The talented Masha Reva uses fashion and people as her canvas. She’s making beautiful drawings both on bodies and on fabrics. Her inspiration source is her hometown, Kiev. Despite growing up in the Ukrainian capital, her dream was to study fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. She followed it, moved to London and later did internships in Antwerp and in New York City. After graduating with an MA in Womenswear she received a lot of offers from several designers. The fashion industry in London was ready for Masha, but Masha wasn’t ready for that world. So she decided to do what nobody expected: she moved back to her hometown.
You use fashion as a canvas. You draw on dresses and paint on jeans. Do you use fashion as a medium to spread your thoughts?
I had been studying fashion for a long time and graduated with MA in Womenswear from Central Saint Martins two years ago when I suddenly realized that I wanted to try something new. I left London, turned down a promising job offer and came back to Kiev. Well, I have always been in love with art; it is something I grew up surrounded by thanks to my parents, who are artists. I enjoyed working as a freelance illustrator and as a print designer, and I still do. However, after launching my body painting project last summer I thought that it was a good point to make a comeback to fashion with a small series of pieces, which will translate the body painting into prints on fabric. I think it’s not necessary for me to be a fashion designer in a conventional sense. I would love to keep my freedom and to work in different mediums at the same time. Being able to collaborate keeps my feelings in tension and I can always make a step away to get a fresh point of view on things. Working just in one field sounds a little boring.
You also draw on people. What do you want to highlight with you drawings? Is there a statement you want to make?
I started this project with a series of portraits of kids from Kiev, photographed by my friend Armen Parsadanov. I’ve casted models from our local agency, Cat-B, from Instagram and of course invited a few friends to participate. The cast was an important part, as I wanted to show the energy we have in Ukrainian youth culture; it is truly inspiring. The idea behind this project was really simple: I decided to draw my first impression of each model on his or her body. That was a starting point, and in a sense, this photo project brought me from illustration back to a human body. I love the part when I talk to the models beforehand to get a feeling about what colour or mood they are, so I can decide what to draw. It is always quite intimate and I am grateful when they can trust me.
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Where does your inspiration come from? Can you tell us how you transform your thoughts and inspirations into your designs?
I love to be at home in Kiev surrounded by my friends, it’s a really beautiful and chaotic city at the same time, and I am lucky to have great people around me. We do a lot of things together, from parties to work; it feels like we are a big gang. I get inspired by people around me a lot, I have a need to exchange energy. I’m originally from Odessa, my family lives there and they are one of a kind. It’s truly inspiring to come to our summerhouse: it’s a place of power and love. It’s the best place on Earth! Besides that, of course, I always observe and take pictures on my iPhone. I love accidental moments, like when you see a stranger wearing something in a weird way; or it could be a song I spotted on Instagram stories. Everything can be inspiring.
Can you give us an example looking at your latest work? Take us with you through your creative journey.
The series of pieces I’ve recently presented in Paris is called Drawings On People. This is a small collection inspired by my experiments with body painting. I decided to create a wardrobe out of simple classical pieces we all wear in everyday life – a trench coat, a biker jacket, a suit or a shirt –all covered with prints resembling body shapes. The idea behind this series is really simple: I transformed my body painting into prints on fabric.
Frankly saying for some time after graduating I’ve been thinking that I really need an urge to be able to design clothes again. There are so many things out there already. If I decide to produce something, I have to be sure that it is something I haven’t seen before; only something new can really make a difference.
You were born in Ukraine, a country where it’s not easy to build a career in fashion. Is that the reason why you left Ukraine in the first place?
When I was seventeen I went to London for the first time. It blew my mind. I kept dreaming to study in Central Saint Martins since then, but it was absolutely not affordable for my family. I spent few years in Ukraine studying fashion instead, and at some point I got a place on MA at Central Saint Martins. I have to admit that this experience completely changed my approach towards work, and I realized how important it is to be free and don’t give a shit about what other people think. That’s why I think it doesn’t really matter where you are based if you have imagination. I travel a lot now; however, I’m based in Kiev at the moment and I am getting inspired by the environment in Ukraine. It is unorganized and not perfect, and I find beauty in this.
Looking at your graduation collection for Central Saint Martins (2015) we see a lot of influences from Ukraine. You feel the fear, the pain and the insecurity. Is that how you still see Ukraine?
In the middle of the MA course I took a year out and came back to Kiev, which is when the revolution happened. I simply couldn’t think about anything else but politics and protest. These were overwhelmingly new emotions to me, as I’m someone who never followed the news and felt patriotic. I was absorbed by the energy of protests on the streets of Kiev. I became a part of it and walked around the central square (Maidan) taking photographs of protesters, DIY posters and barricades. The society in a state of changes improved my ability to empathize. It was a really touching personal experience that has changed the perspective from which I look at my background. My graduation collection was more like a self-analyzing project. I didn’t plan to blow everyone’s mind, it was just a documentation of my life and where I belong to. It had to happen in that particular moment and I have no regrets.
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It feels like you want to warn us about something with your collection. Is there a message you want to spread with your designs?
Well, perhaps the message is just ‘joy’. The journey I’ve been to when working with all the models was truly inspiring. I love to get to know people, and each print is inspired by a person and the moment I drew on each of them is special to me. The project celebrates people’s diversity, characters and body shapes.
The revolution in your homeland must have changed you as a person but also has a big impact on your work. Can you tell us more about the influences Ukraine has on your work nowadays?
I would say that I love to be spontaneous, and this is the only way you can survive in Ukraine. You have to be flexible on every level, there are no rules; chaos is our nature. The most important thing that happened to me during the last two years I’ve been living here is that I accepted myself the way I am with all the imperfections. I am not trying to be the best; I just want to be myself.
You moved to Antwerp for an internship at Walter van Beirendonck, lived in London for your MA degree in womenswear at Central Saint Martins and you also did an internship in New York City. With this amazing resume you will say that a successful career in one of the fashion capitals is next. But you decided to move back to your birthplace, why is that?
At a certain point after my graduation I was exhausted. I realized that I was chasing after success but things just didn’t really work. The best decision that came to my mind was to stop; I had to find the balance again because I was not happy. I went to Odessa to visit my family and realized that the best state of mind is when you love and you’re loved; your career doesn’t really matter that much.
All is simple: when you are in balance with yourself, the will to create just comes by itself, and if you are sincere about what you do and you get joy from it, it doesn’t really matter how successful you are. The best place to come to this conclusion was home. I go there whenever I need to gain energy and I always come to understand that everything is bullshit. Only how my grandma cooks and when we swim at night in the Black Sea drinking champagne is important.
We are curious. What are your plans for the future? Will Masha Reva ever come back to Western Europe?
I really depend on my work; I have to be busy in order to be fulfilled emotionally. At this particular moment I enjoy being in Kiev and working from here. I can always travel for new projects. However, I can’t predict if I will stay here forever; my spontaneous nature just doesn’t let me do so.
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