A showcase of Ukrainian fashion is progressing
In a showroom in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood, a laptop sat on a table, hidden behind a rack of knitwear from the Ukrainian label 91 laboratory. The computer silently streamed CNN. Alina Bairamova, fashion industry coordinator for Ukrainian fashion, a showcase for Ukrainian designers, Alina Bairamova was struck by ominous footage from the streets of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.
“I’m sorry,” Ms. Bairamova said, adding that the crime scene was very close to her mother’s house.
The footage was from the previous day and Ms Bairamova’s mother, who works at a veterans’ hospital in Kiev, was safe. Still, it had been a horrible few days.
She applied lip balm. “Because of dehydration,” she said. “From crying.”
Ms. Bairamova, 46, arrived in New York on February 17 with a suitcase and a Ziploc bag containing toiletries. She expected a 10-day work trip to solicit buyers and promote the six designers in a showcase called “Ukrainian Fashion.”
Now it was unclear if or when she would return to Kiev.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine caught them by surprise. “Five days ago, this scenario seemed unheard of,” she said.
Jen Sidary, the founder of Ukrainian Fashion, was less surprised. “I’ve been panicking since November,” she said as she sat down next to Ms. Bairamova. Ms Sidary said that despite her own concerns about a possible invasion, she was determined to go ahead with the event.
Ms. Sidary proudly said that every piece from every designer arrived in the United States in time for the showcase’s February 23 opening.
“Thank you Jen, God and DHL,” Ms. Bairamova said, laughing. “In this order.”
A fashion industry veteran who worked at Zappos and Vivienne Westwood, Ms. Sidary, 49, has become an advocate for Ukrainian fashion over the past two years.
As she lost her job in the midst of the pandemic, she said, friends urged, “Girls, come and live with us in Kiev — it’ll be so much fun!”
One of them was Dominique Piotet, executive director of an innovation park incubator program called UNIT.City, whom she met through Tony Hsieh, her former boss at Zappos. In November 2020, Ms. Sidary accepted Mr. Piotet’s invitation to stay with him.
Mrs. Sidary fell in love with Ukraine. “I immediately felt this ‘I’m home,'” she said in a slow Southern Californian accent. She loved the thriving fashion scene and was drawn to the country’s wide variety of cuisines and meticulous attention to detail in design.
In July 2021, Ms. Sidary secured a scholarship from the Competitive Economic Program by USAID This enabled her to launch the first Ukraine Fashion Event in September. The showcase received a further grant in 2022 to finance this year’s showcase.
Ms. Sidary learned about the Russian invasion while dining with Ms. Bairamova at Kiki’s, a Greek restaurant on the Lower East Side. They were joined by two more Ukrainian women of fashion, Valery Kovalskaa designer, and Anya Vasylenko, Issey Miyake’s wholesale director.
During dinner, Ms Sidary received a text message from David Anderson, a USAID senior official, saying that Ukraine was being invaded. She took Ms. Bairamova’s hand and brought the message to the table. “We spent the rest of the evening together drinking cocktails of course because what else do you do?” said Ms Sidary.
All four women immediately started contacting their friends and family in Ukraine via Telegram and WhatsApp. Ms Sidary said she is in constant contact with all six designers in the showcase.
“I’m like her mom and I call to make sure everyone’s okay,” she said in the showroom as she recalled the dinner.
Around noon on Friday, Ms Sidary and Ms Bairamova called Alina Kachorovska, a shoe designer featured in Ukrainian fashion, from the showroom. Ms Kachorovska was in an air raid shelter in her home in Kiev with her husband, three children and a neighbor.
Understand Russia’s attack on Ukraine
What is the root of this invasion? Russia sees Ukraine as its natural sphere of influence and is unsettled by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country joining NATO or the European Union. Despite not belonging to either, Ukraine receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Ms. Kachorovska said she was trying to remain optimistic. “Millions of people are in this situation across the country now,” she said. “So we’re not alone, you know?”
“I’m wearing your shoes, girl,” said Ms. Sidary, who was wearing a pair of white chunky shoes Kachorovska Boots. “I’m wearing your shoes.”
“Thank you,” said Ms. Kachorovska.
Mrs. Sidary then called Ivan Frolow, whose heavily beaded Bob Mackie-esque creations hung on a nearby shelf. Mr Frolov was exhausted after traveling 25 hours to western Ukraine.
With occasional translation help from Ms Bairamova, Mr Frolov expressed his disbelief at the invasion, praised the Ukrainian military and stressed the need for more international aid.
While listening to Mr. Frolov, Mrs. Sidary wiped away her tears and put her face in her hands. Her nails were painted a bright metallic fuchsia.
She assured Mr. Frolov that she would return his clothes to her apartment in West Hollywood, California. “No, it’s okay,” she said into the phone when he worried that she would have to pay for an extra bag. “I am a Medallion Member”
While Ms. Sidary went out for a cigarette, Ms. Bairamova called another designer from the display case, Elena Bureninawho is also a close friend.
Ms. Burenina had chosen to remain in Kiev, where she continued to draw, cut patterns, sew and fill orders even as her country was under attack. She said she would only consider leaving the country if Vladimir Putin takes power and life becomes completely unbearable.
“Elena believes that beauty will save the world,” Ms. Bairamova said, paraphrasing her friend’s words.