In the pursuit of depth and connection, some designers shape profound narratives through their work. Enter Zhilyova, the trendsetting Ukrainian lingerie brand that has graced the likes of Rosalía and Cindy Crawford. Their new collection Totem serves as an elegant tribute to the timeless dance of creation and the spiritual bonds that unite us all. In this exclusive interview, designer Valeriia Zhilyova offers a deeper insight into the artistic inspiration behind their new collection.
At the outset of your brand’s launch in 2014, Zhilyova focused on promoting self-love and acceptance. As you approach a decade in the industry, has your core ethos evolved?
In 2014, when Zhilyova was conceived, the world itself was at a different crossroads. The discourse surrounding femininity, beauty, and self-acceptance was transforming. We wanted to be at the forefront of this change, championing self-love. As the years unfolded, so did our understanding of the nuances of femininity. While the foundation of self-love remains unshaken, we've started embracing the many layers that come with it – the mystique, the power, the vulnerabilities. In our recent collections, like Totem, we've also tried to touch upon the spiritual, highlighting the interplay of the universe and the self.
What continues to inspire you and drive your creative journey?
It’s a melange of experiences. The world we live in is ever-evolving, and with it, the narratives of womanhood and expression. Whether it’s a book I've read, an ancient culture I've studied, or simply the raw, unfiltered beauty of nature, they all bring in a fresh perspective. Particularly, the resilience and multifaceted nature of modern women, the unspoken tales in their eyes, their journeys both internal and external – they've been a never-ending source of inspiration.
When founding Zhilyova lingerie, did you personally experience the sense of feminine empowerment that your lingerie conveys, or was it something you sought to discover through your designs?
The inception of Zhilyova was deeply personal. Growing up, I realised that lingerie was often seen through the lens of others – it catered more to the observer than the wearer. I've always felt an inexplicable empowerment wearing a piece that resonated with my soul, even if it remained unseen under layers of clothing. I wanted to extend this empowerment, this secret rendezvous between fabric and skin, to every woman. The designs were both a reflection of the empowerment I felt and the heightened version I envisioned for every wearer.
How do you mirror your feminist ideals into your collections?
Feminism, for me, is about recognising and celebrating the myriad facets of womanhood. Our collections are not about creating a singular image of what a woman should be, but rather a canvas on which she can paint her own identity. We strive for inclusivity, comfort, and a touch of the ethereal. It’s not just about aesthetics, but the narrative each piece carries – a tale of strength, grace, or even vulnerability.
When conceptualising a new collection, what typically serves as your starting point? Do you begin with a specific concept in mind and build the collection around it, or do you adopt a different approach to your creative process?
It's a dance between emotions and stories. Sometimes, it begins with a raw emotion I wish to translate into fabric – like feeling interconnected in a vast universe. Other times, it’s a tale from a forgotten book or an ancient civilisation's symbol. With Totem, the interconnectedness of life and ancient symbols became the focal point, spiralling into intricate designs and choices of fabrics and embroideries.
Your new collection, Totem, is described as an experience that merges the visual and the sensual. How do you approach designing lingerie to evoke both visual appeal and a deeper emotional connection with the wearer?
Totem was a quest to bridge the outer world's aesthetics with the inner world's whirlpool of emotions. The visual appeal is undeniably important; it’s the first interaction. However, the emotional connection stems from the stories embedded within. For instance, the snake embroidery isn’t just a design; it’s a symbol of cyclical life and wisdom. When a wearer slips into one of our pieces, she's not just wearing lingerie; she's donning a tale, an emotion.
Totem exudes a palpable feeling of power, almost dominating in its seductive allure. Can you elaborate on what sparks this commanding quality in your designs and inspired this empowering effect in your work?
The idea was to create something that wasn’t just seen but felt. Each piece in Totem is a powerful amalgamation of symbols, stories, and fabrics. The commanding nature isn't just about sensuality; it's about making the wearer feel in sync with the universe, making her realise that she's both a part of the vast cosmos and a universe in her own right.
As a designer, your creations often delve into the intricate balance between the tangible and intangible, blending the physical with the spiritual. How do you perceive the role of fashion as a medium for exploring and expressing the interconnectedness of the material world with the realms beyond?
Fashion, in its essence, isn’t just about the tangible; it's an embodiment of dreams, desires, and sometimes even the intangible ethos of an era. Through colours, designs, and symbols, fashion can be a portal that connects the physical world with the abstract. It becomes a tool of storytelling, of capturing ephemeral emotions, and grounding ethereal concepts.
How has this perception influenced your approach to designing Totem?
Totem was born from this very ideology. The collection seeks to intertwine the tangible beauty of the world with the age-old spiritual threads. It's not just lingerie; it's an ode to the universe, a harmonious blend of the seen and unseen, a tribute to the delicate balance of life.
Your short film for Totem, as well as those for your other collections, offer an intimate glimpse into your lingerie lines. What motivated you to explore this visual medium? It seems to offer a range of benefits, from expanding your artistic expression to providing a more palpable experience than traditional photography.
Lingerie is intimate, personal. A short film allows us to create a narrative around our pieces, adding layers of emotion, movement, and context. While photography captures a static moment, films capture the fluidity, the journey, the transformation. With Totem, the goal was to not just showcase lingerie but to immerse the viewer into the world of interconnectedness and spirituality that each piece embodies.
In Totem, you’ve blended transparent mesh tulle and delicate lace. Do the materials you use in your collections hold significance in the context of the overall theme?
Every material in Totem is a carefully chosen note in a symphonic narrative. The transparent mesh tulle, ethereal and almost otherworldly, mirrors the unseen connections that bind us. The lace, with its intricate patterns, tells tales of beauty, fragility, and strength. They aren’t just fabrics; they’re carriers of the stories and emotions we seek to convey.
The collection features snake embroidery as a symbolic element. Could you elaborate on the significance of snakes and how they tie into the themes of movement and wisdom in your designs?
The snake, across various cultures, has been a symbol of many facets – rebirth, transformation, immortality, and even temptation. In Totem, it signifies cyclical life, wisdom, and the eternal dance of creation. The serpentine embroidery, winding its way through our designs, serves as a reminder of life's eternal cycles, of wisdom passed down through ages, and of our ceaseless connection to the universe. Also, our next collection will include new snake lace and I can’t wait to show you the new pieces.
Were there any technical challenges during the creation process due to the intricate combination of delicate lace and serpentine embroidery?
Marrying intricate snake embroidery with delicate lace required precision and artistry. Ensuring that the embroidery didn't compromise the lace's fragility while maintaining aesthetic integrity was a challenging but rewarding endeavour. The process, much like the theme of Totem, was a testament to balance and interconnectedness. Also 3D printed snake pasties play significant role in this collection, I collaborated with LA 3D artist to bring them to life so we can have something extremely unique to show. [We created] tons of samples and we have achieved a perfect shape that compliments the colours of our mesh and designed something unforgettable.
Is there a particular piece in the collection that you feel especially proud of?
Each piece in Totem is like a chapter in a book, crucial to the overall narrative. However, the Soiree, Luminous and Gaia dresses stand out for their embodiment of all the themes – the lace, the embroidery, the sense of empowerment, and the whisper of ancient tales.
Over the years, you’ve curated a diverse array of collections. With each new release, how do you challenge yourself creatively? Are there consistent themes that run through your work, and if so, what essence do you always aim to capture?
Creativity, I believe, thrives on challenges. For me, it’s about constantly immersing myself in uncharted territories – be it exploring new art forms, diving into unfamiliar cultures, or studying ancient narratives. Every new discovery, every shattered preconception, propels my creativity to new horizons. Even during the ongoing war in my country, my brand and my team continue working and making these incredible pieces so you can see made in Ukraine on each and every one of them.
What are your aspirations for the future of your designs and collections? Are there specific themes or concepts you are eager to explore, or new avenues of promoting your designs that expand beyond short films?
Zhilyova, as a brand, seeks to be more than just lingerie. We aspire to be a confluence of fashion, spirituality, and narratives that resonate across time. As we look ahead, we aim to further blur the lines between the tangible and intangible, crafting collections that aren’t just worn but felt, experienced, and remembered. Beyond just collections, we envision immersive experiences that echo our brand's ethos, touching souls beyond just skin.