Fashion brands, designers take a stand against Russia's invasion of Ukraine

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Some of the biggest tastemakers in fashion are making bold statements from their words to changes in their business operations to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Just days after Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Milan and Paris — two fashion capitals of the world — held their annual fashion weeks with attention-grabbing shows that offered a first look at their fall/winter 2022-2023 collections.

Many online argued in late February and early March that it was not the time to shine a light on material goods given the violence and destruction taking place in Ukraine. But it appeared fashion labels and the creative directors behind them were in agreement with those sentiments, as they spoke out about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agenda.

Chanel is one of several luxury brands that halted operations in Russia.

Luxury brands stand in solidarity with Ukraine

Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of French luxury fashion house Balmain, admitted he felt uncomfortable putting on the brand’s show on the second day of Paris Fashion Week.

“As we show our collection, we are well aware that there are more important things happening in the world today. It’s hard to feel right about focusing on runways and clothes, as we listen with a heavy heart to the latest news,” Rousteing wrote in a statement posted to Instagram. 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainians. We are inspired by their dignity, resilience and devotion to freedom. In order to feel a little less helpless, I have donated to the Emergency Ukraine fund at UNHCR The United Nation Refugee Agency [sic]. I would invite anyone else who shares my concerns to consider making their own donation. We are together for freedom.”

Similarly, Balenciaga erased its Instagram feed prior to its winter show in Paris except for an image of the Ukrainian flag. The brand’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, released a statement about the devastating crisis in Ukraine and recalled his personal trauma as a refugee from Georgia, a former republic in the Soviet Union that endured a civil war in 1991.

Model Kiki Willems and blogger Bryan Boy pose in Balenciaga yellow and blue Ukraine flag shirts in early March during Paris Fashion Week.
( Melodie Jeng/Vanni Bassetti)

“The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my home country and I became a forever refugee,” he reportedly wrote in a statement. “This show needs no explanation, it is a dedication to fearlessness, to resistance, and to the victory of love and peace.”

According to reports, Gvasalia also recited a poem in Ukrainian, written by poet Oleksandr Oles. Guests were also greeted at the show with Ukrainian flag T-shirts.

“We, as a brand, have to do something … we cannot take weapons and go fight there, but we can use our voices,” Gvasalia told Reuters in an interview after the Paris Fashion Week presentation.

Italian fashion house Giorgio Armani also addressed the war by holding his Milan show in silence. In a statement, the designer said the choice not to play music at the event “was taken as a sign of respect towards the people involved in the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine.”

Brands pause Russia operations

Other clothing brands have pressed pause on operations in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

H&M Group announced that it would temporarily pause all sales in Russia, saying that it’s “deeply concerned about the tragic developments in Ukraine and stand with all the people who are suffering.” 

H&M stores in Ukraine have already closed temporarily in order to keep customers and employees safe. Meanwhile, the H&M Foundation has also made donations to Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Hermes said in a statement it is "deeply concerned" by the situation in Europe. 
(Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“H&M Group cares for all colleagues and joins all those around the world who are calling for peace. Clothes and other necessities are donated by the company,” the company said. 

High-fashion brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès, Chanel, Burberry and Prada also announced that they were temporarily halting business in Russia.

Earlier this week, the Prada Group announced on LinkedIn that it was suspending its retail operations in the country. 

“Our primary concern is for all colleagues and their families affected by the tragedy in Ukraine, and we will continue to support them. The Group will continue to monitor further developments,” the company said.

Chanel announced: “Given our increasing concerns about the current situation, the growing uncertainty and the complexity to operate, Chanel decided to temporarily pause its business in Russia. We will no longer deliver to Russia, we will close our boutiques and we already suspended our e-commerce.”

Kering, which owns Gucci, said in a statement: “Due to growing concerns regarding the current situation in Europe, Kering is temporarily closing its stores in Russia for its Houses that the Group operates directly in the country. Kering and its Houses will continue to support the local teams and to closely monitor the evolving situation.”

People walk past a closed H&M store in Moscow on March 10, 2022, after Swedish clothing giant Hennes and Mauritz halted all sales in its Russian stores over the war in Ukraine.
(AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Burberry told Bloomberg that it has stopped shipping to Russia until further notice. The brand has two stores and a concession in the country, but they have since been closed.

LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, told The New York Times that it would close over 120 stores in Russia.

In addition to fashion brands, a growing number of global brands, including Airbnb, Visa, Mastercard, Apple and Mercedes-Benz, have also pulled out of the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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