Audiences arriving at the Palais Garnier in Paris for the fall 2022 presentation of Nanushka were greeted by haunting strains of the Ukrainian national anthem. The dark soundtrack was provided by a string quartet from the classical Brussels band Echo Collective. They performed solemnly as the models took turns on revolving pedestals in the hall’s colonnaded rotunda.
As the solidarity show unfolded outside the house, tough business decision-making and a hands-on support program were well underway behind the scenes. Among the very first brands to take such an open political decision, Nanushka had already decided to suspend trade agreements with its Russian wholesale partners, suspending deliveries and halting orders.
“It was not a political decision – it is the fact that we do not want to participate directly or indirectly in trade finance in Russia, and the secondary consequence of selling luxury goods on the Russian market, because that profit,” said Nanushka CEO Peter. Baldaszti, who is also the CEO of his parent company, Vanguards, told ELLE.com. “Based on our brand values, we just can’t do that.” Baldaszti even went a step further and completely stopped online shipments to customers in Russia.
Since Nanushka’s announcement, luxury groups Kering, LVMH and Richemont, mass-market retailers like Inditex and the H&M Group, and brands across the spectrum like Chanel, Hermès, Acne and Ganni have both closed their stores and suspended their activities in the region. Donations also poured in from everyone, LVMH to the International Committee of the Red Cross to the tune of nearly $5.5 million.
“The fact that we are a small company allows us to be more agile and to make decisions much faster,” adds Baldaszti, explaining why he was able to act with such speed. “The complexity of the decision is hugely different when you directly operate stores in the country and are responsible for your employees.” The crisis also has a deep personal resonance for the Budapest-based label. “We have a different perspective; I was born in 1985 and [Nanushka creative director] Sandra [Sandor], was born in 1982,” he said. “She was eight years old when the Russian army left Hungary after nearly 40 years of invasion and occupation.”
Together with the Vanguards, Nanushka partners with the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta to provide practical support to refugees fleeing its war-torn neighbor. “We are establishing two hubs in Hungary, one near the border with Ukraine and the other in Budapest,” says Baldaszti. They book hotel rooms and hostels, donate food and clothing, provide transportation to and within Budapest, and hire the services of interpreters to help navigate the situation. They are also extending their support to members of the Ukrainian fashion industry to help them maintain their businesses, providing them with a workplace and manufacturing capabilities, as well as access to raw materials and resources.
Although cult Georgian label Situationist, which counts model Bella Hadid among its fans, didn’t have the financial clout of Vanguards, it was still determined to help. Co-founder Davit Giorgadze said his brand would welcome members of the Ukrainian fashion community to his studio in Tbilisi. “We are small, but we still hope to accommodate 5 to 10 people per week,” he says. In fact, Hadid, her sister Gigi, Kaia Gerber and other high-profile models have pledged to donate some (or in Gigi’s case, all) of the money earned from walking the shows to support the Ukrainian organizations.
During fashion month, many more supportive cases occurred both on and off the runways. Even before the invasion, when tensions between Russia and Ukraine were already on the rise, Kiev-based designer Svitlana Bevza closed her New York Fashion Week show with a projection of the Ukrainian flag.
During Milan Fashion Week, when war broke out in earnest, protesters gathered outside runway shows such as Gucci, Prada, Versace and Giorgio Armani, drawing attention to the conflict and rallying people to action . Citing the “unfolding tragedy”, Giorgio Armani presented his collection in silence, while the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode de Paris issued a statement urging attendees to “live the shows of the coming days with solemnity, and in the image of those dark hours”. .”
In Paris, Coperni designers Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, whose show featured the two Hadids, dedicated their collection to the women of the Kiev-based Cap Est Sarl workshop, with whom they work; Koché designer Christelle Kocher and Isabel Marant respectively wore a flower brooch and a sweater in the colors of the Ukrainian flag when they went out to take their last bow.
Ukrainian designer Lilia Litkovskaya avoided exhibiting her own collection at the Tranoi fair in Paris in favor of 45 QR codes linked to other Ukrainian creatives currently trapped in the country. And fashion search engine Tagwalk has been busy in the field coordinating donations of necessities, from painkillers to feminine hygiene products, inviting people to drop them off at their offices for delivery to trucks at intended for refugee reception centers in Poland.
As she explained via text message, Tagwalk founder Alexandra Van Houtte was enticed into action by one of her developers who is half-Russian and half-Ukrainian. “We saw how distraught she was and how much she was needed,” she says. “The only thing I could offer was visibility and a place to store all the conveniences of central Paris. Whether it’s fashion month or not, it didn’t even occur to me.
“They made things so easy,” adds Marion Arnais Forand, co-founder of emerging label Minuit. “Even though we are only a team of four, we stopped everything, went to the supermarket, bought everything we could and sent it by courier. It may not be much, but we wanted to do what was possible.
The world of virtual fashion has also intensified. Digital-only outfit DressX, founded by Ukrainians Daria Shapovalova and Natalia Modenova, has created an all-virtual clothing collection in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, with proceeds helping to advance the country’s war effort.
Luxury giant Balenciaga, owned by Kering, has deployed its 12.8 million Instagram followers to support the Ukrainian cause and spread verified information as the conflict unfolds. When the news came to a head, the luxury house removed all previous content in favor of a single article announcing its financial partnership with the World Food Programme, and its Instagram stories have since become a vehicle for official Reuters news. .
The fact that creative director Demna Gvasalia grew up in Georgia – when the country was still under Soviet rule – was the catalyst for activism. As the designer wrote in his exhibition notes, “The war in Ukraine triggered the pain of past trauma that I have carried with me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my home country. and that I have become a refugee forever.” He had mixed emotions about continuing his show, he continued – “at a time like this…Fashion Week feels like kind of an absurdity” – but ultimately decided that it would be cancelled. would mean “surrender to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years. Each guest found a T-shirt in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on their seat, and Gvasalia dedicated the show, where the models trudged through snow and wind, “to fearlessness, resistance and the victory of love and peace”.
Baldaszti perhaps summed it up best. “Companies have a responsibility to the society they benefit from – it’s just a basic principle – but I think fashion has a special responsibility,” he says. “By definition, people follow fashion and other companies with larger financial assets take inspiration from it. You have to lead by example and inspire others to behave in a certain way.