Special Edition | Supporting Ukrainian Fashion Designers with Keanan Duffty


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Keanan Duffty


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:17 

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward 

Emily Lane 00:21 

and discuss solutions to real industry challenges. 

Bret Schnitker 00:24 

Clothing Coulture is brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. I am so excited about today's conversation, because we are bringing back a favorite Keanan Duffty, we had a conversation with him earlier this season, actually, it was we talked about the fluidity of the fashion system. And we had a big deep dive into the vibrancy of the art and fashion scene in Kyiv. And obviously, a lot has happened since that conversation that we captured back in October after their big fashion season. And we thought, you know, this might be a really good time to bring your your perspective back to the table, kind of explore what's going on. And I know you've got some some wonderful things underway. So welcome Keanan. 

Bret Schnitker 01:21 

It is happy hour 

Keanan Duffty 01:32 

yeah, no it's lovely to be back. It's lovely to see you again. And obviously we've we've seen each other in the meantime, which is a whole other story. I mean, what a ton of events since we met, you know, last year. And you know, I kind of just come back from Kyiv Art and Fashion Days and, you know, I was very enthusiastic about what I'd seen there in terms of the creativity and the people I met and food and the culture and you know, everything about the city and completely unaware of the events that were going to, you know, sort of happen saying events that have happened, Putin invaded Ukraine, and there's a war there's devastation as looks like war crimes now. Right, you know, absolute terror and destruction. 

Bret Schnitker 02:16 

Was there any undercurrent when you were there about any of this? Did anyone have any this fear of of this happening when you were there? That I mean, 

Keanan Duffty 02:26 

when I look back now, I sort of think that you could feel something, but I think it's just kind of retrospective. Sure. No, speculation. There was certainly no indication, you know, remnants of the Soviet era are obviously very prevalent in in Ukraine 

Bret Schnitker 02:44 

was capital voelde. Russia, if I remember there was this? I 

Keanan Duffty 02:48 

don't know, I don't I don't know my history of Ukraine at all. 

Bret Schnitker 02:52 

There was there's a definite connection there and maybe with a reason that he is going after a claim to what's not? 

Keanan Duffty 02:59 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, the, you know, the, the sort of shock to the the world was that actually, he invaded? I mean, you know, lining up 10s of 1000s of troops. And, you know, I think, right, until, I mean, I heard, you know, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd saying, Oh, they're not going to invade, and then they invaded. You know, 

Bret Schnitker 03:17 

we all probably thought that was a bold move to line up troops on the border. But we thought this was just kind of bristling, because no one would be literally mad enough to to do that. You know. 

Keanan Duffty 03:28 

I mean, I think that in the context of the relatively young, creative people that I met, and the things that I heard about the cultural changes that were underway in Ukraine, for instance, they had their sort of first Pride week, I was told around 7000 participants, so you know, the LGBTQ community, were getting some level of visibility. And that was certainly true in some of the contemporary art and visual arts that I saw that was very much the sort of messaging of the LGBT community was was part of the sort of contemporary art scene. And it felt fresh, exciting, you know, it felt like a city that really had a dynamic, the sort of dynamism of Berlin and I know that's said a lot in the media that Kyiv was, was potentially the next Berlin. So it's a bit of a cliche to say that, but it actually did feel like that. And I think I mentioned in our last podcast that the folks that own Bergheim, the techno club in Berlin, were actually in in Cuba at the same time looking for a venue to open their second location. And they chosen Kyiv because there's a big techno scene in Ukraine. And they thought that was like the next next natural habitat, you know, for for Bergheim. And it's kind of really amazing the only literally weeks later, this was all the all this promise was just dashed. And you know, who knows where ultimately it's going to go. 

Bret Schnitker 04:57 

I gotta tell you look at out of the ashes comes these amazing stories of heroism and standing up for the country. I think we've all gotten so comfortable in our lifestyles, and we, you know, and the world is so connected. So we're kind of living that in, in a way distantly never feeling the pain that they are certainly, but amazing stories today of people standing up for for their country. And you kind of wonder, would that happen everywhere. 

Keanan Duffty 05:25 

What I found amazing is the resilience of the creative community that the designers that I'm in touch with, you know, and particularly, I mean, I won't name names other than Sofia Tchkonia, who's the founder of Kyiv Art and Fashion Days. And Sophia is that actually lives in Tbilisi, she's she's Georgia. And she immediately went to the Polish border and was helping Ukrainian refugees. And she's very invested in Ukraine, she says her second home, and spiritually she's very connected with it. And but then as I've been staying in contact with many of the designers, I met through Instagram, mainly because that's really been the the main resource. Some have have left, one of the designers that I know is keen to New York, and then is now based in Los Angeles for the near future. Another is in Paris has moved to Paris with her team and is sort of setting up there and trying to continue there are others. The male designers are stuck in that Yeah, and I know, one of them has actually been sort of conscripted. And so but it's amazing the resilience that everyone has, even the designer has been conscripted, that him or his team are still communicating with me and posting, you know, illustration, fashion illustrations and creative wow, you know, express creative expression. So I think that what what Putin is failing to do is actually destroy the spirit of the people. And it's, you know, culture is so important in society, I think one of the things that we can say is that, you know, if you take culture away from society, it's so diminished, you know, and I had been right after the invasion happened, I thought to myself, what can I do, and I immediately started working on a project. And that was to stage a fashion show with Ukrainian designers. And one of the sort of nagging thoughts in the back of my mind was, you know, the criticism could be why you wasting time and energy and money on staging a fashion show when that those resources could go towards humanitarian aid, and so on. And while I do see that there's absolute validity in that, culture, you know, culture is, is an art and creativity are ways that we remain human, even in the worst situation. And so I do think it's important to maintain that expression. And I do feel that I know, it's uplifting the designers that I've, I've been in contact with, and it's uplifting their spirits. And as they say, to me, this is a boost for the Ukrainian fashion system. You know, so I think I think it is important to always remember that, you know, if you think about, I mean, I've been reading the, you know, the war poets, Rupert Brooke, and Siegfried, Sassoon, and so on, and then going back to, like, you know, the First World War and looking at that poetry reading that poetry, because these were young men who are on the front line, and who were talking about the realities of war, you know, and not pulling punches in any way. But their art and their creativity were sort of many fold, they were telling people back home, about the horrors of war and the realities of war, but also that our that culture maintained a certain degree of humanity, even in the, in the horrors of that, you know, absolute war to end all wars, as it was known as, yeah. So I just think it's important to remember that in these times, 

Emily Lane 08:49 

I agree, you know, art has played such a key role in helping people process trauma, and again, showcase the really tell the story, and connect that with the rest of the world, you know, with, with, with tragedy, often comes some of the great the finest art, so 

Bret Schnitker 09:09 

we and they, you know, in the apparel space, or, in general, they don't really associate directly, designers of clothing with artists, but they just we've talked about in previous episodes, you know, they paint their stories and cloth as others wouldn't paintbrush. And I remember, you know, this brings this point where I was doing a senior project, one of the universities here and there was an Israeli student. And the story she told through her garments about life in Israel, the challenges that existed, I was awestruck. It was a complete story built into garments. And I have to imagine that what we're going to see and as distillation at this show is the shift of the reality of war that comes into it. They're artists so they're going to tell the stories they're going to draw In the, you know the artists story of what's going on, but tell the story of the change within Ukraine like every artist would. And I think that's critical to tell the story in different mediums. And I think it's, I think it also provides hope, I think, you know, what you're doing by doing this is one continuing to raise the eyes of visibility, because as humans, we can only take so much catastrophe if we're not in the middle of it. At one point, to preserve kind of our sanity, the brain wants to shut down at night and kind of dismiss it. And I think we can't let this go. We can't sideline this. It's got to be in the front of everybody's mindset. Yeah, there's this ongoing conversation. And that's what you're doing here. I'm telling you, right, 

Emily Lane 10:45 

yeah. So why don't you tell us a little bit more specifics on exactly what it is you're developing to help tell these stories and foster hope? 

Keanan Duffty 10:54 

Yeah. So that on the 25th of February, so the invasion began on the 24th. So on the 25th, I kind of, you know, woke up that day, and I thought, you know, what can I do? And my first thought was, what about trying to put together a show of some kind at New York Fashion Week in September? Now, I know that seems like it's a long way off. And it's not. At that moment, actually, that invasion, you could have seen it ending within a few days, there could have been a response of, you know, Ukrainian military, laying down their arms and submitting to Putin. So this was a little bit of an abstract thoughts. But I did believe that even though September is, you know, months away, it would actually allow time to organize something. And I was actually amazed by how quickly things fell into place. Because the first thing I did was contact the CFDA Council of Fashion Designers of America, I asked the executive director and the Vice President Stephen Kolb, and Lisa Smiler, if they would be able to assist in some way, and they immediately said, Yes, we'll help you with the fashion calendar, which is essentially what they run, they run the fashion calendar, which gives timings to the shows in New York City. And it's important to be on that, because that's what how the media and the press know where and when shows are happening. So being part of the calendar is really important. They also said they would help the designers to promote their work through a thing called Runway 360. And now it's gonna get a little confusing, because there are two entities called runway involved in this one is Runway 360, which is the CFDA promotional portal. So once I had CFDA endorsement, and I'm a member, I've been a member for 15 years. And so I did feel that was kind of a credibility factor. So once I had their endorsement, I actually then went to an organization called Runway 7, which rents Sony Hall, which is a space just off Time Square, during New York Fashion Week, and they staged a whole bunch of runway shows. And I went to the founders of that that organization, and I said, Look, I would like to stage some fashion shows for Ukrainian designers, if I can get them to come over to New York, would you be willing to support that in some way? And they said, Yes, we will donate a runway show for, let's say, six designers. So each designer has three or four looks, and it builds out into a nice kind of, you know, 15-20 minute runway show. Yeah, and that space also includes full support and in production, so obviously lighting, audio, hair, makeup, the the sort of back of house production, if you like, so everything's in place, so all the designers need to do is turn up with looks. And you know, they, they, they have everything kind of set up for them. So that was a big piece, then the next step was to go to a find a way to publicize this. So I went to a friend of mine, James LaForce, who runs LaForce PR, which is one of the preeminent fashion PRs in New York. And James immediately said, anything you want, we'll do whatever you want, you can use our space to do dressing and fitting and so on. We'll do front of house, we'll do the, you know, invite mailing and all that, that stuff. So on the day of show, they kind of, you know, seat everyone before the show, they're mailing invites, and so on and so forth. And as the designers turn up in New York, then they they're allowing the designers to have space to do fittings and so on. So those three bits were really, really key. I then spoke to some industry friends like Tommy Hilfiger, who immediately offered, you know, support. My friend Constance White has a really sort of foremost fashion journalist got in touch with Conde Nast and, and sort of enlisted their support. Kay Unger, who's the former president of the board of Parsons got involved, and she introduced me to a number of other sort of fashion industry connections of hers, one of which led to MasterCard, getting involved. So MasterCard actually donating In a space post show, so after the day after the show, they're donating a space that's called their tech hub. And that's on Fifth Avenue at lower Fifth, close to Union Square. So designers can do a static show and meet the press, and have sales appointments, and so on and so forth. And it's a tech orientated space with a huge living wall, which is basically a massive wall of LED and the space, they're going to bring in tables, chairs, racks, and so on. So that designers are able to have press appointments and meet the media, do sales appointments, and so on, and actually tell their stories in person, which I think will be very, very important because they'll they have personal backstories, obviously, they're going to talk about their collections and their design businesses and so on. But they all have, you know, backstories, about the invasion and how they coped with that, how they maintain their businesses, where they moved to, and so on, and so forth. And I think that is the big part of this is that storytelling aspects. So you know, even though coming back to what I said earlier, where, you know, fashion week in September is months away, but the story is evolving. And that will be a point at which these individuals will be able to tell that story. So you know, the bits that we still have to fill in our travel and accommodation. And there are two areas that because of the pandemic hospitality and the airline industry, I've been the most impact. But we have, you know, solutions for that I was trying to do this whole thing without involving money in any way. Because going back to, you know, what I said earlier about a potential criticism being Why are you spending money on a fashion show when money could go towards humanitarian aid. And so I was sort of trying to do this with favors and goodwill, but it may come down to us having to purchase flights and purchase hotel rooms, in order to, you know, make this a seamless experience for the designers, I don't want them to incur any costs whatsoever, I want this to be you know, a situation where they can be brought in, they can be housed, all of the production for the show, and the static show can be taken care of, they don't have to think about anything, they just have to bring the assets that they have, which may be three or four looks from a collection, it could be a new collection, or it might be something retrospective and themselves and their stories. And that I think would be, you know, a powerful message. This story is ongoing, it's evolving. I hope that, you know, the invasion and the aftermath are resolved by September. But who knows. So we just have to, you know, keep going with positive force. And all of the designers that I'm in contact with them all using Instagram, and they all without exception, have said, this is such an uplifting endeavor. And they're very, you know, they're very grateful. They're very supportive, and they've only had positive things to say about it. So I think, you know, it was the right endeavor. And we've been able to garner really great support and goodwill from the fashion industry, anybody who says the fashion industry is full of shallow people who don't care about anything else, you know? 

Emily Lane 18:08 


Keanan Duffty 18:08 

You know, in the week, the week after the invasion, it was it was it was just Yes. From everyone. What do you do? You know, so I think, you know, there's a lot of good people in this industry. 

Bret Schnitker 18:19 

Yeah. And I would say, you know, I make one statement that should be obvious is that I think you can do both. I think the world is coming together to provide funds for Ukraine in a ton of different ways. I mean, I think people are engaged. But I think investing in this has a lot of very important messages. Outside of the ones we discussed to, we're also putting a face to the conflict, there will be this direct, visible human being with a name and a story. And I think we as again, as human beings, if you don't have a face, you don't have a name. It's not as real I think you putting a face and a name and, you know, a life in front of more people in the US, it's going to continue to drive and build connections. So, you know, is there is there things we can do as a community to help support and overcome some of those last minute obstacles do you have? 

Emily Lane 19:15 

Yeah, it doesn't seem like that many, you've got six designers, if I remember, and probably some of their teams. So how, like, how many rooms and airline tickets are you needing? And, you know, it seems like you're so close at this point. 

Keanan Duffty 19:29 

Yeah, we're very close. I mean, and Sofia Tchkonia, you know, I spoke to her about it initially. And I said, you know, we're going to need, you know, six designers plus, you know, maybe an assistant, this sort of right hand person, whatever. I want to fear to be curating this and to be front facing because the reason why I went to Ukraine is because the fear invited me and I wouldn't have had any awareness of the reality of the creative scene in Ukraine had had that not happened, you know, and so fear is A very altruistic person, she was immediately saying, No, I don't need an airline ticket or a hotel, I'll take care of myself, you know, but let's just focus on the designers. So I would say, you know, between sort of 10 and 12, tickets rooms, I mean, I had some of the folks that I'm working with immediately said, Well, I've got a spare bedroom. You know, I mean, it's immediately, you know, and certainly, you know, my wife and I, we have a spare bedroom, somebody could come and stay with us, too. However, I know what it's like when you go into a show, or you're going to a trade show overseas, you kind of want to come home to your own space, and close the door, and switch off and decompress a little bit. And staying in someone else's home is fine. But I want it, I want it to be as seamless as possible for them knowing that they may be coming from a difficult situation, whether they're in Ukraine or in France, or in you know, the West Coast of America, they may be sort of couchsurfing, or you know, I sort of want them to come to New York Fashion Week and have a real New York Fashion Week experience, and not sort of just be getting by. Because I think the show and everything around the show is going to be of a New York City Fashion Week production level. And you know, it's very important to, I think, for all aspects to have that. So just telling the story, you know, it's amazing how people step forward and say, Oh, well, no, I can do this. I can do that. You know, so I think to answer your question, helping to tell the story is amazing, because that's, you know, a great way that we get responses from the airline industry, from the hospitality industry and so on, 

Bret Schnitker 21:32 

is there a place to direct people's goodwill? I mean, do we have a site or a contact that you can share where we can upload? Yes, 

Keanan Duffty 21:40 

we don't have a site yet. But I mean, people can message me directly, you know, they can find me on Instagram, they can message me through Gmail, it's just my name Keanan Duffty at Gmail, it's very, very easy. I'm working directly with so I mentioned Kay Unger, Constance White. And then also another friend of mine, Mary Gehlhar, who was was the fashion director of Gen Art, which was an organization that promoted emerging talent in the 90s. And in the 2000s. And that's kind of how I got my start back in the 90s, was doing a group show with Gen Art. So Mary got involved, because Gen Art was was a not for profit, and they have a lot of expertise in actually finding these kinds of support. So she put together a proposal for the hotel industry, and it's just a question of as getting out there to, you know, Hyatt or Marriot, and finding contacts within those organizations, where we can actually cut straight to, you know, the heart of the master and not have to, you know, be kind of playing the round robin of emailing this person, somebody that I don't know, you know, that I don't have a connection with is much more difficult than somebody who I've can can have a, you know, an introduction to that. So I would say if, if you know, anyone listening, if you have contacts in the hospitality industry, please, you know, DM me, send me an email. And if you if you feel comfortable to make an introduction, that will be great. And, you know, we can kind of go forward from there. 

Bret Schnitker 23:05 

Great. I think it's exciting. I got one last question, because, you know, Keanan Duffty, the designers also Keanan Duffty, the musician. And you mentioned some really exciting groups that you heard in Ukraine. Yeah, well, actually surrounding Fashion Week, there was one that I remember that you were really, that was very, very innovative. 

Keanan Duffty 23:25 

I mean, I heard a lot of good music. There's a designer label called Lake Studio, and they are probably the most commercially the broadest, most commercially successful label that's operating out of Kyiv right now. And when I arrived in Kyiv, the first event that we went to actually the second event, we went to, we went to a designer, called Gudu who had a traditional runway show that was fabulous. And then we went to this old theater, and it was very sort of mysterious, we kind of went in it was old wood paneled theater with all of these pictures of, you know, sort of almost like vintage. I mean, they're probably very, very famous actors in Ukraine, but you know, didn't really know who they were, but they're lined the walls, but like Sardi's, or something like that, you know, when you go into that kind of environment. And then we went into a theater, and the fashion show was actually a group of female musicians called Dakh Daughters, and that's called. Yeah, and they're kind of like, gypsy punk. I guess I would describe them as, so they were wearing Lake Studios collection, and they were changing as they were performing. So 

Emily Lane 24:32 

they're quite amazing. 

Keanan Duffty 24:36 

And they're almost like an Amy Winehouse approach where they have this traditional gypsy infused music, but with very contemporary, like, I would almost describe it as hip hop lyrics, you know, so very confrontational, very contemporary. And the one song that I really remember is a song called Makeup where they start the performance by They have these illuminated mirrors and they make themselves up in a kind of an overly almost like grotesque version of the stereotypical, you know, female makeup with the, the extremely red cheeks very red sort of slash lips, you know, heavy eye makeup with a very, very white face. And the lyrics are, you know, partly Ukrainian partly, I mean, obviously the chorus, which was makeup makeup makeup is an English so I kind of got that bit. But the performance was amazing. And, you know, I was actually like dying to collaborate with them in some I mean, they don't need me to collaborate with him, but by 

Bret Schnitker 25:38 

musicians, I'd see that, you know, you've you've had so many different things that are so experimental that Yeah, I mean, it was. 

Keanan Duffty 25:45 

There's a there's a sort of gypsy punk group out of New York called Gogol Bordello. And Eugene Hart's is a singer and he was famously in some Madonna, video and movie, I think two. And he's kind of an East Village guy with a, you know, very elaborate mustache and very good looking and, and Dakh Daughters reminded me of that kind of performance in that there were, you know, 6,7,8 people in the band, the drummer kept jumping on top of the bass drum and almost falling. You know, the whole the whole performance is very choreographed, but it looks completely spontaneous, and really amazing. I mean, you know, it's kind of like, it's like seeing the best performer I've ever seen is Iggy Pop out there down. It was like, I mean, I never saw James Brown I'm sure James Brown was was, you know, better than Iggy Pop, and sure, but he is the most visceral and like, animalistic performer, there's like the reality to it. It's dangerous, because you just don't know what he's going to do. And I saw him in the 90s. He was already, I guess, in the 90s. He was probably in his 50s by then. And he was leaping off of speaker stacks and jumping into the audience. And, you know, really, living dangerously, yeah. Yeah. adult doses were like that, though. There was no pretense. There was no sort of barrier, though. I mean, I was sitting in the front row, and the accordion player was literally in my face. You know, amazing, was amazing performance. Great, how 

Bret Schnitker 27:19 

much fun? How energizing? 

Emily Lane 27:21 

Well, I'm really looking forward to seeing what you are creating I, we both think it's just an absolutely wonderful project and layered with meaning and opportunity. And thank you for doing this. And of course, we want to help and and anybody who reaches out, we will pass them along to you. So you always have your hands and in wonderful things. Keanan. Thank you for doing this. And also want to share a congratulations on your recent show. You had an incredible retrospective Rebel, Rebel in Palm Springs this last spring, and wow, we were just blown away by seeing so the history of your collections. Yeah, what a treat. So I'm sure that what you were developing here, we'll have the same kind of impact. 

Keanan Duffty 28:08 

Yeah, I'm just trying to put it together and stay out of the way it's, you know, it's really, you know, the designers creative expression, their message, their story, and so on, and just sort of trying to be the behind the scenes facilitator. And as long as they want it, you know, and they do. That's the other thing. When you put together something like this, you want to be respectful of, you know, the sort of other side that they actually want this, 

Bret Schnitker 28:32 

oh, my God. 

Keanan Duffty 28:35 

But they do and I think we're all have the same spirit with this endeavor. And so that's, that's the good thing. 

Bret Schnitker 28:42 

Yeah, fashions got to be inclusive. And always, and we talked about that last, you know, the world of fashion has expanded to having these fashion weeks all over the world and to bring them into kind of a key fashion area and give them face and visibility. That's hopeful at a time that people need help. 

Emily Lane 28:59 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you, Keanan, and wonderful to have a conversation with you again, and of course, we can't wait for the next one. Bye, bye. For those out there and make sure to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture 

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Special Edition | Supporting Ukrainian Fashion Designers with Keanan Duffty