Fashion’s Biggest Brand Name

  • Fashion’s   Biggest Brand Name
Issue 6, October 2008.

Lviv designer Oksana Karavanska   has been one of the biggest names in   Ukrainian fashion for over a decade,   but despite TV fame and demand for  her distinctive look across Ukraine she  has resisted the temptation to move   to Kyiv and continues to split her time  between the capital and her native  city. After setting out on her own in  the then-embryonic world of post-independence  Ukrainian fashion in the  early 1991s, Karavanska has become a  regular headliner at Ukrainian fashion  week, a star pundit on the country’s  most popular fashion TV show and the  owner of her own flagship boutique  on Kyiv’s central Khreschatyk Street.  Typically for Karavanska, the Kyiv  boutique is decorated in giant floor to  ceiling prints of Lviv skylines, capturing  the essence of timeless Lviv in a  particularly fresh and modern manner.



Is there such a thing as a specific Lviv style?

I think in general people in Lviv are moving   closer and closer to more general European styles of dress, but there is still definitely  something that could be termed as a Lviv look.  Lviv has always had a sense of dress that stands  out from any other European city in the way  accent is placed on beautiful but not necessarily  fashionable things. Whenever I am on  the jury of a fashion show I can usually guess   which designers are from Lviv just by the feel  of their collections. 99% of the time I’ll be right.  Lviv designers love to use very complex and  very beautiful features. The intricate elements  are often symmetrically aligned and done to an  academic model, with far too much attention to  detail. Sadly, fashion in Lviv is not an industry,  which prevents its development. A designer  should be an artist, but it is also important to  remember that we work in an industry.


Where do you go when you want to capture the  soul of Lviv?

To feel the enchantment of the city I love to  stroll on the small cobbled side streets around Rynok Square. When I was a student in Soviet  times we used to have to pass through the  neighbourhood on our way from one university  class to the next, and it was not uncommon for  us to disappear into one of the coffee shops on  Armenian Street for a few lessons. The coffee  was wonderful, even then.



Do you ever imagine what you would have done  if the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed?

 To be honest I count myself very lucky that I  was born when I was, because it has meant that I  have spent my adult life in independent Ukraine.  I really don’t know what I would have done in the  USSR. In the final years of the Soviet era I was  working in a state textiles company and already  working on my own clothing ideas. I was offered   the opportunity to enter my designs in a fashion  show to be held in Estonia, which by that point  had already declared independence. As a result of  this the party bosses intervened and informed me   that it would not be a good idea for a Soviet citizen  like me to participate in a bourgeois capitalist  country’s cultural life. When the Soviet Union   collapsed I was among the first people to register  their own fashion brand. People were shocked  when I simply gave the brand my own name. “No!  You can’t do that!” they told me.


You are best-known today as a fashion adviser  and panelist on TV. Did your Ukrainian language  fluency help in winning you a prime time position?

My Ukrainian language skills are important  for my TV work. Not everyone in Ukraine speaks so fluently and so it is often an advantage for  people from Lviv, where we have a proud Ukrainian- language tradition. More and more children  are growing up now all over the country who are  being educated in Ukrainian, and this is creating  a record new generation of Ukrainian speakers.


What kind of reaction do you get from people  when you tell them you are from Lviv?

I have noticed that Lviv is getting more and  more well known. People I meet in Europe have  often heard a lot about the city and know that it  is a very beautiful place.



What do you miss about Lviv when you are in  Kyiv or elsewhere on your travels?

 I miss the Lviv pace of life. In Kyiv I spend  half my time in traffic jams or waiting for people  in traffic jams, so although in a practical sense  everything is in Kyiv, the Lviv mentality is an  essential element in my lifestyle. In Lviv people  buy my old collections, not this year’s new stuff  but always last year’s. Next year they will be  buying this year’s clothes, and they are not even   any cheaper. This is simply Lviv’s conservatism.   I love Lviv, but it is conservative.


What have been the most important changes to  have occurred in Lviv since 1991?

On the plus side I would say that Lviv has  become a genuinely European city with a beautiful,  restored historic centre that is bright and  colourful. On the negative side we have also not   been able to give talented people a chance to  grow and develop in independent Ukraine. That  has meant that a lot of clever people have left  the country and those who’ve replaced them  have not always been of the same caliber.