Looking at Beyoncé’s crystal-and-gold embroidered pink minidress with matching leggings on stage at Dubai’s Atlantis The Royal in Palm Jumeriah, you’d never guess it had been created in the middle of a war, crafted despite intermittent blackouts and delivered through a circuitous route.
And that’s exactly what Ukrainian designer Ivan Frolov wanted: Beyond the professional accomplishment of dressing a megastar like the “Crazy in Love” singer, the Kyiv-based designer said the moment was a testament to the resistance and resilience of Ukrainians who were fighting for their freedom and culture.
“I’m very happy that we continue to create everything in Ukraine. It’s important for the economy of our country that we save jobs for people [there],” he said. “We have still have problems but we continue.”
Born and raised in Kyiv, the 29-year-old had always felt “really lucky” because he’d never doubted what he’d be when he grew up, even before he knew what the word designer meant.
“When I heard that word, I felt that this was my aim, my dream,” he said, recalling his mother’s prediction of his future calling when he produced a first sketch at age three.
After taking ballroom dancing dresses in his early teens, Frolov enrolled at the Kyiv National University of Technologies and Design. He studied patternmaking because “if you want to become a fashion designer, you need to know everything about technology, construction and the human body,” he said. “And if you want to break the rules in some way in construction, you better know [them].” In parallel, he moonlighted as a stylist to stars for a Ukrainian TV channel.
Thanks to designs that walked a fine line between bold and provocative, with a knack for tailoring and corsetry, Frolov caught the eye of the fashion set in Kyiv and beyond, winning a number of local awards and showcasing during Ukrainian Fashion Week from 2014 onward. His first international wholesale account was Opening Ceremony in 2015.
By 2019, his eponymous brand was already a household name in Ukraine, dressing First Lady Olena Zelenska and making its mark abroad on the likes of Gwen Stefani and Dua Lipa. There were conversations with Beyoncé’s team already.
With its even split between ready-to-wear and bespoke designs, the Frolov label seemed poised for the global stage. The brand eventually shipped to some 20 retailers, including Browns in London and Chicago’s Ikram.
Everything changed on the morning of Feb. 24 last year, when he awoke to explosions, fighter jets flying overhead and worried messages from friends abroad.
After taking his mother to safety in the days that followed Russia’s initial attack, the designer returned first to Western Ukraine, and then to Kyiv with his team raring to get back to work, initially volunteering to produce necessities such as uniforms for the Ukrainian defense forces.
But a few months in, as specialized supplies started to flow into the country from its allies, Frolov “understood [his team] can help in another way,” through a charity project titled “Frolov Heart.”
This line of hand-embroidered and numbered sweatshirts, in the country’s blue and yellow colors, is sold for between $350 and $450 to raise funds for organizations helping children in the country. When peace returns, Frolov plans to funnel the funds into reconstruction projects.
But getting back into the groove of his glamorous brand was easier said than done. “It was a big challenge understanding that I can continue to work, doing something like that, [thinking] of something that is associated with celebration” recalled the designer, who said providing his team with a livelihood to support their families as his main motivation.
Given special permission to leave the country granted by Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture, Frolov feels each foray abroad is his privilege and duty to present his work and make his homeland’s voice heard.
One such trip was to Los Angeles, to pick up clothes left behind when he was forced to curtail PR expenses to prioritize the wages of his employees in Ukraine. Once there, the designer decided he might as well reconnect with stylists in town. Next thing he knew, he was on board for Beyoncé’s return to the stage after a four-year absence.
Another brought Frolov to Paris, where he showcased his latest designs during couture week. And now, he’s about to put on a runway show in London on Tuesday as part of the Ukrainian Fashion Week showcase at the British Fashion Council’s Newgen space. Expect a heady mix of body-baring designs with corset structures and an eye toward tailoring, worked over with crystals galore.
While Frolov feels the same anger toward the situation and desire to fight for his homeland as many of his compatriots, the designer said he felt most useful to the war effort by continuing his brand.
“I can bring more this way,” Frolov explained, pointing out that mentions in Ukraine in the press kept their plight in the light. “It’s another way to continue telling people that the war is still on going on in Ukraine and we still fight in this way — with Beyoncé wearing our dress.”