You would never guess from the immaculate tailoring and finely turned silhouettes of the Litkovska collection shown at Paris fashion week that its production was frequently interrupted by air-raid warnings, which forced the 23-strong team of tailors and stylists to flee the design studio for a bomb shelter. It remains the only Ukrainian brand on the Paris catwalks and is still designed and produced in Kyiv by Lilia Litkovska and her team.
The bombardments are just one of the logistical challenges faced by the designer and her team in Kyiv. “There are problems every day, but we find solutions every day,” said Litkovska backstage before her show.
“We are very lucky because our studio is close to a good bomb shelter,” added Olena Iakovenko, one of four team members who travelled to France with Litkovska to stage the event.
The collection, called From the War Zone with Peace, was shown at an art deco cinema against a backdrop of footage filmed inside the Kyiv studio.
“I am in Paris because I want to talk about our incredible, brave country and about our strength and our culture and roots and our deep history,” said Litkovska, who founded her brand in 2009. Camel, toffee and charcoal grey make for a chic, neutral palette on the catwalk, but close inspection revealed the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag, embroidered in miniature next to the Litkvoska name.
Litkovska has kept her label going because of her deep love for her country – and because of her love of fashion. “After what we have been through the past year, I feel more than ever that every day is precious. I like my clothes to be chic, because it helps me to remember that every single day is special.”
Litkovksa was all set for a busy day in her Kyiv studio on 24 February last year, planning to put final touches to a collection before travelling to Paris fashion week to show it on the catwalk. Instead, after waking that morning to the sound of bombs announcing the Russian invasion, she fled by car to Poland with her toddler daughter and one suitcase, leaving that collection behind.
Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, is a longtime client. To mark Ukraine’s most recent independence day, Litkovska made her a simple white pencil skirt with a matching silk blouse with traditional Ukrainian embroidery in delicate seed pearls. When Zelenska met Joe and Jill Biden last year, she did so in a pale lemon yellow Litkovska skirt suit, teamed with blue shoes.
“I adore to work with Olena,” the designer said on Wednesday. “And I recognise the great responsibility of dressing the first lady. It is sophisticated work, to be able to connect with the world through what you wear.”
The London department store Selfridges has been a stalwart support through a difficult year. “When the war began, they said: ‘We are your partners, and however long it takes to deliver the collection, we want to help you,’” Litkovska said. “It was a great motivation for the team, knowing we had that order.” The team delivered the collection to Selfridges on schedule in the spring of 2022.
Several members of the packed to capacity Paris audience were Ukrainian clients now living in the French capital. “There are many women who had to leave Ukraine to find safety for their children. They are loyal customers. They say that when they wear Litkovska, they feel like they are home,” said Iakovenko, adding that she will return to Ukraine after the show. “I am happy to be in Paris, but I miss Kyiv.”