Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska continues to relay solidarity for her homeland through her fashion choices.
Last week, Zelenska wore an Olena Bettiar-designed custom suit before the US Congress, where she made a 15-minute historic address.
Lawmakers and viewers zeroed in on what Zelenska said during her address — namely that the US and NATO provide Ukraine with air defense systems for its efforts to combat the Russian invasion — and showed images of some of the casualties and war-torn streets in Ukraine caused by the Russian invasion. Speaking in-person at the US Capitol is something that her Ukrainian president husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy has yet to do, although he has addressed members of Congress virtually a few months ago.
For that appearance, Zelenska wore Bettiar’s brand, AMG. Bettiar said she knew she was making the custom suit for a work trip, but was unaware of where, when or for what occasion it would be worn.
The striking black and white pantsuit that Zelenska wore carried some symbolism. The weathered black jacket was meant to evoke strength, the elegant white vest was to relay fragility and the ensemble’s local embroidery was reflective of the country’s heritage, according to the designer via email. Collectively, those elements “encapsulated all Ukrainian women” from her point of view.
The vest worn by the first lady featured a panel of “Vyshyvanka” embroidery specific to the region that it is produced in, which is customary in Ukrainian folk shirts. The embroidery worn by Zelenska was a fragment of the traditional shirt of Eastern Ukraine, the region of the country that is the epicenter of military operations.
As of Sunday, the Russian Federation’s armed attack against Ukraine has resulted in 12,272 civilian casualties including 5,237 civilian fatalities and 7,035 injuries, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, upwards of 12 million people have left Ukraine since Russian soldiers invaded the country five months ago.
“Very grateful and honored” that the first lady chose her outfit for such a historical event, Bettiar noted how Zelenska continues to be a “great supporter of Ukrainian fashion businesses and talents.”
For a White House photo-op with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden during last week’s trip to the Beltway, Zelenska wore statement jewelry from last year’s Guzema x Gunia capsule collection called “Nezalezhna,” the Ukrainian word for independent. Like Bettia, Guzema’s designer Valeria Guzema is helping those affected by the war through fundraising and donating profits through the Guzema Foundation.
Interested in working with the first lady, Bettiar took the initiative a while ago and submitted a request to her office and soon had a meeting. Before the war started, Bettiar would typically discuss an outfit and any needed protocol with Zelenska’s stylist Natalia Kamenska. That would be followed by another meeting to discuss sketches, as well as fabric and hardware options. One or two fittings would then be needed. The process is considerably different now due to security protocols and is no longer done in-person.
Highlighting how every single business and person in Ukraine have been greatly affected by the Russian invasion, the AMG founder was forced to suspend all production for three months. During that time, she and her team focused on charitable work to help women and children affected by the war, and to benefit those suffering from thyroid problems.
AMG has reopened all business operations in Kyiv and continues with its charitable efforts. With shipping being “very complicated at the moment,” the brand is relying on a few companies to help transport its garments by ground to Europe. All in all, the team hasn’t changed other than a few who relocated to Europe to escape the war. “But I think and hope that the whole team will be together again soon,” Bettiar said.
Several Ukrainian brands like Sleeper, Frolov and Gunia Project have shown great resolve despite the extreme challenges they are facing due to the ongoing destruction. And although there isn’t any official united effort to keep the industry going, each brand “is simply trying to do their best to keep their business going,” Bettiar said.
That said, international partners, local clients and celebrities have been offering quite a large amount of support, which makes “it a little easier to work and continue to develop the fashion industry in Ukraine during these difficult times,” the designer said.
The best way the Ukrainian fashion industry can try to build sales is by developing media that showcases the products that are being produced. AMG has added charitable components to its site so that shoppers can purchase garments and support fundraising efforts through the different charitable organizations that the company is trying to help.