In times like these, it's easy to forget that fashion designers do exist outside of New York, London, Milan and Paris. On this very site, we've covered legitimate fashion weeks in Singapore, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, Moscow and beyond; however, designers based in those cities often have a hard time gaining recognition and sales accounts outside of them. Though one model-turned designer from Kiev, Ukraine has defied the odds — and she was only 16 when she started her line. Having shown for several seasons during the Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days, the now 20-year-old Anna Karenina's (not her given surname) line Anna K will show for the first time in New York as part of Made Fashion Week on Monday.
Karenina, who is charming and enthusiastic, though her English a little shaky (our phone interview required a translator), started modeling when she was 14 and launched her collection at 16 in Kiev. A few years later, in 2014, she was invited to show at Pitti Imagine in Florence. There, her slogan T-shirts with cheeky, insider-y phrases like "fashion circus" and "I don't do interviews" took off. Given that the expressions were in English, Karenina relied on help from friends like Scott Schuman to provide inspiration in the form of shit fashion people say. Schuman contributed the classic, "May I take your picture?" Another good one: "I'm not a blogger."
Even more instrumental to her success has been the well-connected Daria Shapovalova, a Kiev-based fashion journalist, street style star and organizer of Kiev Fashion Days. "She is an international influencer, she introduced me to a lot of cool people from the fashion world," says Karenina. One of the milestones that Shapovalova helped orchestrate was getting an Anna K dress on a Jenner — Kris Jenner, that is. "Kris saw [the dress] on Daria; she liked it and asked who [designed it]. Daria introduced Anna to Kris, and Kris wore the dress."
While PR is important, sales are the backbone of a fashion business, and Anna K has been sold in top international retailers including Colette, Lane Crawford, Galeries Lafayette and Avenue 32 — a big accomplishment for any young brand, but especially for one not based in a fashion capital. Karenina admits that her wholesale success owes largely to the fact that she took her collections to Europe for events like Pitti, more so than fashion week in Kiev. ("Interest from international buyers came from international events.") She's also gotten attention from buyers on Instagram, and says sales on her own website, which ships internationally, have been growing rapidly as well.
So, the next logical step is to bring her quirky, feminine wares to New York, where she plans to continue showing for seasons to come. As a young (like, really young) designer, she feels that New York is the "ideal place for our generation" and for targeting millennials like herself.
Update: Browse Anna K's fall 2016 collection below.