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Anna October had to quickly adapt the way she ran her fashion brand when she woke up to Kyiv being bombed. A week after the war in Ukraine started, she managed to make it to Paris, to present her new collection at Paris Fashion Week. She is one of the lucky ones.
Whilst she knew something bad was coming, she didn’t think it would happen so fast.
‘We had a plan’, she told me as we sat down in her showroom in Paris. ‘We knew there were negotiations going on, but no one thought they would ever bomb Kyiv. We had a plan for the team to take the stock, so that in case the conflict came close, we’d move all operations to the west of the country, or if it got worse, another country. Then I woke up to my city being bombed.’
With little time to spare, Anna grabbed a small bag with her documents and some essentials, and fled the city with her friend. They spent a week on the roads, remaining in hiding and avoiding busy areas which were likely to be bombed.
Finally, they made it to Bucharest, and travelled onto Paris from there, where we meet to see her autumn/winter 22 collection. As for the rest of the team, some have stayed with their families, and are looking for ways to flee. One member has joined the Ukrainian army.
It has been a solemn Paris Fashion Week, with designers such as Demna – himself a former refugee – from Balenciaga showing their support to the Ukrainian people.
Some critics felt the shows should have been cancelled altogether, with the frivolity of fashion having no place in this strange new world.
Anna, however, disagrees. ‘I’m here to speak for the creative industry refugees, though I don’t want to use that word actually. I’m asking the industry to consider them as collaborators, as workers, because that’s the best thing we can do. To be in a safe place and to have the opportunity to work. I truly believe that we have a very big and very supportive fashion community that could help designers, photographers, models and other creatives.’
But there are other ways to support the Ukrainian people, Anna says, especially if you aren’t in the fashion industry.
‘There are two ways to help,’ she says. ‘Showing support through the protests, through the signing of petitions, though this is a very personal decision. Then you can be practical. Everybody’s in different situations, somebody needs to flee Ukraine, and they, for example, don’t have money, of they’ve fled already but need a place to stay, clothes or are looking for work. For us, solid ground is work. I’m speaking from myself, but I want to do what I love to do.’
It’s also important to support the country’s economy where you can, and with fashion, this means investing in Ukrainian fashion brands.
Anna says, ‘It’s very important to sustain the businesses and it can be done through purchasing through brand partners, since at the moment, the stocks are blocked in Ukraine. Or you can buy directly from their sites, understanding that orders will take a while to fulfil. We appreciate it. At the moment, on my Anna October website, you can donate to the army.’
But creativity and humanity are resilient, and Anna October’s AW22 collection is a beautiful depiction of joy and hope, inspired, as it happens, by Paris, her new home.
‘I moved to Paris, not because I planned to, but because of this situation. And the collection was inspired by Paris. I came back in September for the first time in years. It was a beautiful night, I was passing through the Place Vendome and people were dancing the tango. I was invited to dance and I danced my first tango at midnight, it was so romantic. That magical moment was the inspiration for the current collection,’ Anna says.
‘It’s about celebrating life, celebrating beauty. This is our first showroom after two years of COVID so it feels like a new start. Some of my favourite pieces include the Tour Eiffel cape with golden fringes that shimmer, like the Eiffel Tower at night. There’s a dress open shoulders dress and a wave that are like the detail from the bed.’
Whilst Anna hasn’t, understandably, thought about her next collection yet, she is already adapting to the situation, and thinking of moving her operations to a safer place.
‘I’m very optimistic person. I appreciate the situation I am in, because I understand that so many people aren’t. I want to help others with as much as I can’, she says.