Russian-Ukrainian designer Inna Thomas resorts to fashion to try to end the hostility between the two countries. Her new collection presented during Berlin's Fashion Week is intended as a contribution to peace.
A dozen young women are passionately discussing their ideas at a reception given by the Düsseldorf-based Fashion Design Institute. Huge photographs and mannequins dressed up with more or less unusual outfits decorate the walls of the building. Students are trying on their self-made dresses.
Fashion designer Inna Thomas, 33, is the managing director of the institute. Almost the only decoration in her room is a superlong coat rack with 50 outfits she designed. Nine years ago, Thomas left the Russian city of Saratov for Germany.
Her father is Ukrainian, her mother Russian. Not surprisingly, she is particularly affected by the current conflict between the two peoples. "Every day, I watch German and Russian television - noting a remarkable difference in content concerning the Ukraine crisis. So I cannot know for sure what's really going on over there," she said.
Adding to Thomas's confusion is the fact that also her relatives and friends tell her different stories on the phone. Some of them support the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the others demand that Ukraine be left alone. "I don't take sides. I just listen to their flood of words. The worst for me is that I am unable to help anybody, that all I can do is to feel pity for them," she said.
Thomas tries to stay neutral - her message is simply peace, and her means of transmitting that message is fashion.
On Thursday (July 8th, 2014), Thomas will present her new collection in the Hotel Adlon at the Brandenburg Gate as part of Berlin's Fashion Week.
On a light-colored miniskirt, there is a peace dove with a multi-colored tail - yellow and blue feathers symbolizing the Ukrainian national colors, white, blue and red feathers the Russian ones. The message: "We cannot be separated from each other, our histories are intricately interwoven with each other."
Thomas has embroidered yet another skirt with two black hands stretching out for each other. Huge hearts, once again in Ukrainian and Russian colors, embellish two fine blouses.
The designer herself cannot quite believe that anybody will actually buy her politicized products. "These are simply showpieces with the only purpose of letting me express my thoughts and feelings," she said.
Fashion in the crisis
The ongoing crisis impedes Thomas's fashion label Sava Nald, which she founded together with her German husband. "Sales in Russia are down - a fate shared by other designers and fashion houses as well. The consumers are deeply worried, and they don't dare to spend their scarce resources on cloth," she said.
Now, Thomas's small-scale business must search for markets elsewhere - for example in Germany, which is also where her cloth are being produced. What encumbers her trade here is the difference in taste. Wide skirts, breezy blouses and floating dresses are not precisely German favorites. "They say it's all too much for them," she explained.
In spite of these different preferences, Thomas has managed to gain new customers in Germany, most of them professionals. "These women need presentable and prestigious outfits. They are my target group."
This is now the sixth time that Inna Thomas has presented her creations at Berlin's Fashion Week - but the very first time that a political message has accompanied her presentation. The designer had a hard time deciding whether such a message would be welcomed before she finally went for it: After all, she argues, nobody should be scared to express their opinions and feelings in a city like Berlin.