Ukrainian designer Yana Chervinska is launching her Spring / Summer 2024 collection IMPRINTS. Chervinska’s reworked, versatile, daring clothing line explores the human ability to mobilise and acclimatise, inspired by her own experience of displacement since the Russia-Ukraine war erupted in February 2022. Armed with a single suitcase, Chervinska migrated to Europe.The brooding, stoic nature of Ireland (one of her homes) filled Yana with a curiosity to explore the realm of the untouched natural world from which an anonymous wandering heroine was born.
Hi Yana! Thank you for speaking with us. How are you today, and where are you answering us from?
I just had my psychoanalysis session, and I am a bit unbalanced now. I am answering from Vienna, where I live now, and it’s pretty funny to live in the city from which psychoanalysis came. I am reading Freud and Adler and trying to reflect on many recent changes in my life.
Congratulations on the launch of your new collection! How are you feeling about it?
It’s my first collection since the pandemic, apart from all the designs I did for different brands during these three years. This special drop was made in collaboration with Ukrainian displaced female creatives, my family, and friends. It feels like a very personal story, and every piece is one of a kind, made by my mum (she is doing knitwear), my auntie (she is responsible for felting), or my sisters (they are doing jewellery pieces). In charge of leatherwork was my tutor from an art school.
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So IMPRINT - tell us a little bit about where the idea for this name sprung from. What is the imprint you want this line to leave on people?
The name is based on my personal experience of displacement. A defining feature of the IMPRINTS collection is its innovative use of silkscreen prints that mimic scars and traces. These patterns symbolise the indelible marks left by life’s challenges and evoke a profound sense of resilience. The prints represent diverse paths migrants take and capture the traces they leave while transitioning from one place to another. Together with an architect from Ukraine, Yana Buchatska, we developed the idea of the installation for Dutch Design Week. The concept of leaving traces was reinforced through the project’s presentation. The garments were arranged in a floor sculpture, simulating the riverbed of the Dnipro River with its sandy bottom. Сlothes were floating within this artificial reservoir, leaving imprints on the sandy surface. I want people to think about the inner pain which is inside everybody who was forced to leave a native land.
I understand that you draw a lot of inspiration from the natural world, noticeable through your inclusion of floral designs and natural undulating tones that echo the deep colours of terrain. Could you enlighten us on this decision? Can a line of inspiration be drawn perhaps from martial aesthetics?
Regarding CMF (colour, material, and finish) design, I thought about the second skin concept as a cocooning and protective layer for the main woman character of IMPRINTS. I was reworking unwanted leather into a defensive material and printing it with earthy textures by hand. I saw these soil-like, biomimicry finishes as organic, like life and death on Earth, the prints and colour scheme attempt to slightly twist the familiar camo pattern, as I used military-inspired colours. But I didn’t want to speculate on a war topic or use too many martial-inspired narratives.
This collection alludes to both military uniforms in the practicality of the outfits, while maintaining a delicate air of sophistication and elegance. Was it difficult to maintain this duality throughout the line?
Yes, I saw it as rather too protective than elegant, but then I reached the point where utility melded with femininity and something very fragile. Collaborations with other creative females and seeing their powerful yet tender energy softened my leather armour, and I like how fabrics drape gracefully, exuding sophistication from a previous life. At the same time, the functional gorp-core elements nod to the functionality required for those on the move.
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Your family plays a significant role in breathing life into this collection, don’t they? Your mother, aunt, and sister in particular, I believe. Tell us about the experience of a familial collaboration.
My mum and aunt are self-taught textile artisans, and their vision is precious. This year, I became a scholar of the Queen Elisabeth Scholarship Trust, which invests in supporting and up-skilling craft specialists. My family was very proud of me, as our legacy and roots came from a naive peasant background. The chance to learn textile design at the Royal College of Art was always unrealistic and even phantasmagoric. I started to work with my aunt on developing felted accessories and footwear while getting a Master’s degree in fashion design at Kyiv National University of Technologies and Design. Together, we made very sophisticated, enormous hats, and decorated boots with wooden platforms. With that collection, I won various fashion design contests. With my mum, I was always working as a hand-knitwear technician. She was my main knitwear and embroidery developer for many years. My sister is now taking steps in jewellery design and beading, so she also contributed to my collection as a skilled specialist. For me, this way of work is very natural. My family is very supportive, they always want to help me develop my ideas and I can rely on their skills and creativity
I love the undercurrent of rebirth that your S/S 24 line exudes. Is the inclusion of vintage leather and reworked fabrics an ode to hope as a tool for renewal? Can we turn to the natural world for rehabilitation?
We have lost the connection with Mother Nature and therefore have to resort to wild places for treatment. It’s sad that our experience of the stunning nature of the forest is an entirely different perspective than for people 150 years ago. I am very into healing sessions and practices in front of eye-catching landscapes: this connection should remain uninterrupted. I know it might sound superficial and speculative, but I sincerely believe in the power of nature, regenerative agriculture, biodiversity, democratic and responsible design, and eco-oriented approaches to art. I am still trying to figure out how to implement more sustainable design solutions into my brand, as I already use many of them, but it’s ongoing research. During a 3 year break from my fashion brand I thought about how the fashion industry would look in the future and how we could transform it into a more conscious practice.
In 2016, I became increasingly interested in sustainable fashion after a 1 month international design workshop in Seoul, organised by the footwear brand Camper. I realised how important it is to develop and share ideas not for the sake of creation but for sustainability, using deadstock and upcycling old pieces. This mindset shift led to my cooperation with Helsinki Fashion Week (the first sustainable fashion week in the world). In 2018, following that collaboration, I challenged the status quo in Ukrainian design by launching Sustainable Fashion Pad — the first Ukrainian purpose-driven platform for experience sharing, activism, and interdisciplinary sustainable design practices. It helped to reinforce the market for sustainable fashion in Ukraine and to strengthen the community, which up to that point had been inactive. Later, I joined the Ukrainian Ecostations Network and started to work with scientists. I understood how important it is not only to utilise the power of nature but also to give back. Reworking leather and upcycling unwanted garments that simulate natural textures is my ode to the Earth and an effort to give back.
Following on from the belief that our earth is a home to all, could you draw some light on your experience of displacement due to the war in your home?
I don’t feel as though I have a constant home despite the fact that I live somewhere. But I recently started to see life being composed of people-to-people connections: a circular system where a healthy relationship can stay with you forever and rejuvenate at a crucial moment. During the last 1.5 years I’ve met many beautiful people on my way to a new home! My approach to networking gave me a life-saving opportunity when the full-scale war in Ukraine started. Since I had to take care of my mum, I needed to find a safe place and a job that could support us. I started to contact people I had met through the international fashion projects I participated in. Fortunately, my tutor at Camper International Design Workshop and her colleague were able to offer me a place at their company. In two weeks, my family and I were relocated to Mallorca. Such an optimistic scenario at Camper would have never been possible without the meaningful professional connection I built with my mentor, Basia Szckutnicka, a fashion designer and educator from the London College of Fashion (LCF). I met her in 2014 at a fashion design contest in Georgia. Later, after my contract with Camper was over I moved to the UK and was welcomed by Sabina Weiss, a product designer whom I had spontaneously contacted on LinkedIn while looking for a design review. She hosted me for several weeks in London and became my friend and career coach. I can say that the most essential part of displacement is people and your circle, which, of course, grows and flexes. I would never be where I am without the help and support of friends, people I met on the journey, and even random strangers!
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How did you find the transition from Ukraine to Europe? What was the biggest surprise? And the biggest challenge?
I came to the UK in December 2022 to restart my life in the country I had experience with. I have a strong bond with this country since in 2016 my fashion brand was selected for the British Council’s Fashion DNA programme. My nomination was endorsed by a selection panel of fashion industry experts chaired by Sarah Mower. As a result, I participated in an educational programme for young creative entrepreneurs, led an art direction for a  showroom of Ukrainian designers in London, and conducted my debut show in London Fashion Week. The UK has a long history of an independent approach to fashion. Since 1896, the Royal College of Art has trained the crème de la crème of British Creativity. Fashion universities across the nation pride themselves on a multidisciplinary approach to conceptual and radical thinking, pushing a deeper questioning of  identity. I hoped an education in the UK would help me to understand my core, title my practice, and come to authenticity with a sustainable face.
I made this dream a reality, yet the transition was not without difficulty. I had 2 British host families and  unfortunately I found them quite unbearable. The biggest surprise was how big the gap between Ukrainian and British traditions is, particularly in cooking. The biggest challenge was finding a decent job and escaping the host families in search of an affordable sublet. Overall the experience was fun and challenging. In April, I decided to visit the Aran Islands in Ireland because I was deeply impressed by the movie The Banshees of Inisherin, which left me crying in the cinema. I checked the weather conditions and when peak season was and found that April is when Aran is at its gloomiest and loneliest. I went there in April. 
In your experience of displacement, did you feel a stronger pull towards the roots of your home country or did it result in the opposite: a powerful feeling of belonging wherever you set foot? How does the feeling of unanchored-ness manifest in IMPRINTS?
The displacement experience changed my mindset to nomadic. Now, I think much more about my authenticity and Ukrainian design code. I wanted my work to represent the Ukrainian fashion identity and heritage in a sustainable way. This is crucial for successful post-war reconstruction and international collaboration since cultural language is how we communicate our values. The war on my country has threatened both its cultural and physical development and the impending victory requires redefining our cultural DNA. Design is the primary tool for redevelopment. It influences a myriad industries from fashion, art, interiors, and architecture to urban development, production, planning, and inclusivity. The scale of redesign is enormous and extends far beyond the borders of Ukraine. In order to succeed we must fuse design and sustainability. In IMPRINTS I developed the idea of a uniform for all mobile people, reflecting their need for comfort and protection while strengthening their desires to regain their voice and make an impact. It’s an exaggerated idea of a capsule wardrobe where party dresses are fused with knitwear essentials and practical but festive outerwear.
To finish, what’s next in store for you?
I have a very short horizon for planning. I know what I will have for dinner tonight. Tomorrow, a coffee and a smile from the barista with the question ‘How are you?’ will be waiting for me at 9 a.m. If the world still exists in September of next year,  I will start my MA course in textile design at the RCA.
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