Magazines, bloggers, image-makers impose certain behavior patterns and trends of consuming fancy clothes and accessories upon us. Most of the modern people try to follow recommendations of fashion-experts. They want to create an attractive visual image. Do we really become stylish when wearing a trendy dress? What do we know about modern fashion, a variety of styles and tastes? We posed these questions to Larisa Lobanova, a Ukrainian designer. She started her career in the 1990s when there were no Ukrainian Fashion Week and so many Ukrainian designers yet. Since that, Larisa’s brand has become popular in the world, especially in the Middle East countries.
Larisa Lobanova introduces traditions of Haute couture (high fashion) to the Ukrainian fashion industry, creates geometrical and colorful prints, makes the most unusual invitations to presentations of season collections, uses photo campaigns and video catwalks, collaborates with Ukrainian factories which produce fabrics.
While answering the questions, Larisa smiles and recalls some moments from her life. She challenges stereotypes that fashion makes no sense. As we are talking, it seems that a fashion brand is a person, career, designer’s destiny who shows his world outlook in their clothes. Clothes are not just fabrics in some form, it is a certain sense, lifestyle.
Your brand website says that Larisa Lobanova is a “pure personification of underlined femininity, sophisticated elegance, and inborn aristocratism.” What do you mean by using such words as femininity, elegance, inborn aristocratism?
I really don’t like these words but everybody sees me as a personification of femininity, elegance. It wasn’t me who offered this. If you look at me, it seems I am a kitten. But inside, I am different, absolutely opposite. I like heavy music, don’t like comedies and light films. For me, for my brain, it’s not interesting. I like action. I can’t stand noise but I am fond of listening to hard rock, it inspires me. I like tough and active models on a runway. That’s why these words on the website don’t exactly reflect what I feel.
Do you like to be called a designer or a couturiere?
I think that we, Ukrainian designers have to work harder. Couturier(e) is a master who creates clothes with their hands. We also have much of hand-made work. Personally, I work with my hands much, but we haven’t deserved to be called couturier(e)s yet. It is strange for me when a Ukrainian designer is called a couturier(e): we don’t have enough experience and knowledge yet to be called so. I guess I am a designer… an applied designer.
What is fashion?
Nothing, a mere word. It doesn’t exist, designers invented it for themselves. There is a style, a perception of colors.
We don’t invent anything new, we just repeat silhouettes, materials. Everything has already been invented, we just use it. Perhaps, fashion used to exist during the times of Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Ives Saint Laurent. Now, it is just a remix.
For me, a person who wears clothes is more important. If you are not a personality, no clothes will help you. I create women’s clothes and a woman should be a treasure. If there isn’t anything inside her, if she doesn’t read books, if she can’t speak normally, no piece of clothes will help her. Yes, she will be a pretty picture, fancy, but she will be just a picture like a mannequin – not a living creature. Fashion is made by any random person, not by a designer. Any person can create their own fashion, own style.
One piece worn by ten different women would have ten different meanings. I want everybody to realize that the main thing is not clothes but a person who wears them. We shouldn’t think we can hide behind clothes… The only way to hide is very bright dresses with flower prints, they are taken psychologically in a certain way. You don’t have to say anything if you wear such a piece, you are like summer air.
You should develop, read, do soul-searching, do something to be a Personality.
As for style and taste, do they exist?
Taste is born with a person, you can’t bring it up. A major role in our bringing up is played by our parents and family.
Since you are a child, you have watched what your mother wears. I remember it very well, we had a long corridor, and mother’s court shoes of different colors were standing near the wall. I still remember yellow black spotted ones and brown suede court shoes. They reminded me of Marilyn Monroe’s style.
We, adults, are a combination of what we saw in childhood. It is very important. People mustn’t impose anything on other people. Nobody should say “you have to”. Nobody has to do anything. This style suits you, but it doesn’t suit another person. We have different figures, eyes, we are all different.
A style is your personality expressed through clothes. Taste is your ability to combine your intelligence with clothes. Through your clothes, your style, you tell people who you are. These can be different styles, you can tell who you are or vice versa confuse people.
A style is a kind of a message about you sent to the world. There is no person without a style.
Today, workshops on personal style become very popular. In your opinion, do such events really help people choose their style, develop their taste?
I think they do. People start to listen to, it means they are interested. Interest is a way to learn something new.
Image makers should know the materials they work with. If they don’t know them, they won’t make anything terrible. They will just play a negative role. That’s why only professionals should give this advice. They also should give all the information in a gentle manner. It is very important.
Do you remember the first dress you made by yourself?
I remember it very well, those were dresses for dolls. At first, my sister and I drew a doll, then clothes for her. Those were my first designer sketches.
My mum had a huge box full of nice fabrics. It was very heavy. I half-opened it and cut the biggest piece I could. Then mum found holes on fabrics. I used those pieces I managed to get to sew dresses for dolls. Those were my first designer clothes, they were very colorful because my mum was keen on colorful fabrics.
When did you realize you wanted to be a designer?
Basically, I wanted to connect my life with Math or English. I was entering a Math Faculty, but my friend Maria stopped me on the stairs of the university and led to a Drama and Art School. I am very grateful to my parents for their support because the design wasn’t a popular profession at that time. It was weird that the girl who wanted to become a Mathematician, one of whose parents had a Doctorate degree in Medicine and the other was occupied with Math and Physics, decided to become a designer. Neighbors were constantly asking my parents how they could let me enter the School. But I will be forever grateful to my parents that they let me, that they have always supported me.
Math helps me much now, even in cutting out, in creating prints.
I remember I was always painting when I was in kindergarten. When I was about three years old, my works were already hanging on the wall. I drew at lessons, in copybooks, everything which my classmates asked me to. Now, my son draws at his lessons. His teacher always scolds him but I don’t forbid him to do it because I did the same. I am a good artist, I realize my skills, I could become a good graphic artist because I have always been keen on fairy tales. I used to design some fairy tales for myself, I was very fond of it. I don’t do it now. Work and children require much time. But I constantly draw when I create my prints.
What was your first professional collection?
It was a collection for Shustov trademark for Ukrainian Fashion Seasons. Ukrainian Fashion Week didn’t exist yet. This event was arranged by Iryna Danilevska (the head of UFW). I don’t remember exactly but it was in 1996 or 1998. Ukrainian fashion wasn’t even at its very source, it was being developed from cells. I am grateful to Shustov trademark because due to those collections I started to develop as a designer.
Now I have a totally different approach for creating collections. At first, I need to develop a concept, realize what I want to see, I want to hear this collection, feel it, breathe it in. I start to create my collections not from prints but from realizing what I should see. I mean I have to see the light of the mountains, only then I start to draw mountains. Listening to music makes it easier to draw prints.
How do you choose music which helps you create a collection?
It takes me much time to find music. I choose remixes of famous tracks or music of unknown authors. I like classical music. Mum told us in the childhood that any art begins from classics, even avant-garde. I guess classical music is the most powerful music. Despite this, I like rock music very much, as much as classic. I don’t like pop music but I sometimes use it in my shows.
What events, people, hobbies help you create new collections? What inspires you?
A new collection is an inspiration. I find inspiration in traveling, family, in what I see every day. What makes me happy lies on the surface. Inspiration is like the air we breathe. There are raindrops on windows, it becomes snowy somewhere… Actually, you don’t have to go somewhere to find inspiration. It can be beside you. You leave your office and suddenly you find inspiration in the sun or some smell.
Traveling helps me to feel what I see, helps me create prints.
In Ukraine, most designers use a certain color or form of clothes as the main feature of their brands. You place the emphasis on prints. What is print for you? Is it a symbol? Or just a picture? Should consumers “read”, “understand” this print?
Sure, they should read it. Prints in my collections are their content, it contains everything that I want to say. People should read prints, mood. Even if they fail to read it properly, I’ve achieved my goal.
It is expensive to put prints on fabrics. Some factories have appeared in Ukraine which can professionally put prints on natural fabrics. There is no difference between prices at Italian and Ukrainian factories. We also buy some fabrics in Ukraine. There is no fashion without cotton and linen.
A country starts to bloom when the agricultural industry, art, music develop. If we want to become a cultural country, we should perceive everything Ukrainian. That’s why we prefer Ukrainian manufacturers.
It is easy to notice a certain dynamic of prints in season collections. For example, Spring-Summer `17 has grass growing from ground depicted on dresses, then, it appears in pots. Or Fall-Winter `19-20 collection has a print of cactus which then blooms. What do you mean by changing prints in your collections?
My collections are dynamic. I like the winter very much. Frankly speaking, I just hate summer. Basically, it is easier to create summer collections than winter ones because it is easier to construct them. But I love winter collections. My each winter collection ends with a hint that spring is coming. All last pieces on a runway are optimistic, I provide a mood that winter is just the run-up to spring. It is also influenced by the fact I live in Odesa. Winter and fall have incredible colors, transparent air.
Your collections, besides prints, have many geometrical ornaments. For example, there are some spotted pieces. Does this geometry increase the sense of prints, or it has another function?
Frankly speaking, I don’t like spotted clothes but people buy them. We understand that we have to sell this collection. Our last winter collection had many spotted clothes. It had Japanese and Chinese cultures as a basis. A red circle on white fabric symbolizes the sun. In this case, spots symbolized suns, especially crimson circles, like a winter crimson sun which appears from fog against a light-grey fabric.
Prints of small spots and stripes of different width just gather the line of a picture and let experiment with them. I also don’t like gingham prints because they can make a woman’s figure seem wider.
You use different colors in your collections, but you constantly use black. What is it connected with?
My teacher at Art School Mrs. Olha called me a “master of color”. She said that when I was about 17-18, and I am afraid not to fulfill her expectations.
Colors can’t be right or wrong. Colors can be combined. There are just more active and calmer combinations. For my every collection, I choose what combination I need: calm or impactful.
Each collection has a black dress, not “little”; it is loose, as a rule. It is because of my obsession with black color. For me, black color means not what it means to other people. I don’t take it as a comfortable, everyday color. Our people wear black because it’s comfortable, it doesn’t get dirty. I take black color philosophically. I mean black is a color of reflections. A woman has the right to wear black if her vibes are strong and powerful if she won’t get lost in this color.
For me, black is a transitive color from one mood to another. That’s why it’s always in collections. I often wear black.
Do current public events influence your collections?
I try to make my collections not be influenced by public events because I am an apolitical person. I don’t like using political slogans. I rather make pacifist slogans. I am against any aggression, against any kind of military conflicts because they lead to deaths and misery. I have two sons. I want them to live in a peaceful country. I guess a public person should carry some social message. My message is about pacifism.
To present their collections, designers use performances, fashion-films, other theatrical forms to impress the audience, to show the sense of their collection. You use photo campaigns, make special invitations, do they help to show the sense of a collection?
You should take into account the goal of a presentation. If it is just an informational message – it is a catwalk. It is full information about the collection, it is its “passport”. And if you want to convey some mood, then we make photo and video campaigns. It is necessary. It is more interesting for me than working with catwalks.
To present a new summer collection we didn’t show on Ukrainian Fashion Week because it took place at the same time a Paris exhibition did, we made a video catwalk. When we make a campaign, we work with one or two models, very rarely with three. I like catwalks because of their backstage life, and I like campaigns because of the mood. Catwalks help us place emphasis on the concept of the collection we present. Music which plays during the show, invitations which we pay attention to, models we select particularly for the catwalk – it all reflects the sense of the collection.
Where, except Ukraine, do you have your customers?
Few people buy our clothes in Ukraine.
To promote our brand in the international market, we participate in designer exhibitions – it is the most effective way. Fashion shows are just a picture, an exhibition requires work. We took part in exhibitions in Milan and Paris. We have been invited several times to take part in American, Milan, Paris Fashion Weeks. Unfortunately, all this depends on money. It is a huge sum.
People buy our clothes in France, Germany, the Dominican Republic, almost in all countries of the Middle East, I won’t even say where exactly, in Asia.
In your opinion, what is attractive in your clothes for people from the Middle East?
They like us because there is much fabric in the dresses. We offer cruise, evening luxury dresses. People of the Middle East also like natural fabrics. To sell our dresses in eastern countries, we change them a lot: make sleeves and skirts longer.
What are your plans for the future?
My collections are loved in Western countries, but I am not that popular in Ukraine. But I always emphasize that I am a Ukrainian designer. I am proud of it. We have to use elements of Ukrainian culture, be proud of working in this country despite the conditions.
I was born near the border with China. Perhaps, that’s why I take life and nature as they do in the East. When I was in Korea, I felt like I had already seen that, like dejavu. I started to recall pictures of Taiga which I had seen when I was three-four years old, bushes of bright-pink wild rosemary, wild animals, a smell of nature. It was an incredible world.
When I came to Odesa for the first time, I immediately fell in love. We came in August. It was the city covered with an orange light, not a color but light. I hadn’t seen that before: all houses and trees were covered with this light. I remember how we were on our way from the airport to our home and I asked my mother, “Why is this city so orange?” It has been so for me all my life. No city has such light.
That’s why despite the fact I wasn’t born in Ukraine, I love Odesa, I love Ukrainian culture.
Interview by Olena Skalatska
Photos provided by Larisa Lobanova