Fashion designers undoubtedly have the power to create stark, complex and shocking shows, either for simple impact or to carry deeper political or ideological messages. Experimentation with unusual styles or textiles can be deployed to puzzle the viewer and stimulate discussion on the meaning of clothes, as if they were an enigmatic painting. This has long been a trademark feature of the work of Jean Gritsfeldt, one of the most renowned and respected Ukrainian design brands worldwide. While his style is not necessarily eccentric or avant-garde, it is considered to be innovative and eye-catching.
This was certainly the case for his SS17 collection and his FW 17/18 collection, with a general trend of overlapping patterns, ostentatious crystals and complex geometry. On the occasion of the Berlin Fashion Week of 2022, Jean Gritsfeldt did not abandon his ability to create designs that capture the spectator’s attention; but he symbolically eliminated opulence and elegant aesthetics from his designs, as a historically conscious choice and a call for political activism. His Fall/Winter collection became a political protest and manifesto, more than a fashion show.
It is impressive to learn about how the show was created. As Gritsfeldt himself has explained, his original idea was completely different; but he felt the urgency to change the entire collection to reflect the political and human catastrophe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022:
“We had one day to do the sketches, to complete the mood boards. My colleague who helped me was sitting in a bomb shelter; the lights would switch on and off. Now thinking about it I don’t even know how we made it happen”..Jean Gritsfeldt in “‘Fashion Should Talk about Important Things’: Ukrainian Designer Jean Gritsfeldt on His Powerful Show.” Vogue, Vogue, 1 Apr. 2022.
Gritsfeldt’s creative expression in his 2022 fashion collection is not just a demand for wider political awareness but also an intimate reflection on a current issue which is affecting him directly as a person. This personal element perhaps explains why the fashion show represents peace in a disturbing as well as hopeful manner. It does not paint an idyllic, stereotypical vision of a flawless paradise, but a mid-conflict reality which undoubtedly bears the weight of human losses. At the same time as highlighting key values which might embody or help to build peace – and Ukraine itself – the clothing testifies to the absence of peace and the human costs of war. In other words, this fashion show represents an urgent call for peace, rather than a clearly pictured reality. This unsettling and tragic approach to representing peace is fully understandable given the urgency of the historical moment that Gritsfeldt was encapsulating in his designs. The result is a gut-wrenching fashion show that represents both the terrible impact of the war in Ukraine and the desire for a better future ahead.
The collection is mostly made of casual wear, in neutral colours, with prints of words in capital letters standing out on the garments, written in English and Ukrainian. The first models on the catwalk during the show wore the simple word ‘Ukraine’, but over time words like ‘conscience’, ‘respect’, ‘unity’, ‘love’, liberty’, ‘beauty’, ‘voice’, ‘poetry’ and ‘song’ replaced them. Notably, when ‘peace’ came out onto the catwalk, the model’s clothes (and the model herself) looked as if they had been drenched in blood – suggesting either a shattered peace or the cost on people’s lives that comes with fighting for it. The original colour of her clothing – white, a colour traditionally associated with peace – reinforced the sense of a sudden, unexpected clash between peace and war. This strong image, Gritsfeldt stated, ‘is symbolic of us paying for peace with our blood’.
The simplicity of the clothes allowed for the straightforward yet hard-hitting messages about war and peace to stand out, further reinforced by the Ukrainian flag being carried by the models at the end of the show. It was a message of solidarity, but also a representation of trauma, with powerful words of hope envisioning a post-conflict future. This duality of peace messages alongside strong conflict imagery generated a strong emotional reaction in the audience, as Gritsfeldt disclosed to Vogue: ‘After the show, people didn’t want to go—they were just crying. Maybe because they felt it wasn’t about the clothes; it was about what we were feeling.' This is indicative of how fashion can be used as a medium to express an urgent need for peace. Moving beyond the usually luxurious abstractions of fashion shows, Gritsfeldt’s collection represents the sacrifice of Ukrainians as victims of war and also as a people fiercely resisting it.
What do you think?
- What role can fashion play in shaping how we visualise both war and peace?
- Can fashion be seen as a form of artivism?
- What difference has Gritsfeldt’s closeness to the war in Ukraine potentially made to how he has visualised peace in his 2022 collection? And how might this ‘insider’ perspective change the discourse around possibilities for future peace?
- If you were designing clothing to represent or promote peace, what would it look like?
If you enjoyed this item in our museum…
You might also enjoy ‘Pockets of Peace in Ukraine‘, ‘Utopia/Dystopia‘, ‘Valentino’s Peace Dress‘, ‘Souvenir Official‘, ‘Two Neighbours‘ and other items with the tag ‘Artivism‘.
Federica Consiglio, May 2022
 Pashkevich, Kalina. “The Analysis of De Luxe Clothing in the Collections of World and Ukrainian Designers.” National Academy of Managerial Staff of Culture and Arts Herald, no. 3, 2018, https://doi.org/10.32461/2226-3209.3.2019.191799.
 Gritsfeldt, Jean in “‘Fashion Should Talk about Important Things’: Ukrainian Designer Jean Gritsfeldt on His Powerful Show.” Vogue, Vogue, 1 Apr. 2022, https://www.vogue.com/article/ukrainian-designer-jean-gritsfeldt-on-his-fall-2022-show: ‘I wouldn’t even call it a fashion show—it was more like a manifesto; about making a statement. It was about creating this unity around what is happening right now and saying, “Please, we need your support.”’
 To watch the show, follow this link: https://youtu.be/xa5fwPkwMpM.
 Gritsfeldt 2022, ibid.