In the early days of Milan Fashion Week your instagram probably looked like mine, an odd juxtaposition of shellings, bombs, war crimes and models gliding down runways in the Italian fashion hub. How do these worlds coexist? Can we continue to celebrate fashion and carry on as normal when the lives of people less than 800 miles away are being upended? These were questions I was still asking myself going into Paris Fashion Week a few days later, now 10 days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
MORE: What can you do to help Ukraine?
I am meeting Anna October, founder of the eponymous Odessa-founded brand, and one of the only Ukrainian designers who made it to Paris. I realise as we speak, that thanks to a war she had nothing to do with, she is now based in Paris. As of 10 days ago she officially has no home to return to. Let that sink in. "I knew that I'm a strong woman, but now I understand that I am made of steel." she says.
Ukrainian designer Anna October in her studio
She escaped the capital city of Kyiv by car with a group of friends. Firsthand she saw the rockets destroying her city. They were on the road for over 20 hours to reach safety, then she travelled for five days to reach Bucharest, and eventually made it to Paris by plane. Her collection was already outside of the war zone, having just been in New York for Fashion Week.
Anna October's AW22 Eiffel Tower inspired garment
The collection was designed with a 'Paris Night' in mind, the 'pièce de résistance' is a twinkling gold fringe dress which is a tribute to the iconic sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. The collection of course features Anna’s signature knits, "My identity is the knitwear and I appreciate the handmade knitwear. So we gathered a community of old women in Ukraine, old ladies who we place orders with. Each sweater of mine that you can buy at Revolve, Ssense or Moda Operandi are actually made by a granny in Ukraine," she explains with an endearing laugh.
MORE: The Miu Miu skirt set is the hardest working outfit in fashion
Knitwear from Anna October's AW22 collection
Wearable, beautiful and with women in mind, her AW22 offering is an elegant nod to a Parisian adventure. From black mini dresses with an asymmetric neckline, "inspired by the hotel bed," that her imagined muse for the collection wakes up in, to the sultry slip dresses she wears to dinner and culminating in the gold 'Tour Eiffel' number. "It's completely about the feeling, it's not about seasons or places," explains Anna, "it's about the woman and how she feels in her body," The joyous tone of the collection could not be more different to the events that are happening now, as Anna battles to get the people who work for her brand out of Ukraine and into neighbouring Estonia. "Now I realise that the brand, it's not dresses, it's not the logo, it's not the style. It's people who are behind you. It's your team… And when the danger comes, when this disaster comes, you feel responsible for them."
The 'boudoir inspired' scallop neckline is a key motif for AW22
Anna's dedication to continuing her business and not stopping - despite the insurmountable odds - pays tribute to how much she cares about the team behind her brand. "I was first thinking how to secure the people, how to save their families, how to where to move them, how to help them, and then how to reorganise everything like in different countries." She continues: "It's important for a business to be continuous. You cannot just stop for a season. You have orders that you have to dispatch, orders that you receive and you have to produce… and a collection that you have to make. And I was keeping this in mind, that I need to keep the business running. So now I'm taking orders and I'm communicating that I'm here."
Like the Eiffel Tower itself, Anna October is unbreakable. She is steel.