Elena Slivnyak

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“I want to make a statement, and not the next hot item that can be consulted on the fashion syllabus.” It’s the personal “Fashion Manifesto” of Elena Slivnyak, a San Franciscobased talented designer, with Ukrainian roots, who does not like the catwalks, sparkling dresses and mass consumption. “I believe that fashion is dead nowadays. There isn’t anything unique and really interesting anymore. Today designers shape their creations on what people are going to buy. No creativity anymore,” the designer said. Elena graduated in 2010 at the Academy of Art Institute and immediately she established her brand IIMUAHII couture (iimauhii.com) in the fashion world.

In 2013 she was awarded as the best avant-garde designer at Fashion on The Square, the largest West Coast fashion show. Visiting her in her laboratory is like going on a journey into her imagination where science fiction’s book characters become alive; where you have the opportunity to discover unknown and uncharted worlds to which only the well-equipped have access. Her black neoprene “Domini” dress of Fall 2012 collection was worn by Lady Gaga at Harrods store in London and immediately received many good reviews. “When I was told about it, I cried. I saw Lady Gaga at the beginning of her career, during a performance in a club in San Francisco. I liked her right away and I thought one day I would love to make her one of my dresses—and I made it.” Now in her workspace in SOMA district she is creating a new collection that should be ready for March 2014.

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What are you working on now?
My new collection is very active, as usual, but it will be inspired by the deep sea environment, homeland of creepy and weird fish that can be seen only by a few people. I’m exploring a sort of aquatic scenery.

What kind of fabrics are you going to use for your next collection?
I am creating new textures, using different fabrics. I work with a few fabric suppliers in Switzerland and I tend to chose very unique textiles that may not be used for clothing, like neoprene. For this collection I am also using cabochons, which are uncommon in the fashion industry.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I get a lot of inspiration from nature. I also love to go shopping at Home Depot, where I can find new ideas for my textures. I do not look to other designers—they just cloud my mind. My last collection was inspired by fancy uniforms. Armor is always my inspiration.

When you draw what kind of woman do you think about?
I do not think about any particular type of woman. The work I do is more artistic, so I always think about a fictional character. I do pay attention to proportion and the way a dress can fit a body, but my goal is to create something unique. My women are feminine, but they have a masculine strength.

Besides Lady Gaga, what kind of celebrity would you like to represent your brand?
I am very picky when it comes to deciding who is going to represent my brand . I always check her reputation and if she has similar morals. I am an animal activist—people do not know that. In my pieces I never use textures or fabrics that belong to animals and if I use leather, it must be organic. The environment is very important to me and I really want to make the world a better place. The person who is going to represent my brand must share those values.

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You don’t like large-scale production. Why?
People ask me to open boutiques all around the world, but it is not my goal. I want to expand little by little and I am more focused on creating unique pieces. It is difficult to keep this intention when you have to deal with a huge quantity of clothing. Moreover, as I am environmentfriendly, large-scale production [would] increase the pollution.

How does your Ukrainian background influence your art?
My background is very important in what I do. It is always there even though I relocated to the Bay Area 10 years ago. In Ukraine you have to fight for food, to stay alive, for everything. People here don’t understand what it means to belong to a land where you have to deal with the struggle everyday. My parents struggled when we used to live in Ukraine and they struggled when they relocated to San Francisco as immigrants. I think that’s the reason why my muse is always a warrior who put uniforms to protect herself.

What’s the dream you want to accomplish?
My ultimate goal is to create costumes for sci-fi films. I have always been a big science fiction fan and creating costumes for sci-fi movies will be my big dream.

Text by Anna Volpicelli
Photography by Juan Zambrano