring/Summer 2020 collection launching in June, and also, they’re planning to upload a soundtrack for each garment on iTunes. Want to know more about them?
First things first. Introduce us a bit to Kseniaschnaider. Who is behind the brand?
Ksenia: I and my husband Anton are the designer family duo behind the brand. Back then, before 2010, when I met my future husband, I was already working in fashion with my own Kiev-based streetwear brand. Meantime, Anton had been working as a graphic designer in Moscow (Russia) for a variety of clients, including Artemy Lebedev Studio and Yandex. Right after we met, we were not aiming to create the brand at once.
I just continued to create clothing, only this time, the ideas were both mine and Anton’s. The items I made at that time were for myself and my friends mostly, but eventually, we received incredible feedback and demand for our clothing, which inspired us to start the Ksenia Schnaider (now Kseniaschnaider) brand in 2011. It just felt natural to continue to bring our ideas through clothing for more and more people.
Mixing pleasure with business can get complicated sometimes. But what’s the best part of working together?
Ksenia: I believe that the fact that we are working together on one brand makes it distinctive. We mostly have the same views, but still, with some opposing opinions, which are hard to be compromised with. But we don’t try to compromise over them, we are trying to find the right balance for differences inside one brand. Anton: Of course, we can have different opinions, but, what’s more important, we have each others’ backs. So going back to your question, the best part of us working together is that we keep each other in check, give each other a different perspective. We are constantly together, which is also one of the best things – we can constantly and instantly discuss and decide things. But at the same time, we have to put an extra effort to guard our personal space and free time.
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Kseniaschnaider was born and is based in Kiev. A few decades ago, when it was part of the Soviet Union, denim wasn’t available to the population because it was expensive (the fabric mostly came from France) and also because the government forbid to wear it – people could even be penalized. Now, your brand’s DNA involves denim everywhere: skirts, jackets, jeans, hats, etc. Does this have something to do with that historical moment? Does Kseniaschnaider have a subversive side?
Ksenia: Well, during Soviet times and afterwards, in post-Soviet countries, jeans had a cult status and were seen as extremely cool to wear since denim was really not available here (I’m not sure you could be penalized for wearing jeans, but definitely for selling and importing them from other countries). In my childhood, we had only one pair of jeans in our house, and my mother and father both wore it. It’s that respectful and careful feeling for denim our grandparents and parents had for the jeans back in the 1980s that we are trying to transform and communicate through Kseniaschnaider’s denim and other clothing, on one hand.
But on the other hand, our brand’s DNA involves denim because it is such an important part of my everyday life. I almost always wear something denim since school. I love jeans, I feel comfortable wearing them. Most of all, it’s more comfortable than wearing dresses. So when we started working with denim material, it was very natural for me.
In addition to the ever-present denim, there are also plaid skirts, patchwork, tartan and camouflage prints or silk blouses in your Fall/Winter 2019 collection. Where do you source your inspiration from?
Ksenia: We can’t ignore everyday reality, which we are living and working in. Both of us always find beauty in imperfections, transform kitsch into utility, find inspiration in ridiculous architecture, nasty advertisements and so on. I’m sure that if we were living in Rome or Tokyo, our collections would be completely different. But we are here in Kiev, where sometimes we may be mad at this city for its visual overdose, though always we find inspiration here and then unconsciously use it in our collections. In general, we are always in the creative process, not just from season to season, and it seems like I don’t really have time to find something specific that influences a certain collection.
Anton: I am in the constant pursuit of making things better. I’m an art director. From creating logos for other brands to redesigning cars in the past and creating clothing today, I’m like fitting the world we live in into my own idea of the world.
The silk pieces of the last collection include graphic prints that are a reference to your youth memories. Let us know about those references as young designers. Icons or mentors? Who are they?
Anton: Well, among other things, we are constantly inspired by innovators and outsiders. People who left imprints that you find difficult to put into a certain category. For instance, Erwin Wurm, Rem Koolhaas, Tom Sachs, or Quentin Dupieux. There is also this Soviet architect, Florian Yuryev; he’s pretty cool.
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A revolution came with the ‘demi-denims’ you presented as part of the Spring/Summer 2016 collection. They introduced us into a new silhouette: a pair of jeans simulating wider shorts worn over skinny pants. You also presented the ‘denim fur’, which was frayed denim that looked like fur – an alternative to the actual material. And you have made several other pieces by putting remnants of old denim together. For example, the asymmetrical jeans of the latest Fall/Winter 2019 collection.
Ksenia: I remember with demi-denims, I just had that silhouette in my head and I wanted to bring it to life. I almost couldn’t sleep because of it. It’s hard to say how I came up with the idea of demi-denims, but maybe when thinking that I wanted to invent some new cut, the idea appeared itself and I just had to make it happen.
Anton: I remember I mentioned the pile of denim pieces left unwanted after cutting vintage denim and made a joke about that this pile looking like a fur coat. Our team then turned that joke into a real ‘denim fur’ coat. However, it took lots of time to find the right technology to create it – every single coat is made by hand only and it takes five days to create one. We are still adding denim fur coats in different colours and textures to our every collection; it’s like a Kseniaschnaider carry-over item.
It really shows that you love playing with shapes, silhouettes, materials, and even subvert them.
Ksenia: We were also the first ones to call it denim fur because, you know, in Ukraine, for example, it’s very popular still to wear fur coats, unfortunately. And with asymmetrical jeans, I had that crazy denim idea for several seasons already but just couldn’t convince Anton, who thought that no one needs jeans like these. But first, for Pre-Fall 2019, I realized that there is at least one person who would be happy to wear such a challenging denim piece, and this person is me.
Then, for Fall/Winter 2019, after everyone started talking about our asymmetrical jeans, though mostly negative, I still decided to add them in new colours to the collection. I honestly love to experiment with cuts, silhouettes, materials. Sometimes I’m struck with an idea of a silhouette and then we’re doing a million fittings until I get it right. Sometimes it’s more of a joke or a what-if-moment during a fitting.
Lady Gaga wore one of your hats for one of her music releases; Bella Hadid loves the ‘demi-denims’. Dua Lipa and Adwoa Aboah have worn your designs too. As a young, emerging brand, what is your relationship with celebrities like, and how important do you feel they are to the brand’s expansion?
Ksenia: The Kseniaschnaider brand is independent and self-investing. It’s based in the country where people the world over started to differentiate from other post-Soviet countries, but only since 2014, and therefore, it’s important for us to receive international recognition. But we want this recognition to be organic. We’ve never paid celebrities or influencers to wear any Kseniaschnaider item in return. Instead, we are focusing on creating signature outstanding clothing to attract their attention and recognition naturally, and on building up good relations with them and their incredible stylists.
“I think limiting yourself to what you wear is boring. We’re striving to create a separate ecosystem” (Anton Schnaider)
Kseniaschnaider bets for a more sustainable fashion “to lower the impact on the planet as much as possible”. And so, your partnership with Isko includes organic cotton or recycled polyester from plastic bottles, among others. We know the world is in a pretty bad state because of human’s actions. I remember realizing about it after watching videos of sea turtles trapped in plastics or of rivers in China whose colour changed due to pollution. Was there anything in particular that made you more conscious or aware of the situation within the fashion industry?
Anton: I was always questioning the irrational use of resources in general. We practised sustainability before everyone started to talk about it a lot. But at that time, we just didn’t think of ourselves as a ‘sustainable brand’ and, moreover, we were afraid to tell our customers that our denim was made of old second-hand jeans. Because for instance, here in Ukraine, they simply were not ready to buy something just because it’s good for the planet.
Ksenia: And realizing that we are living in a part of the world that is rarely thought as environmentally-friendly influenced our decision to make sustainability a significant part of our brand’s DNA. And at some point, it just somehow happened that we started to rework second-hand clothing from denim and sportswear to recently knitwear, including leftovers from our own previous collections. Now, we started working on a new collection and I feel that we just have to create some new technique because it’s really interesting for me to see how far we can go and what else we can rework.
Could you give us a piece of advice about consuming in a more responsible way?
Ksenia: In today’s day and age, consumption is a very delicate subject and I am very proud that more and more people are paying attention to how they consume. In my opinion, the more responsible way is essentially the mindful way. The key is to always be aware. Of course, circumstances may vary, but one should make it a rule to only acquire what they really need and to be mindful of the products’ origin and quality. Those are the basics you could build upon.
For small brands and young designers, it’s hard sometimes to find sustainable fabrics (they are more expensive than others and many fabric stores still don’t have them in stock). In your beginnings, was this an issue you had to deal with? What struggles did you have to face as entrepreneurs?
Ksenia: Having any business in Eastern Europe is a huge deal on its own. There is no support from the government whatsoever. Concerning the fabrics, we started by mainly reworking old clothes, so we didn’t feel the issues at that moment as much. The items that we upcycled we found in Ukraine, bought them at second-hand markets and stores – we have lots of those in here.
When buyers were placing their orders for denim made of used clothing and asking if we were able to produce the needed amount, it somehow scared them that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish it. But we always assured and still assure them that we can produce enough denim because we have unlimited access to old clothing here in Ukraine (if I’m not mistaken, Ukraine is the first place in Europe for the amount of second-hand clothing in the country).
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So the fabrics were clearly not a problem.
Ksenia: We started with denim. We were making jeans, jackets, blazers, skirts – a wide range of clothing. Then, we added vintage sportswear: from old sports costumes, we were making dresses with corsets and sport costumes with a fresh flow. And recently, we added knitwear and began to rework leftovers of Ukrainian textile manufacturers. Now, the choice is way bigger and we are a bit bigger because we have companies who come up to us with proposals on fabrics.
Anton: It’s great that the sustainable market has become mainstream and moved away from being an underground activist movement.
You have recently launched your first menswear collection. What motivated this move? How is the Kseniaschnaider man?
Anton: Earlier this year, we introduced Kseniaschnaider menswear collection featuring Kseniaschnaider’s everyone’s favourites and best-sellers from previous both unisex and womenswear collections. But right now, we are finishing up the first full and only menswear collection, which we are going to show at Pitti Immagine Uomo in Florence this June. The Kseniaschnaider man has turned out to be like The Place Beyond The Pine’s Luke. His wardrobe is all over the place but also cool. He’s not part of any culture or any subculture, he’s a citizen of the world.
You said in an interview with i-D that you are trying to find new challenges and entertain people in a fun way – meaning, roll away a bit from denim. What’s on the horizon for you? New materials, new shapes, new techniques? What can we expect from you in the future?
Ksenia: We’re not rolling away from denim so much as we’re expanding our horizon. Denim will always be a fabric we love working with, but we don’t want to stop at being just a denim brand.
Anton: We are not just about clothes even. I think limiting yourself to what you wear is boring. We’re striving to create a separate ecosystem, where Kseniaschnaider clothes would be a sort of a uniform you’d wear there. We want to cultivate a brand new principle upon which it would be easy to build up a Kseniaschnaider environment. Here is a small example/spoiler. For Kseniaschnaider menswear, we are planning to upload a soundtrack for each clothing item. This way, you’d be able to listen to Kseniaschnaider menswear Spring/Summer 2020 on iTunes. 
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