North American show of fashions from Ukraine benefits cancer fund

by Helen Smindak

NEW YORK - In a landmark, five-city fund-raising tour that concluded in this fashion-conscious metropolis on June 7, three of Ukraine's leading fashion designers showed their latest collections to the public to help the fight against breast cancer in Ukraine.

It was the first time the work of Ukraine's professional designers has been unveiled in runway shows on this continent. The fashion shows - in Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Washington, and New York - were organized by a host of volunteers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Breast cancer ranks first among oncological illnesses for women in Ukraine, with 15,000 new cases diagnosed annually. The funds raised here and in Ukraine are expected to provide mammogram machines for Ukraine's provinces, facilitating early diagnosis, and longer survival, for women who have limited access to testing sites.

Proclaiming the slogan "Because Life is Beautiful," the shows featured women's clothing, accessories and jewelry by Anna Babenko and Victoria Gres of Kyiv, and Oksana Karavanska of Lviv. The New York presentation, held at the Ukrainian Institute of America on Fifth Avenue, included a silent auction, a raffle and a champagne reception.

New York Gov. George Pataki delegated a representative, Lynn Rollins, to extend greetings and encouragement at the show, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg commended the fund-raisers' "generosity and efforts" by letter.

With an admiring audience looking on and applauding, willowy professional models in lacy, lattice-work, beaded and luxurious apparel - often body-baring and sensuous - paraded up and down the white-carpeted runway that stretched through the institute's second-floor galleries and landing.

Natalia Shvachko, Miss Ukraine 1996, now living and modeling in New York City, was among the models showing sophisticated coats and dresses, funky tops and pants, avant-garde jackets and sweaters, and dresses and skirts with dipping hemlines.

Project coordinator Marta Kolomayets, a former associate editor at The Ukrainian Weekly who is president of Public Education International in Kyiv, explained that breast cancer awareness is a serious problem in Ukraine. "Ukrainian women do not have access to information and diagnostic tools. We've started a big learning process through pamphlets and brochures, but there's a desperate need for mammogram machines," she said.

"If this fund drive can pay for mammogram machines in the provinces and save even a few lives, it's well worth the time and effort we've put into it," she added.

Ms. Kolomayets said that the North American campaign had realized close to $100,000, although all donations had not yet been totaled.

Fascinating designs

Many attractive, highly wearable outfits emerged from the variety of fascinating, eclectic designs that were shown, among them a straight-cut ivory coat of handmade merino wool with a high upturned collar and a silk brocade coat worn over black pants and a corset-style blouse with sheer sleeves. A pretty two-tone pink shirt, its bustier-style lower half embellished with embroidered flowers, was effectively combined with white wide-leg pants.

Greatly admired was an iridescent silk and cashmere blend coat in tones of lilac, deep blue and rose in a pattern that suggested a Ukrainian kylym. An outfit that appealed to young types in the audience combined a satin-trimmed ruched velvet top with straight-leg pants featuring a silver-buckled belt that held an embroidered hip pouch, worn with a matching shoulder bag.

The Ukrainian designers appeared to follow the European trend (especially evident in newly independent countries) of using rich fabrics such as velvet, silk, brocade and suede, and mixing several types of fabric in one outfit. Most of the jewelry consisted of antique-looking multi-tier metal necklaces.

Noted in the collections were Oriental influences (kimono styles and obi sashes), frequent use of layering and draping of fabrics, and military details (now very contemporary over here), seen in the use of large belt buckles and chains dangling from belts. Several outfits mixed masculine and feminine styling elements (for example, a tailored pin-striped jacket was paired with a softly-draped satin-trimmed skirt).

In the tradition of big-name designers who trot out theatrical creations to spice up the show (but water them down later to make them saleable), the Ukrainian apparel included many "far out" designs. A prime example was a daffodil yellow punk-styled cable knit sweater with thick cuffs and braided back, teamed with a black leather mini skirt and knee-high black boots.

Colors, for the most part, were neutral - black, white, ivory, grey and dark green - or muted shades of purple and rose, with flashes of bright color appearing in accents and accessories (red boots, a gold sash, a deep band of reddish-rust lace along the hem of an elegantly cut grey silk dress).

By contrast, some items, like the daffodil yellow sweater, were explosions of color. A hot pink pant suit combined a long-sleeved open cuff jacket, accented with black piping and black buttons, with hot pink wide-leg pants trimmed with a satin stripe on the front of the legs. Other colorful items included a short jacket completely covered in Bukovynian-style red and green bead embroidery and an outfit that brought together a bead-embroidered skirt, handbag and newsboy cap, worn with a black jacket and pink gloves.

Bridal attire

For the customary bridal gown finale, Ms. Babenko opted for an unconventional (though all white) pant oufit, offering a sequin-embroidered brocade and silk top and cotton pants with a row of small eliptical openings along one leg. A sequinned brocade wedding coat and tulle scarf draped around the shoulders completed the ensemble. In a more traditional look, Ms. Gres presented a romantic floor-length white gown featuring a jewel-encrusted sleeveless bodice and a deep collar worn hood-fashion over the bride's head.

Ms. Karavanska dressed her bride in a midriff-baring crocheted lace top and satin-banded skirt with dipping hemline, adding a Ukrainian folk touch with a hat of field flowers, worn low on the forehead, that trailed a long swath of tulle.

Ms. Karavanska, possibly the most daring of the three designers, is a native of Kyiv who has made Lviv her home and base of operations. Twice winner of the first prize in a contest for young designers in Tallinn, Estonia, she is also the recipient of the Crystal Silhouette Grand Prix and was named best artist of Halychyna in 2002. Recently elected into the Syndicate of Fashion Designers of Ukraine, the vivacious designer likes to design for women who move through life with a spirit of experiment and change and are not captives to fashion trends.

Ms. Babenko, following her mother and grandmother into the dressmaking business, took up dressmaking professionally in 1995. Winner in 2000 of an award "For Considerable Contribution to the Development of Ukrainian Fashion," she designs four collections a year and presents runway shows twice a year at "Fashion Seasons," the largest fashion event in Ukraine. Stressing harmony and elegance, she prefers to use natural fabrics (wool, silk and leather) and vibrant colors.

Ms. Gres, a Kazakstan native who works in Uzhorod and runs a boutique in Kyiv, likes to design clothes that are both timeless and modern. Defining her style as "European classics adapted to the realities of the 21st century," she concentrates on workmanship and sophisticated cuts, using natural fabrics like wool and silks, which can be painted over, decorated and embroidered to give them "new life."

The evening's speakers, introduced by master of ceremonies Dr. George Temnycky, who described himself as a 20-year survivor of cancer, included Dr. Borys Mychalczak, an oncology specialist associated with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who gave an overview of breast cancer statistics in the U.S.; Ms. Shvachko, who said she was particularly concerned about the fight against cancer because her father was a cancer victim; Ms. Kolomayets; Ms. Rollins; and UIA President Walter Nazarewicz.

The silent auction, held in the institute's library, offered a collection of desirable items, among them tickets to a Broadway show, a week's stay in the Hamptons, a three-day stay at Soyuzivka, a winter vacation in Salt Lake City and a half-hour skating clinic with Olympic champion Oksana Baiul at Chelsea Piers in New York.

The show was sponsored by the Ukrainian Women's Fund, a Kyiv-based network of four women's non-governmental organizations committed to strengthening women's initiative, advancing women's rights and advocating women's issues in Ukraine; the Ukrainian Institute of America; the Metro New York Chapter of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America; and the Selfreliance New York Federal Credit Union.

Supporting organizations included the Ukrainian National Women's League of America, New York Independent Women's Alliance and Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization.

Melaniya Hrybowych Temnycky headed the large contingent of volunteers who made up the New York metro area organizing committee, whose members - like the designers and others involved in the fund-raising campaign - donated their time and services to the North American tour.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 22, 2003, No. 25, Vol. LXXI

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