The Tale of Two Matryoshkas

Yulia Magdych and Daria Shapovalova are two completely different girls. They are the same age, and both Ukrainian, but they look, speak and dress as if worlds apart. Yulia is what one would call a pretty, waspy girl with long, blonde hair, big, blue eyes and the tiniest waist. “I am a size 12 in Baby Dior!” she laughs. Daria has a Slavic look with dark, mysterious eyes, olive skin and thin lips. She has lived in the capital her whole life whereas Yulia hails from Liviv, “the cultural center of Ukraine, like St Petersburg in Russia”. Daria’s style is “cosmopolitan and easy-going” with a tendency towards “exceptional pieces by such designers as Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe or Haider Ackermann.” She loves to experiment with combinations and layering and mixes all kinds of brands, both luxury and mass-market. Yulia’s outfits on the other hand depend on the place. Judging by her humongous collection of party dresses, she must go out a lot… “I definitely like bold colors, couture motifs and the freshest designers,” she says. “In everyday life I prefer the style of a 70-year-old millionaire: cashmere cardigans, loafers, scarves and chanel vintage jackets.” Yulia speaks perfect Ukrainian, Daria doesn’t. And she has quite a complicated explanation for this which I interpret as a primarily historical one. When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, most Ukrainians started to speak Russian and it stuck. Now, most of the teaching in schools is being picked up in Ukrainian again. So for those who grew up during Soviet years or shortly after, Russian is still the most comfortable language to speak.

But they are friends. And this is not their first shoot together. Daria and Yulia met on the plane to Paris Fashion Week three years ago. And received the Elle Style Award the same year, which instantly made them kindred spirits. Daria has been hosting a fashion TV show for the past five years and also runs the Mercedes Benz Kiev Fashion Days, the other, younger Fashion Week in Kiev, which presents mostly younger, emerging Ukrainian designers. (I was invited to Kiev by Ukraine Fashion Week, the bigger of the two, with more established Ukrainian brands). Yulia has a clothing store called S4Astie which sells international brands like Collette Dinnigan, Erickson Beamon, Jenny Packham and Nicole Miller. Daria shops at Yulia’s and Yulia contributes to Kiev Fashion Days. It’s a nice two-way street.

We are at Yulia’s penthouse in the city center; Daria’s home is being redecorated and she just had a baby a month ago so things are too hectic over there. “Do you want some champagne or vodka?” asks Yulia when I come in. I decline but grab a couple of macaroons instead. BTW, Ukrainians LOVE macaroons. They are on every table, in every room, day and night. “I know already three girls who want to open La Duree in Kiev! It’s like war over who will be the first!” laugh the girls. The house keeper serves tea with raw honey she bought in big chunks at an exhibition the day before. I expect to see some kids running around – I am under the impression that Eastern Europeans marry young – but turns out the mountain of teddy bears in the corner of the living room is “for underprivileged children. I run a charity,” explains Yulia.

The idea is that both girls contribute their personal taste and style to the shoot. Yulia has a remarkable collection of traditional Ukrainian garments. “Take whatever you like,” she offers. “I have plenty more at my house.” (I think she’s referring to her Dashka outside the city where she spends the weekends.) She loves history (which she blames on her being a Leo) and makes a point of it daily. “In my native city national traditions are strongly cultivated and they make a huge impact on youth culture. On Christmas and Easter every member of my family wears Ukrainian embroidered shirts and sit around the table. 
I collect them in order to avoid a generation gap in hi-tech times. A long time ago my friend and I wore these shirts to go to clubs in town, and everyone started wearing them with jeans, like we did. 
Now have you seen the Fall/Winter Dolce & Gabbana collection stolen from Ukrainian embroidery??” Daria contributes with her favorite vintage pieces: a Chloe dress by Karl Lagerfeld and an old Helmut Lang dress she bought in Los Angeles.

I learn a lot from these girls. They are curious, educated and insightful. Not only do I find out what makes them tick but also how their country has transformed and pushing for international recognition. According to Daria there are no vintage stores in Kiev because there is no vintage to speak of. “During Soviet rule women couldn’t own pieces by international designers. That is why we don’t have sources where vintage can come from. People are not used to wear vintage because most of them are fastidious about it, and they prefer to buy new clothes. Those girls who would not be against vintage can’t afford to fly themselves to LA and buy proper vintage clothes, so they wear second hand or consignment instead. Maybe the situation will change in a couple of years when someone who is fond of vintage will open a store with affordable prices.” Hey, there’s an idea!

October 17, 2012

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