AIDS theme at Ukraine fashion week
25 October 2006
On the first day of Ukrainian fashion week, the art and fashion world came together to promote AIDS awareness at a gala event in Kiev. Top Ukrainian designer Alexey Zalevsiky unveiled his new spring-summer collection which featured men’s and women’s formal and casual wear with a difference.
Huge red hearts pulsed in the background as the models strode down the catwalk in their striking red and white outfits. The hearts were part of the set design, but the real show stopper was the headwear; bunches of condoms arranged stylishly as headdresses and Zalevsiky’s new take on hatpins; syringes sticking out at rakish angles around the model’s heads. This unusual show was part of an effort by the organisers to increase awareness around the main drivers of Ukraine’s AIDS epidemic; unsafe injecting drug use practices and unprotected sex.
It is the first time in the history of Ukraine that a top designer has made AIDS awareness a central part of one of the country’s major cultural and social events. The show was put on to raise awareness about AIDS and call for support for people living with HIV. Of the fifty models appearing in the show, five were living with HIV.
“This is actually my second collection dedicated to AIDS that I have presented in Ukraine,” said the designer, Alexey Zalevskiy. “I had my first show eight years ago, but this time I decided to do a really big project. And what was most significant for this show was that we had both professional and non-professional models living with HIV walking down the catwalk. I came up with this idea after talking with people working in HIV organizations just before the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. It was vital for me to say ‘here, HIV-positive people are also living among us and need our support’.”
During the fashion week, Zalevskiy challenged Ukrainian designers to address the issue of AIDS in Ukraine as their own personal problem, “Our fashion community should follow the lead of the international fashion community that has been engaged in raising AIDS awareness worldwide for many years.”
UNAIDS Country Coordinator Anna Shakarishvili said, “Ukraine is experiencing a very serious AIDS epidemic which is showing no signs of abating.…Zalevskiy has done a great job of getting people to talk about AIDS. If we are to have any chance of getting ahead of the epidemic in Ukraine we need to talk openly about the problem and educate people about AIDS.”
The project has been supported by the ANTIAIDS Foundation and its founding member Elena Franchuk, together with the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV and the International Renaissance Foundation.
“My organization was happy to be able to support Alexey Zalevskiy’s initiative,” said Franchuk. “The creation and display of a collection dedicated to AIDS awareness is another important way to say again that AIDS is everybody’s problem. We used to say that HIV is concentrated in risk groups – but now we say that it concerns everyone. It is necessary to know as much as possible about AIDS to be able to protect oneself.”
Sergey Fyodorov, one of the models in the show living with HIV, works in the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV. He was among one of the first people living with HIV in Ukraine to speak out about AIDS and his HIV status in the late 1990s. “AIDS touches everybody, regardless of whether or not you live with the infection or whether or not you dress fashionably,” he said.
“Not only people’s lives but also quality of life depends on our efforts. People living with HIV should not have to face discrimination. It is very important that HIV is associated with something positive – you can feel a lot of positive energy in Alexey’s collection. And that is essential.”