These Three Fashion Labels Are Sewing Their Heritage into Avant-Garde Designs

Yuliya Magdych
“Vyshyvanka is a secret language for those who can read past the stitches,” says Ukranian designer Yuliya Magdych, who’s turned her country’s national dress into a focal point of her namesake label. The traditional garment has always been a kind of code to express concepts like love, youth, or even mystical protective charms, she explains. “That’s why the vyshyvanka is a material equivalent of an ‘I love you’ to me,” says Magdych.

Then again, it’s all a labour of love for Magdych, who opened the first eveningwear store in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, selling big-name designers like Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab and Balmain, before she started her own label. “Ukrainians are very creative,” she says. “I am extremely proud of being able to introduce the world to our rich cultural heritage of handmade embroidery—which differs substantially by every region and city—and the art of decorating clothes with ribbons and tassels,” she continues. “The most important thing that I want to pass on is the profound history and elaborate traditions that lie at the heart of the Ukrainian culture.”

In a world in which fast fashion constantly turns out new styles, Magdych has set out to create timeless pieces that transcend trends, the type of garments she hopes could become part of the global cultural heritage. For her Fall/Winter 2017 collection, she drew inspiration from the rise of Persia, one of the ancient world’s first civilizations. Fluorescent colours pay homage to the empire’s Asian influence, and pastels reflect the calmness of the Eastern soul. Each piece within has been finished using traditional Ukrainian embroidery with a 3D effect.

So far, Magdych has been pleasantly surprised by some of the feedback she’s received regarding her intricate designs. “When we first unboxed your kaftans, we could not believe that there could be any serious demand for such oddities,” Magdych was told by a representative at one her retailers. But then again, he continued, “A pile of dresses sold within a day, and made you our favourite designer.”


NorBlack NorWhite
Ironically enough, NorBlack NorWhite was born out of a lot of grey matter. It started with the duality between its Toronto-raised and India-based designers, Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar. “It’s a balance between extremes and the blurred boundaries of old and new, East and West. We’re not this, but we’re not that—we’re everything in between,” they explain.

The name of their unisex streetwear label is in part an obvious ode to the song by the late and great Michael Jackson, and is embracing of diversity, colour, and love in all forms. Naturally, it’s also a love for fashion, which the designers had enough of to make up for their lack of experience.

Back in 2009, after a few years of working odd jobs, the designers took a leap of faith and moved to India to discover their roots and start a new venture. Though neither had a background in design, they decided to go for it anyways. “We’ve always loved Indian textiles, and at the same time, we were exposed to and influenced by an ’80s and ’90s street-style aesthetic,” they say. “We wanted to mash these two sides of ourselves together, but without a real plan.”

One thing they knew from the beginning was that it was important to them to engage artisans on a local level, and promote indigenous designs as covetable luxury items. “Working with artisans across India, we bring their technique into the global economy, and uplift rich traditions of artisanal hand-crafting,” they say. As for the pair’s Canadian upbringing, it’s woven into the styling of their clothes. “We wear bandhani with kicks and salwar kameez with Timberlands.”
Although it’s still relatively new, the label already has the attention of former Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, who selected the brand as the winner of the Grazia Young Fashion Awards in 2012. “I like NorBlack NorWhite more than the others because I see more uniqueness and more originality in this label’s work,” said Giannini. The win was a defining moment for the duo. “Everyone else on the roster were college-trained fashion kids, so it gave us the confidence to keep working on our craft,” they say.

It’s proved to be the right move for the label, which has had a successful run so far. At least that much is black and white.


Alexandra Moura
Alexandra Moura has been playing around with the idea of genderless dressing sincebefore it became the next big thing in fashion. “In my view, both genders can and should wear the same things,” says Moura. “There should be pieces that speak the same language  for both,” she continues. “In our day, I feel it’s something that makes sense.”

The idea isn’t really surprising for the Portuguese designer, who got inspired to explore fashion design through the works of forward-thinking legends like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. In 2002, she presented her first collection at Lisbon Fashion Week, and has come a long way since.

These days, she’s taking her gender-fluid line to the runways in London. For Fall 2017, she went back to her roots, “drawing inspiration from the Portuguese colonial empire in the 18th century, and its presence in East Timor, reaching up to Indonesia.” Moura’s dresses appeared high-necked and ruffled along the waist and hemlines; her separates have been constructed in traditional fabrics and prints from Timor and Indonesia.

With every garment, Moura always considers balance. “Each season, the design team explores the idea of opposing forces coming together,” says Moura. “Romanticism is bound together with the urban, classic looks are clashed with sportswear details, and classically feminine looks are subverted with the masculine,” she explains. It’s the romantic touches throughout her collection that nod to her country and its history.
“The vast ocean makes me want to discover other worlds, tribes, aesthetics,” she says. “It’s just like my Portuguese ancestors who explored the world, going in a caravel-style ship without knowing the end of the story.” And so, the next chapter begins.