WORDS BY FLORA MACDONALD JOHNSTON
The Ukrainian label redefining glamour
Curtains closed, lights off. I FaceTime Viktoria Udina, founder of cult fashion label NUÉ, in her pitch black living room. The lights aren’t off by choice, and the darkness is a far-flung cry from NUÉ’s sparkling and joy-inducing aesthetic, but there’s no other option: Udina is based in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, which is currently under siege by Russia. Despite the incomprehensible horror of her situation, in the dim glow of her phone screen, Udina is alert, smiling and willing to talk to me about her new collection – willing, in fact, to talk to me about anything in order to distract herself from what is happening.
It feels superfluous to ask questions as to NUÉ’s origins right now given the climate, but Udina worked hard to have her label globally recognised, be a go-to for stylists, be worn by influencers such as Chiara Ferragni and Leonie Hanne, and to be stocked in 20 hand-picked boutiques worldwide, including KOIBIRD. “Yes, the situation right now is horrible,” she says, “but I want to talk to you about how our work is important here.”
“I never thought I would have my own label,” Udina says before I have time to ask, “but I grew up in a fashion buying family, [into] a business that was over 40 years old. It was there I began to fall in love with fashion. I had access to the best fabrics, travelling to Italy and France to order for other designers, but now, it's just my mum running the company.”
After learning what she could from the family business, Udina became a stylist and fabric buyer, and thus, the foundations for NUÉ were born. Udina sourced luxurious fabrics from across Europe and it was a moment of fate when travelling in Greece in early 2019 that she spotted some glittering rhinestones. Unable to leave without them, Udina purchased as many as she could and took them back to Ukraine to see what she could create.
"cRYstALS AnD SPaRKleS Is NoT JUsT A 'TrEnD', It'S A fEEliNG"
Using tailors based in Ukraine, she designed her first collection of rhinestone bras and one-shoulder dresses with spiral rhinestone busts (her signature motif) in March 2019. Rather than seek a PR agency to help promote her work, Udina did what any millennial of that era did – she used Instagram and her friends. Suddenly, influencers such as Pernille Tesibaek and supermodel Kendall Jenner were seen in her designs, on Instagram she was being DM’d constantly and she had stores asking for capsule collections and collaborations. “All of our growth has been extremely organic,” says Udina, “I find us being tagged on Pinterest, or Instagram, and women wearing pieces over and over again - it makes me so happy.”
The pandemic, although a challenge for Udina, also proved to be highly lucrative. “We saw huge growth in our social media, and also our sales,” she says, “2021 were our best sales to date”. In many ways, being a brand founded with a digital-first mindset prepared Udina to work remotely and to connect with consumers. This connection is something Udina is particularly proud of, her team is still small, only five, and they all worked tirelessly to keep the business afloat.
NUÉ’s reputation for becoming the pret-a-party sparkle brand, however, is largely unwanted by Udina. “Crystals and sparkles is not just a ‘trend’, it’s a feeling… they don’t always have to be sexy, or related to partying, crystals can be elevated when designed correctly, they can be intellectual.” Her crystal cup cropped blazers (a sell-out here at KOIBIRD) encapsulate this notion best. “You think of blazers, of tailoring, and you instantly think masculine, I then mix this with crystals and suddenly you get something new.”
For Udina, her creations are for all body types, and she stresses her brand's emphasis on being body positive: “We want all women to feel more free with their personal expression,” she says. “Often I think our women will style bras under or over tops – but you would be wrong. No matter their own shape, all our women love the bras the most and to wear them alone, they like to show their own bodies off. There is definitely a focus on sexuality and freedom and women really feeling themselves in our clothing.”
Her collections now also feature crystal mini skirts and matching bralettes with sparkly spaghetti straps. The craftwork to make these items is immense. “It takes 40 hours for one of our tailors to create the houndstooth skirt, all hand-done, and up to 50 hours for the puzzle skirt,” Udina explains. “And we’ve had many people offer to make our clothing outside of Ukraine for cheaper – but I don’t want that. We can do it right here.”
Supporting Ukrainian ateliers is a big USP for Udina, it’s why consumers must pre-order all items, and it’s also why scaling up has to be done extremely slowly to ensure she keeps her current processes alive. “We want to make customers feel the value of an item,” Udina explains, “I don’t want them to wear it once and forget about it, I really want them to understand the opulence and time invested in the work.”
VIKTORIA UDINA, FOUNDER OF NUÉ
Currently, the future is scary and uncertain for Udina and for the entirety of the Ukrainian fashion industry. Her office and ateliers are closed (mirrored across the entire country) – as are the borders to Ukraine. All Paris showrooms have been halted, and so too have orders to her global stockists. Despite this, Udina continues to stay positive and selfless, “I just hope this all ends soon, and we can go back and keep giving orders to you and our customers. I hope to also see you one day in London.” I sincerely hope for this too, Udina’s resilience is a testament to her character, and to that of Ukraine itself.
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