When Elena Rudenko and I agreed to meet in downtown Manhattan, I didn’t anticipate our conversation to turn into an intellectualized discussion of fashion’s struggles and ethical fashion depths. Elena is a deeply moving soul who has a story to share about every garment that passes her studio.
“If you look here, it’s a paper plane,” she points to the iPad screen where a Spring/Summer 2015 collection dress’s lapels gently fold into creases reminiscent of childhood play paper-planes. The collection’s story revolves around the concept of flight. “I want there to be discovery and play.” She pulls up another dress from her Fall/Winter 2015 collection. The fabric is a rich burgundy wool, neatly darted at the waist to provide a superb feminine silhouette. The jeweled brooch neckline is removable, she says. She swipes to the next dress, a Crepe de Chine, similarly luxurious and sleek in a camel hue. “It’s the same dress.” I thought the removable neckline was the hidden gem. The beauty of the garments lies in the power of transformation.
I first discovered Elena’s aesthetic on Instagram, where a chunky knit sleeve wrapped in delicate silk-organza caught my eye. The juxtaposition between the strength and durability of wool and the daintiness of the organza is an almost perfect reference of a woman’s persona. Quite fitting, considering Elena’s source of inspiration is women.
Elena prides herself on making well-tailored and expertly crafted pieces with design elements that elevate the woman’s form and accentuate a woman’s shape. Very rarely is it the case that a garment can be universally flattering, but she strives to come as close to that perfect form as possible with each season. We spent a few moments discussing women’s insecurities and the negativity that surrounds body image. I could see the passion as she described her goal of making women feel confident in their skin and their clothing.
Despite such a major subject at our fingertips, we seamlessly transitioned into depths of discussion surrounding ethics in fashion, humanitarian causes and the creative struggles of designers in such a fast-paced industry. Luckily, our Ukrainian roots lent a hand to the lively dialogue. There is genuine fire and excitement with each topic, especially when she describes her Iceland-sourced wool. She personally met the farmers and the sheep, one of whom was Paul, who gave his wool for the F/W15 collection. “They are cared for. There’s real love for them from the farmers.”
Her Instagram prominently features a host of llamas and sheep with the words: “You can have warm angora sweater without killing angora bunny, to have warm fur coat without taking [the] life of llama, alpaca, goat, sheep or any other animal. Buy less, care more about attitude to animals sharing for us with their warm wool! Picking the best wool for Elena Rudenko garments, we care much about them and their lives. Is it important for you where and how your great wool/fur garment comes from? #besustainable”
It’s hard not to stand behind such an impassioned cause.
We found solidarity in admiring a quality in our garments. Elena points to her work with seamstresses and artisans in Ukraine as she describes her previous collections. One beaded clutch takes four hours to hand-make, with a Ukrainian craftsman carefully following the pattern and using unique beading techniques. Reinterpreted Ukrainian folk symbolism finds a way into all of her collections. The latest collection’s hand-crafted sun motifs draw inspiration from Slavic mythology dating back to the Medieval period.
She also keeps true to the sensible use of clothing, pointing to Ukrainian women working in fields with their skirts tucked into belts to keep the garments clean. The garments transform and adapt to different situations. The concept is perfectly fit for today’s Instagram influencers who are keen on rotating a variety of quality looks on a budget. A wool coat from her F/W14 collection features a removable cowl neck and sleeves, turning into a beautiful dress. A split, layered, skirt with a bralet evolves into an elegant, draping cocktail dress in her S/S15 collection.
Elena’s fervently working on her FW16/17 collection, the inspiration for which left me with goosebumps. “It’s about woman a bit romantic, a bit gothic who left out her mansion on late fall and went in a search of herself. She travels a world and while she meets people with authentic cultures and styles of wear her own wardrobe transforms and getting richer, softer of colors and ornaments.”
While her collection is currently available only in Europe (her items are in showrooms in Paris and Kiev), they will be available for purchase in North America early next year. Until then, you can browse away her magical, ethical fashion on her official website: ElenaRudenko.com.