Ukrainian Heritage. Bevza SS23

Svitlana Bevza of the label Bevza is one of the more than 10 million Ukrainians who fled their homes when Russia invaded their country over six months ago, only nine days after Bevza showed her autumn-winter 2022 collection in New York. After a month of staying at her home in Kyiv with air sirens ringing, she fled with her children for two days by bus, leaving her husband behind. (Men between 18 and 60 in Ukraine have mandatory military conscription.) Bevza first went to the Czech Republic, and a month and a half later, she settled in a small town in Portugal, where she currently lives. Since then, Bevza has only returned to Ukraine twice, for less than a week at a time. The designer’s emotional experience, a combination of alienation and perseverance, culminated in a packed show held in the stark interiors at the empty assay office of 30 Wall Street. At the start of the show, a projector showed a massive yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag as a recording of her voice played, calling for a moment of silence for Ukrainian lives lost during the war.

Bevza has always been fiercely proud of her heritage. Her brand, one of the largest in her native Kyiv, is built on subtly weaving craft-driven traditional Ukrainian motifs into her minimalist designs. There were those symbolic moments throughout this season, including the hair, which was done in a Cossack style with a singular sharp bang cutting across the forehead, and traditional Ukrainian singing spliced with modern beats by a Ukrainian DJ. (Bevza’s show was produced by an entirely Ukrainian team; fellow Kyiv designer and LVMH nominee Anton Belinskiy styled it.) Those signature traditional Ukrainian embroideries were evident. The bust of one icy blue slip dress featured a knit of traditional Ukrainian embroidery – an unlikely but ultimately beautiful combination. A keptaryk, a traditional Ukraine vest fastened by knots, was produced in a beautiful thick navy wool and paired with low-slung vegan leather trousers. There was a nod to war too: a bulletproof vest, a longtime motif for the label, was fashioned into a curve-skimming, floor-length dress.

Bevza also used the runway as her platform to showcase one of the biggest issues affecting Ukraine right now: wheat. The theme was already baked into the setting: Large wheeled trays with loaves of bread dotted the corners of the space. Ukraine is considered the breadbasket of Europe, and wheat is embedded within the country’s customs. “When you’re making a proposal to marry somebody, you bring bread with you. When you’re going to somebody’s new home, you should always bring bread,” says Bevza. “Even when you’re saying goodbye to the dead, you used to bring bread.” Currently, there is a crisis: fields of wheat are being destroyed by Russian missiles, and that’s predicted to have harrowing effects on the world’s wheat supply for months to come. The importance of the grain was translated through the use of wheat spikelets. Even before the war, Bevza produced spikelet necklaces and earrings. This time, that golden spikelet necklace was blackened, symbolizing the burning of the wheat fields. Silk skirts—paired with itty-bitty bandeau tops – boasted an elegant hourglass silhouette thanks to how the fabric was gathered at the sides, a nod to how Ukrainian women centuries ago would gather wheat in the fields. Ukraine can be a tricky place for designers to define themselves; some heavily use Ukrainian traditional motifs in their designs, and others opt to go their own way sans any reference to their roots. Both choices are of course fine, but Bevza possesses the stellar ability to seamlessly translate her homeland – and its crisis – through a contemporary and, in this season’s case, very strong lens.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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