“Today is not the time to talk about fashion.” A bold statement from a fashion designer to open a fashion show at a fashion week. However, when you are the only Ukrainian designer with a collection a month after Russia’s invasion of your homeland… you are right. In March, Jean Gritsfeldt made (fashion) history in Berlin with a powerful statement through fashion. “When you hide from bombs in shelters, subways or basements, no one cares what you are wearing.” Gritsfeldt, who remains in Kyiv, worked with the teams at Fashion Revolution and Sustainable Fashion Matterz to produce the pieces in time. The garments tried to put into words – Love, Unity, Voice, Song, Poetry, Will, Freedom – things worth defending and fighting for. Everyone, like Vogue and “the kitchen sink”, reported on this milestone show. It will be studied for years to come as fashion diplomacy in action, starting with my own classroom at IFA Paris later this month. I had zeitgeist goosebumps during his show staged at the Kyiv train station in 2018 (!) Having met Jean and written about his work, I felt this was right-place-and-right-time for this singular talent as his ability to translate spirit of the times into artifacts is of the highest order. It was an honor to speak with him now.
What is your earliest fashion memory?
I fell under the spell of showbiz magic when I was a kid. We had an eight-channel color television set. You had to get up and turn the knob to switch channels. I remember I was a fan of the music program Song of the Year. I did not think about it from the creative point of view then, but I was fascinated with the image of the stars. It was like a puzzle to solve. Then this puzzle expanded to include Western stars like Carmen Electra and Britney Spears. I was beginning to understand the power of desire and the dynamics of emulation. I remember my first glossy magazines. They were so expensive; my family could not afford them. When I finally getting a copy of Vogue with all the collections from different designers, it was a window into a wild world of wonders. How was this possible? Now I am a part of that world. I am creating my own puzzles for people to enjoy.
What is the role of poetry now?
It is always important, not only now. Poetry is something alive and life-giving for me because it is about loving and wanting to be loved, about reconnecting to the source of all love. We are witnessing an attempt not only on human life but on a people’s cultural heritage. It makes us treasure and protect it more from aggression. We turn to our roots with Lina Kostenko or Lesya Ukrainka. So many lines reveal their power in new ways. Lesya Ukrainka’s poem Against All Hope I Hope has a famous line: “I will laugh through my tears”. Itis about right now. Humor heals. Humor makes light of the devil. Not the devil who tempts you with the past, but that strong energy that propels you forward, gets you through the impossible now.
How do you find beauty in this impossible now?
Humans are highly adaptable creatures. We even adapt to horror. We see people take monstrous reality in stride. I also see them stop to look at a flower in the park. People say that this is the year of Stolen Spring in Ukraine, but the flowers bloom and we really notice it. “Spring is the triumph of life”. It sounded like a cliché and now people have realized that life itself is the only worthwhile thing. Nothing you bought over the years is relevant when your run from your house to the sound of air raid sirens. People often speak about leaving a comfort zone. What happens when the comfort zone is taken from you? I get a lot of feedback from my followers both who left Ukraine and who stayed. Sometimes they simply write, “We survive!” They face post-traumatic shock and must learn to enjoy life again. A lot of recovery ahead, through unity we must help to each other. Once you break through the fear, you tap into strength. Think of a candle in the darkness. Wherever you bring light, darkness disappears. In the Ukrainian language the world and the light are the same word. Svet. We are svet. We must shine on.
What roles does music play in your work now?
My album was supposed to come out this spring, but war changed everyone’s plans. I decided to release new music anyway. Entertainers are meant to bring joy to people. Some of my colleagues got pushback online for sharing their despair or fear. People said, “C’mon we don’t need you crying. Please, have faith for us! ” It is a sacred mission to give people a chance at beauty, some hope, like a touch from God. Creators are just channels. I am happy when things resonate with my audience because it means I was in the right alignment. I always wanted to connect everything and everyone, not divide the world. Music is that connection regardless of race, gender, religion. In sound, we are one.
How is your business disrupted now?
What we had created here has been literally destroyed. After ten years in the business, we arrived at zero. There is pain and incomprehension and fear. We also feel hope and interest in our work. I am asking everyone to support Ukrainian artists with donations and purchases. This collection is available for pre-order and will be manufactured by our partners in Berlin. We are also starting to collect and save money for cultural initiatives after the war. Everyone in the whole world is seeing the senselessness of war. My hope is to live to see the end of war as a human activity.
What role does destiny and spirituality play in creative work?
I absolutely believe in the power of intention and will. At the same time, I am often aware of being led. The multiverse is a space we already live in, and you can access different parts and aspects of it depending on your own awareness. Time and energy move faster and faster. You cannot hold on to any “old ways”. The way it used to be is over and gone. I understand people find comfort in familiarity. But the future is always unfamiliar. To survive, you must let go. I was always wary of loud slogans, because lifeforce is very quiet. We must transcend our own materiality. Yes, the body right now is a critical tool of witness. But the spirit allows the flow of sacred information and gives you the impulse for moving forward. The soul keeps asking the same question, the main question, over and over. Who are you? We all are here looking for the answer.
UPDATE on June 4, 2022:
I want to thank Jean for finding the time and the opportunity to also speak directly from Kyiv with my students in the Global Media Management program at International Fashion Academy in Paris. It was an incredible, moving, challenging, inspiring experience for the students present both onsite and online.