When we think of a fashion show, we usually think of the glamour and elegance of haute couture. Let’s not forget that the fashion industry is very influential and has the power to carry out a message to millions of people everywhere. When everyone's focus is on the current situation in Ukraine, none of us can remain indifferent, fashion is taking a stand.
Ph. Museum at FIT
Balenciaga goes where fashion hasn’t dared go before and takes a stand for the Ukrainian refugees.
About The Show
Let’s experience the fashion show together. As you enter the room you notice the enormous snow globe on one side and a piece of fabric with the colours of the Ukrainian flag on all 525 seats. As you walk through the different rows looking for your seat, your mind starts to wander in different places and your excitement to take your place takes over you. You finally find your seat, take the fabric in your hand, shortly you notice it’s a T-shirt, but there’s also a letter from the creative director of Balenciaga himself, Demna Gvasalia. As you read through the letter you can’t help but to feel your emotions taking over you. The letter begins with “The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my country and I became a forever refugee,” and ends with “It’s a dedication to fearlessness, to resistance and to the victory of love and peace.” You start questioning everything and you can’t stand in peace in your seat. The show begins. The models are walking down the runway and in the background you hear the designer’s voice reciting a poem by the Ukrainian poet Oleksandr Oles which, he says translates roughly to “your sons will save you”. There is no translation to the poem, you listen to the Ukrainian language and you see how the models struggle to walk through the snow storm, you cannot help but to feel more uncomfortable than ever. You feel empathy.
Personal Take On The Show
It’s quite difficult hosting Fashion week during wartime and most designers are extremely cautious in such times. Other brands raised awareness on the situation in Ukraine through the social media channels and by adding a little detail to their show but Demna, made the show about Ukraine, which completely changed everything. Balenciaga was close to calling off the show, they said that “fashion week feels like some kind of an absurdity but to cancel the show means surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years”. For him this was way beyond fashion, it was personal. Driven by the desire to tell the world his story he managed to cover the most important issues humanity is facing now - climate change, technology taking over and horrific news of war. When Demna was 12 years old he was amongst the 250,000 Georgian refugees forced to leave their homes during Georgia’s civil war. Knowing all the obstacles refugees have to deal with makes him want to not stay silent and take action to support them and give them some hope. According to some, fashion doesn’t have a place in politics but Balenciaga thinks otherwise, for the brand this is a call to action. “We, as a brand, have to do something … we cannot take weapons and go fight there, but we can use our voices,” Demna shared in an interview with Reuters.
The Meaning Behind It
The initial idea of the show was to cover the topic of the climate crisis and virtual reality. The show was supposed to comment on how future generations might perceive the concept of winter. It is about how in the future this might have to be digitally rendered in order to explain what snow is, the feeling of coldness, and the disappearance of winter as a season. The glass wall that separated the audience from the show was a metaphor on that imaginary future reality, creating an IRL livestream of sorts. Using a humanitarian crisis as an aesthetic proved to touch many in the audience and create a powerful show of empathy, something we rarely see on the runway.
At the end of the day, the designer managed to achieve what he does best: It made the audience think and ask questions about themselves as well as about the system. The audience was meant to feel uncomfortable while watching, as this meant realising what refugees are forced to deal with not just in Ukraine, but in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and every other country that is living during war time.
The world has been following the horror and brutality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the country and its innocent civilians are forced to deal with the shocking consequences of something we never thought we would have to deal with in the 21st century: war. Many businesses and individuals took a stand over social media channels and demonstrated their support for Ukraine, including fashion.
Ph. Simam Ghaffarzadeh
Worldwide fashion industry unites to show support to Ukraine and help Ukrainian refugees.
The Power Of Fashion
In the effort to raise awareness of the recent conflict, Ukrainian designers Svitlana Bevza, Vita Kin and Anna October have shared their personal, harrowing experiences. Another Ukrainian professional, Olya Kuryshchuk – the editor-in-chief of the London-based magazine 1Granary – published on the 1st of March an open letter urging the fashion industry to take action and “to not be silent, use their platforms, and offer hands-on help”. Olya also states that “fashion is a trillion-dollar industry with gigantic cultural, economic, and even political influence”.*
The power this industry has should be used in the right way and for the right purposes. Vogue Ukraine also could not stay silent and on the same day demanded a call to action from the luxury fashion and beauty industry, calling on them to place an embargo on exporting their goods to Russia. So many brands responded to this, from high-end fashion to small independent brands, every single one of them made their contribution to help and support those in need.
How High-end Fashion Replies To The War
The global luxury giant Kering posted on Instagram, pledging to make a ‘significant donation’ supporting the thousands of refugees who have fled the country and are now displaced. Valentino, Prada, Chanel, Louboutin, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci – these are just amongst the most famous ones who have acknowledged the war in Ukraine and decided to donate and help raise funds for the Ukrainian refugees. Every maison posted on their social media channels to raise awareness and direct their fans' attention towards the war that is affecting the world. They have chosen to donate either to the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR), to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), or other charitable organisations and bodies.
Independent Labels' Efforts Against The Conflict
Couture houses have both the resources and the influence to raise awareness and funds but this is always more challenging for small independent businesses. When it comes to serious subject matters, they will choose the right thing to do before anything else. Nanushka, a Budapest-based brand, has partnered with the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta to help refugees in need of housing, food, clothing and transportation. The CEO, Peter Baldaszti, said in an interview for Vogue that this is “a significant financial decision for a small label like ours but we are hoping for a quick solution so we can rebuild those relationships”. He also pointed out that they “respect the Russian people and their partners and know this is not their decision, but it is impossible to do business with Russia based on their moral values”.
These have been tough weeks for Ukrainians and all those affected by the war. It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that the situation is escalating more and more with every passing minute. It is even harder for those living in this brutality and fighting for their lives every single day. If there is even a simple thing that you can do to help out, do it. The only thing that is different between you and the Ukrainians right now is luck.