by MIKE CHAIKEN
For fashion designers, aside from selling their clothes, showing their collection during New York Fashion Week for the first time is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Connecticut’s Yaryna Zhuk recently had a chance to reach the end of that rainbow when she showed her line during the Academy of Art University, School of Fashion runway show in September.
But Zhuk’s arrival at the epicenter of style followed an unusual path.
First, Zhuk arrived in the USA after growing up in Ukraine. And, despite an early interest in fashion, she enrolled in the program at The Academy later in life, having graduated from college, having already launched a brand in Ukraine, and raised a family.
Zhuk, who moved to Rocky Hill, Conn., said she opted to leave her homeland to come to America because she said it “is the country of opportunities, everything is possible.”
“I admire its history, values, and the fact that an individual person can make a big difference,” said Zhuk. “The fact that the pursuit of happiness is a core value captured in the Declaration of Independence is one of the big reasons why I chose the US. to be my adopted homeland.”
Coming to America also meant she finally was able to stake a claim as one of the designers who could claim a New York show on their resume.
“It is rare for me to stop and contemplate my achievements, I always move on to the next challenge, but this time I am proud of myself,” said the Connecticut resident, “I am a mom of two wonderful kids, a full-time employed professional that managed to complete a graduate degree online, full-time as well, (finished) top of the class, and got to show my work at the world’s biggest runway.”
Zhuk discovered her creative nature early.
“I was sketching and painting since I remember myself,” said Zhuk. “When I was a kid, arts, and reading books were two main things that kept me busy.”
But fashion wasn’t within her vision.
“There is no story from my childhood about dreaming of making pretty dresses,” said the Ukrainian émigré. “I grew up in post-USSR, where nice clothing was rare.”
“My grandma was sewing and repurposing her clothing for her next teachers’ conference or other events a lot, so I knew that making fashion is not pretty or fun,” said Zhuk.
“I developed some sort of indifference to the clothing because nothing decent was available in the clothing stores when I was a child,” said Zhuk.
However, world events changed her appreciation of fashion. The USSR collapsed.
“Fashion came into my life when I grew up and post-Soviet times were long gone,” said Zhuk.
“I got my first degree in Ukraine, majoring in artistic embroidery and ethnic costume,” said Zhuk. “I started to look at fashion as a form of art, not as something unpleasant or unenjoyable.”
But, although she liked fashion, again history interfered.
“After graduating from college,” said Zhuk. “It was hard to find a job in the field as many factories closed up, and most of the fashion was imported from Turkey, China, Poland, and other neighboring countries.”
However, she rolled up her sleeves and decided to make a go at fashion on her own.
“With a support from my family who helped me to purchase my first industrial embroidery machine, I launched my own brand,” said Zhuk. “It was a line of ethnic inspired embroidered clothing.”
“My company took off pretty well and I enjoyed my work very much for almost seven years,” said Zhuk.
After that relative success and having moved to America, Zhuk wanted more and enrolled in The Academy, where she took classes remotely.
“Even though I was already working in the field, I wanted to learn more about ready to wear fashion, and re-route my career in that direction,” said Zhuk.
In press materials from The Academy, Zhuk noted that the collection in New York was influenced by the fern flower.
Zhuk took that direction, she said in her interview, because, “The fern flower is a myth, it doesn’t exist in reality.”
“Many Eastern Europeans have this story about a fern flower that blooms only once a year, only one night,” said Zhuk. “Whoever finds this flower, will find an eternal happiness. Mystery and challenge of the task of finding the flower is what inspires me, I suppose.”
As for other influences, the Connecticut designer said, “Anything can inspire (me).”
“I’ve created a collection that was inspired by the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (biopic) movie, and Queen’s song ‘Killer Queen,’” said Zhuk. “I have a project inspired by Edgar Allen Poe poetry.”
Now that the September show is history, relegated to runway and editorial photographs and videos, Zhuk said, “I am ready for my next challenge.”
“I’d like to fully dive into the sustainable fashion (world), said Zhuk. “I started start working on a relatively large project on sustainability with a major international organization.”
Beyond that, Zhuk said her fashion story is still yet to unfold.
For information about Yaryna Zhuk and her clothing, visit notjustalabel.com.