Finished poring over the DZHUS Spring/Summer 2017 collection called “Carbon,” all of us here at Deux Hommes felt unsatiated. The collection was a fashionable amuse-bouche and it whetted our sartorial appetites, leaving us hungry to know far more than we had originally anticipated. Who was the mastermind behind the cerebral and thought-provoking collection? Through an e-mail far too eager on my end, we received an answer and her name was Irina Dzhus.
Alex: Tell me a bit about who Irina Dzhus is as a person. What was your start in fashion and why does this industry appeal to you?
Irina: Ever since I was 5, I couldn’t imagine my life without apparel design. I’ve never been very interested in the fashion industry though. Even now, my work is much more about the design than belonging to the “fashion world.” To gain artistic skills, I went to a children’s professional art school, where I was brought up in a creative and avant-garde [environment], after which there was no way back to [conventional standards of living]. After that, I studied fashion design at a local university. However, the education there appeared to be quite outdated and way too theoretical. I realized I needed real [hands-on experience], so during the following 2 summers I did an internship at an established Ukrainian fashion house called Krasnova, which was a brilliant experience.
After graduation, I finally launched my own label. My early collections were pure avant-garde. As a result, they’ve received much more publicity and fans than real customers… In my dreams, DZHUS pieces live a real life, interacting with their owners, helping them display their unique individuality. I decided to change course a little bit and gave myself an intriguing task: to make my conceptual cut totally wearable at the same time. Now that I see more and more people wear DZHUS in their everyday life, it seems I’ve managed to do that successfully in my recent collections.
A. What makes up a “typical” day for you (from home or the studio)?
I. I prefer working on new concepts and constructions at home, as this is the best place for me to focus on creativity. I’m either generating designs at my place or supervising production at the studio, or in the city: leaving a meeting while heading to the fabric store and trying to enjoy the urban landscape on the way. I almost never have free time. Nevertheless, since there’s nothing for me as personal as my brand, I’m very happy to contribute all my time and effort in its development.
A. DZHUS is such a fascinating brand. Each collection is inspired by, “things at the edge of the perception.” What exactly are we talking about here? Is it the things that people don’t notice, or things that people take for granted?
I. I’ve always been mesmerized by objects that carry a controversial message and powerful energy, be it an abandoned factory, a dried-out tree or the peculiar symbolism of Orthodox Christian icons. I admire natural decay and beauty of the imperfect, austere and unassuming. Interpreting these in my designs, I aim to push the boundaries of people’s conscience, as there are so many amazing things that surround us every day yet remain unnoticed. At the same time, society [turns a blind eye] to so much evil that happens daily. By producing cruelty-free fashion products and communicating them to an intelligent, independently-minded audience I aim to prove that it is possible to look edgy and avant-garde, yet remain in peace and harmony with the universe.
A. Looking through your archives, DZHUS contemplates some intense themes like Nihilism and Totalitarianism. How does fashion communicate these ideas differently than say, a painting or written essay? What is special about the medium of fashion design?
I. First and foremost, fashion has a utilitarian function (…) similar to architecture and object design. Design concepts should always derive from [its] practical use. Secondly, there are aesthetics and ideology, regardless of how distinctive they are – unlike art or literature, which are rather metaphysical.
Fortunately or not, fashion has much more power in modern mass culture. Therefore, embedding a certain idea into a fashion product is probably the best way to popularize it. Taking this perspective, being a designer nowadays means taking on the responsibility of a social influencer.
A. Would you describe DZHUS as a unisex/androgynous brand? How do you feel about the current movement with designers erasing conventional gender differences?
I. I personally don’t mind the idea of a universal silhouette and style of apparel, which will suit women and men equally well. However, this concept can hardly be applied to perfectly tailored pieces, which are typical for DZHUS, as long as female and male anatomy is obviously different.
This doesn’t mean I stand for a [particularly] feminine or masculine [design aesthetic] (…) I’m just stating the fact that they will need to be constructed in a different way to have the perfect fit. However, there is no such garment that will fit absolutely everyone, as people of the same gender are still very different. I would suggest accentuating the individuality of each particular person, instead of unify[ing] everyone [as a whole]. We currently only release womenswear in our seasonal collections, but I’m considering adding a menswear range in the future.
A. What is Ukraine’s fashion scene like and how has it contributed to your own voice as a designer?
I. As I’ve mentioned already, there are certain aspects of [the Ukraine’s] national legacy which have influenced my vision crucially, such as brutalistic Soviet architecture, awe-inspiring industrial zones and the traditional art of the Orthodox Christianity.
[But] a Ukrainian origin is not the first aspect of my self-positioning as a designer. My mentality has always been very cosmopolitan. Along with that, the distinguishing features of DZHUS are strong enough [to hold their own] without speculating on [any] patriotic themes, unlike many other Ukrainian brands.
Ironically, the social and political crisis in our country has popularized Ukrainian culture worldwide. Not only has the international fashion community discovered Ukrainian designers, but we’ve also gained a reputation of bold and desperate creatives with a fresh and independent approach to fashion. Having that said, I think that the current political problems have had an unexpected positive impact on the local fashion industry, as international interest has essentially increased.
A. Life is cyclical, and you addressed that in your SS17 collection, “Carbon.” How does this personally make you feel? Do you interpret this positively as rebirth or negatively as confinement?
I. I’m used to comprehending everything as double-natured, so this idea is nothing thrilling to me, but [is simply] an eloquent illustration of my worldview.