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Inside the New Ukrainian Design Fair Showcasing the Country’s Creative Strength

Vogue logo Vogue 3/25/2023 Elise Taylor

Anna Pagava—the CEO and co-founder of “I Am U Are,” a new Ukrainian design fair opening this weekend on the Lower East Side—is making a statement about her country that is both bold and beautiful. “I want to change the narrative,” the Kyiv native tells Vogue. “I want to show how powerful and creative Ukraine could be, that we are not a problem but a solution.” At a time when both the daily news and the wider public perception surrounding Ukraine are often distressing, Pagava is reminding the world of the wide-ranging beauty and technical prowess of its people and its traditions—showing strength, rather than sadness.

So, alongside her co-founder Kristina Skripka and several other native creatives including Masha Reva, Pagava has spent the past nine months sourcing the most exemplary products from Ukraine’s fashion, tech, art, and cultural sectors to showcase in New York City. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it almost never was. “A lot of our vendors don't really have electricity to make their products, and the delivery situation out of the country was very hard,” she explains. Yet, even in the face of the herculean obstacles posed by war (and in the past few weeks, international customs) the group received hundreds of objects from over 120 makers to present as part of “I Am U Are.”

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This weekend, you’ll find them spread out over an enormous 30,000-square-foot space in Skylight at Essex Crossing. There are intricate, colorful rugs woven using techniques that date back to the 16th century, chairs made in the Carpathian mountains with sheep wool cushions, and handmade beeswax candles. Modern ceramics abound—many from collectives in Opishnia, known as the pottery capital of Ukraine—as do accessories inspired by traditional Ukrainian dress: Chichka makes beaded jewelry based on the national costume of the Lemkivshchyna, whereas womenswear designer Bevza presents earrings that take cues from spikelet ornamentation worn by the people of Tripillia.

Then, there are the companies hyper-focused on the immense potential of Ukraine’s future: a state-of-the-art robotic hand from Esper Bionics, for example, as well as Solo rings with lab-grown diamonds from Kyiv. (It’s the largest plant of its kind in Europe.) “The main goal is to show Ukraine’s creative economy—that we are a great nation with great creatives,” says Pagava. “I want the makers to get opportunities from this.” Indeed, the name “I Am U Are” itself is intended to evoke the common denominators between cultures—and serve as a reminder that those of us in the United States are not so different from those in Ukraine. Everything is also for sale, with the curators hoping the show provides an economic boost to these creators.

Below, find Vogue’s highlights from the fair, which runs through March 26.

Hutsul Authentica

© Vogue © Photographed by Shana Jade Trajanoska

A father and his two sons—Mykola, Vasyl, and Dmytro Boruky—run Hutsul Autentica, a store that specializes in the wooden crafting techniques of Ukraine’s Hutsulshchyna Region. The fair displays several of their remarkably ornate candelabras, adorned with folksy motifs, figures, and symbols. (For those not in New York: Hutsul Authentica is also on Etsy.)

Noom Home

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The ultimate cool kid Kyiv furniture brand, Noom’s chairs work just as well in a Podil loft as they would a mid-century Los Angeles home. The team behind “I Am U Are” has curated a rainbow selection of their “Baby Gropius” chair—the signature design of  Noom’s founders, Kateryna Sokolova and Arkadii Vartanov—as well as an array of their sleek vases.

Gunia Projects

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The plates designed by Gunia Projects feature a colorful mix of messages and motifs. Some employ ethnographic religious icons of the Eastern Orthodox church, while others are clearly edicts of the present—one oval dish, for example, features two painted doves alongside the word “Peace.” All are painted in charming riffs on traditional folk art styles.

Olk Manufactory

© Vogue © Vogue

Olk Manufactory’s kylym-making techniques date back to the 16th century. (For the unfamiliar, a kylym is a flat tapestry-woven carpet, typically featuring a bold array of colors.) Yet that’s not to say their rugs and textiles are outdated. In one design seen at “I Am U Are,” folksy floral motifs are mixed in with playful renditions of Pacman, while another has visually modern pastel geometric circles; in a third, Byzantine-inspired design, men in spacesuits even ride horses.

Eye Sea Art

© Photographed by Shana Jade Trajanoska

Founded by Ksenia Gladushevska, Eye Sea Art makes ceramics that blend beauty with terror. At first, their glazed blue-and-pink objects appear as colorful wine bottles, but upon further examination, they reveal themselves as artistic interpretations of Molotov cocktails—a poetic symbol of resistance, given they were made by many Ukrainians in their homes during the early days of the Russian invasion.

Anna October

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“Nobody wants to take donations; nobody wants to feel like a refugee,” designer Anna October previously told Vogue of fleeing Kyiv in February 2022. “People left their lives behind, but work can bring you back to life.” At “I Am U Are,” October presents a diaphanous knit dress with delicate floral appliqués from her spring 2023 collection. While October has been forced to show in Paris since the outbreak of the war, her studio—from which she crafts her elegant, bias-cut satin dresses and lacy separates—remains in Kyiv.


© Vogue © Vogue

“Bevza has always been fiercely proud of her heritage,” Vogue contributor Liana Satenstein previously wrote of designer Svitlana Bevza. “Her brand, one of the largest in her native Kyiv, is built on subtly weaving craft-driven traditional Ukrainian motifs into her minimalist designs.” At “I am U Are,” Bevza puts on a modern spin on traditional spikelet ornamentation worn by the people of Tripillia with a pair of modish earrings.

Svitlana Piskova

© Photographed by Shana Jade Trajanoska

Svitlana Piskova, an artist from Ukraine’s Kirovohrad region, is a master straw weaver. (She knows over 30 different techniques.) The extent of her talent is clear in these flower crowns, an important sartorial symbol in Ukraine stemming from the ancient days of Byzantium. Many women wear them during wedding ceremonies or to mark the start of spring.


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Trupasta’s ravioli molds are adorned with traditional Ukrainian prints: one is meant to evoke the spiky leaves of wheat, while another resembles a geometric flower field. The brand’s tools are both chic and cheery—who wouldn’t give an impressed smile when served a bowl of embellished pasta? The pieces are also available for sale on Etsy, where the shop is noted as a “star seller.”


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