In The Heart of Political Ukraine, Kiev Clothing Anonymously Explores Gay Eastern Europe
With countries like Chechnya unceremoniously attacking homosexual populations, treatment of LGBTQA communities in Eastern Europe and Russia has become a widespread topic of concern. Despite rare exceptions (Russia continues to have a bustling drag scene, for example), the community isn’t legally protected from any form of discrimination and prohibits the distribution of propaganda promoting “non-traditional” sexual relationships to minors. Thus, there exists a soft-spoken, seemingly underground culture in these regions where the community can live within the gray zone of what is legal and what is not. Enter Kiev.
The clothing line, which is called Kiev (as well as based in the city), focuses on working class homosexuals in the aforementioned areas and their pragmatic style, which has organically become a massive trend in recent seasons. Think Gosha Rubchinskiy meets IKEA, playing on the notions of fake vs. real as well as working clothes vs. fleeting fashions. While there’s still very little known about the brand, on purpose, the aesthetics and story are inanely compelling, politically important, and perhaps socially radical for the city in which the clothes are ideated. Our friends at Milk.xyz spoke to the Communications and Marketing Chief of the brand, who wishes to remain anonymous, to find out more.
Could you give me a bit of background about the brand? Being Swedish, the IKEA aesthetic struck a chord with me (fellow Swedes would probably hate that I said that). When did this all start?
Okay, I’m going to tell you this, I’m going to be really honest with you, this big project came up to me in February, I think. Between February and March—it’s very new—I was contacted by a Ukrainian company through Instagram, and they kind of want to keep the mystery on who they are, so I don’t really know who they are because I’ve never met them. But I think this is part of the game, so I accepted it and I started proposing some ideas on this project to them. They really wanted to have good visuals for the brand, and they wanted some Italian, ‘Made in Italy,’ cool quality stuff, so I started to look around in Milan since I live there, and I put them in contact with producers in Milan. We started talking about the production and the way the clothes had to be done, and they kind of accepted and started giving me a lot of freedom on how I see the project.
They told me they wanted elegance, and not so much homoerotic stuff. But they also asked me to be very now and very modern. Of course, with all of the fake IKEA hype going around, I think they were one of the first ones to have done the idea. Because as I told you, they really didn’t want it to be the fake IKEA stuff, but wanted to give it a really good level of image. So, we don’t buy clothes and start modifying them; we make them from scratch with real work wear stuff. None of it is vintage or recycled from other brands; we take real work wear and we produce it. The idea kind of works because the shape and the materials are very linked to the work wear world, so this is real stuff. It’s not just a tee shirt coming from nowhere, printed. It’s real, which is what they wanted to focus on. It worked for me, because I had a lot of experience in that with jackets and stuff. They started to appreciate my ideas and we just went for it.
In that case, can you specify a little more what your role is with the brand? So, the designers are based I guess in Kiev, and they reached out to you and you’re there to help them with marketing and production?
I’m in charge of the image and communications of the brand. I don’t really design the clothes, I never did. I’m not a fashion designer, I’m actually a visual and chief furniture designer, so I never touch the clothes. I followed some of the production, and maybe I give some advice on fabrics, but I don’t really design the clothes. I kind of do creative direction of everything else besides the design of the clothes, so I reach out for production of the shoots and video, the Instagram, website, marketing. It’s all mixed because it’s a very small team. It’s not that big yet, but I hope that it will be.
Basically, I think once people see it, they’ll like it. I don’t think many people have seen it yet, which is why I wanted to do this. I wanted to ask, also, just to clarify things further, the stuff that looks like an IKEA uniform, that’s not actually an old uniform you took, it’s work wear clothes that the designers take and start to work with from scratch?
Yes, exactly. Their idea was to have a quality level of visuals, so I think we are going in that direction. It’s of course a very long way’s reach, but it’s the direction we’re going in and it’s the way we’re communicating with them. Of course, they are in Kiev, so I’ve never actually met or seen them. I’m trying to have a legitimate approach with them, and I think it’s a part of the game, like I told you. I think they want to be hidden at the moment, and I think it’s a good idea—I appreciate that and I’m okay with it. I think it could be part of the hype, so why not. It could work if it’s going to be good, and if it doesn’t, we’ll change some things around. For now, I think it’s working and I’ve gotten some attention from Italians, and from France. I think people, like you, see the elegance of the brand and that it’s very different from the fake IKEA stuff or general fake merchandise. I don’t know how the American market is working, but here in Italy and in Europe, there’s a lot of fake going around, on a really big scale. So, it’s not just a small industry, it’s huge—people are going crazy with fakes. So, I think this was the reason they picked someone from Italy; I don’t think it’s a coincidence. They know that here, it could be big, and I don’t know, they just found me on Instagram.
Yeah, it doesn’t feel genuine to me when a lot of existing brands are cashing in being “fake.” This feels more authentic to me. Even the construction of the clothes and where you’re sourcing…
Yes, that’s absolutely the point. I’m giving them some advice on the designs, because even though I’m not a fashion designer, living in Milan with friends and connections, I know about the stuff. I’m kind of pushing them in the direction to enrich the product more and more, and for now, this is a big serious test. I mean, it’s serious. They’re putting the money aside, they’re putting money into the project, they’re paying me, so it’s kind of going faster and faster. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m sure you understand.
I know this is mostly coming from the designers, but you’ve spoken about it, and now you’re doing a bit of the creative direction as well as marketing. The whole ‘Love your homo,’ is that what you would call their slogan? Or where does that come from and what does that mean to you?
‘Love your homo’ is playing with the IKEA slogan ‘Love your home,’ so we just alter the sentence, because we really want to get the idea of protecting and stepping out of the Ukrainian problem with homosexuals. So, of course, we want to put together the working class, the fake IKEA image and a real message, which I think is really good mix at the moment especially in Eastern Europe. So this is the real DNA of the brand, because later on, we thought it could be a really cool idea to have a page on the website dedicated to homosexuals in Eastern Europe, but also all over Europe and maybe the world. I don’t know, but talking about the real conditions everywhere. I think that’s really cool, and there’s nothing about profit in that because it’s a free page for people who want to talk and express themselves and communicate and share, who don’t have the opportunity to do so elsewhere. I think this is a really good message to deliver. We’re also trying to get this message in the visuals, but never too much homoerotic, no porno, nothing like that. We just want the message to be clear and from Kiev, a really different world from mine in Milan and yours in America. Over there, the situation is really, really serious, especially in Chechnya, so I think it’s honest because they don’t make profit with that, it’s just about delivering the message and creating a space for stories to be told. I think I’ll focus more on that in September, because I’m starting to call some reporters in Italy and other places to talk about the message and maybe edit the website.
I want to ask a bit about influencer marketing. There are brands like Palomo Spain who are already showcasing gay models, or Gucci working with Hari Nef, for example. But you’re really only seeing one type of person within the LGBTQA community; one that the fashion world accepts. It’s not the same as blue collar gays in rural communities. There are gay kids scrubbing dishes and they aren’t getting welcomed by fashion with open arms. Where are all of your models coming from?
They, from Kiev, asked me to have real models, because they don’t want to have a cheap image. They want real models that know how to act, but on my side, I tried to put real people working on the project, as you were saying. I will show you in the video and in the pictures, the photographers, the stylists and the assistants; they’re all people coming from nowhere. They’re not notorious, they’re not famous, they’re just cool kids from the underground Milan scene, and I’m picking them really randomly. When I say random, I mean not taking from famous names or magazines, I really want cool guys—simple, who really want to work and do their jobs. I think that’s what we’re going for. Real people who have studied that come from nowhere and put effort into this; that is what the brand is about I think. I want to keep it super real with people that work and don’t hope to be whoever or whatever. It’s people who come from the working class that do creative jobs, you know what I mean?
Yeah, or they just haven’t necessarily made it in whatever art form they want, so they have another job for financial support.
Yes, and I hope for them because they’re cool guys. They’re very humble. Nobody in the team wants to reach whatever status; they just want to work and create great stuff.
When you have a brand that is catering to the LGBTQA community, is there any sort of fear of closing people off because of that? Do you know what I mean?
Yes, absolutely. I mean this is only the first step. Later on, I’m going to really make the point of extending the brand and messaging to more people—girls, of course. I think, yes, the main target is gay men, but the clothes don’t only have to do with gay identity. There’s nothing like transparency, or nothing about too much exposure, just real clothes that come from work wear. So, I think that yes, the image is targeting the LGBT world, but I think that people will start to understand that these kinds of clothes can really fit everybody. It’s real work wear, there’s nothing fake about the clothes. I also want to target girls in the future.
My last question for you, since this is a public facing article, I want to give our readers something to take action with, more than just following the Instagram page. Do you have any idea when e-commerce might become available? I just want to know how readers can become involved, either by buying the brand or by reaching and becoming brand ambassadors?
By September, everything will be perfect—the e-commerce, the shoots, the videos will all be online. Of course, a lot of it is in review, but the real timing will be September because August here in Italy is not a good month to launch something. I think the e-commerce will launch during the fashion weeks. So, in the beginning of September, the e-commerce will be ready. But now, I’m going to send things to artists, singers, and influencers, but different kinds of influencers. So I’ll be sending stuff now and we’re expecting a big boom from that, and then we’ll start selling in the beginning of September for sure.