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How an immigrant from Ukraine conquered Fashion Week and prepared outfits for the Oscar ceremony

Maria Milovidova came to the United States as a 13-year-old teenager back in the mid-1990s. She drew from the age of two and did not change her vocation even in America. Maria graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor's degree in arts and textile design and took a job at one of the local women's clothing companies. Soon, together with a friend, she created a company that produces clothes for pregnant women. In addition to her main work, Milovidova continued to paint.

Photo: Andreas Zhou. Maria Milovidova is in the center.

Competition inspired by Gauthier

«I painted dresses by hand, combining leather and silk, and transferred pictures onto fabrics. I have always aspired to do something more than just hang a picture on the wall where only a few can appreciate it. I wanted the painting to come to life, for art to take on a personified, human form. I think I managed to achieve this when I transferred it to clothes”, Maria shared.

At first, only relatives knew about the work of the girl. That all changed when, in 2012, an acquaintance suggested she enter a design competition in San Francisco.

«Just then, a famous French fashion designer came to town Jean-Paul Gaultier, his exhibition was held here, as well as a competition of works inspired by the work of Gauthier”, the artist continued her memoirs.

First, Maria was among the top ten finalists of the competition, and then, according to the results of online voting, one of the four winners. After that, she was invited to various exhibitions and fashion shows.

«A DJ I know, who now lives in Thailand, was very popular in California in those years. He organized exhibitions and shows of a very high level and also invited me to participate in them.", - said the fashion designer.

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The benefits of criticism and the help of a lawyer

The novelty of Maria Milovidova's approach was to combine different fabrics. For example, she practiced inserting pieces of leather into silk dresses, and also used paints that give the fabric the illusion of volume and create the effect of pearls embedded in it. Maria admits that she was inspired to this approach by the style of various Ukrainian embroidered shirts that she saw in her childhood. Milovidova's exhibitions began to take place in various galleries in San Francisco and even in the De Young Museum. But, despite the novelty and originality of the approach, the professionals bluntly told her: the models proposed by the girl did not yet reach the level of Fashion Week:

«That same year, the organizer of San Francisco Fashion Week held a master class for designers. I went there because I dreamed of getting to this show, but the organizer was rather critical of my work. He said that they weren't pulling to such a high level yet, the fabric wasn't suitable for the paints I use, and advised me what points should be changed.».

Model Helen Victoria Blossom in a dress by Maria Milovidova. Photo: Eugene Polyak

Against the advice of her friends, the girl reacted constructively to criticism and tried to correct the shortcomings indicated to her. As a result, a year later in 2013, she managed to get to San Francisco Fashion Week. The next important step on the road to success was getting to know a lawyer.

«Unfortunately, in such a competitive industry as fashion, it is impossible to do without a lawyer, especially when there are serious contracts. Fortunately, I was lucky - my lawyer was not only well versed in matters of law, but also knew the industry very well. In particular, he advised me in which shows I should take part, and which, on the contrary, should be ignored, which helped me a lot to save time and effort. In addition, in the high fashion industry, participation in all exhibitions in a row is considered bad form, as it may indicate that you are unable to find clients, or you are just doing it just for fun.”, – the designer shared the nuances of the fashion industry.

Scarf for Thomas Anders as the secret of success

Maria Milovidova admits that in the tough and competitive world of fashion, she often had to deal with the fact that familiar designers used some of her ideas. Plagiarism, she noted, was practically unprovable, especially in certain details. So over time, the girl learned to turn such cases for good - as an incentive for further creativity and the creation of new ideas. At the same time, Maria notes that most of her colleagues behave decently and are not afraid to invite other designers to prestigious events. Thanks to such invitations, Maria Milovidova managed to get to Fashion Week in Paris and New York. And if the "conquest of Paris" was her old dream, then Hollywood arose in Maria's career almost by accident.

«People found me through social media on the recommendation of my friend, a famous model, and invited me to take part in the fashion show held in Malibu in 2017", she clarified.

Following the show, an offer was received to participate in Los Angeles Fashion Week, where Maria had her first acquaintance with Hollywood actors - the first orders were received from them. Maria Milovidova then developed sketches for the actor Ben Stiller, for participants of the Oscar and Grammy award ceremonies, Chelsea football club players, even a scarf for the famous performer from the Modern Talking duo popular in the 1980s Thomas Anders, which, according to her, really liked the star.

Photo from the personal archive of Maria Milovidova

«I think the secret to success is to enjoy what you do. Of course, we must strive for achievements, but at the same time it is important not to get hung up on the goal and feel the joy of the process itself. No less valuable is the willingness to accept any, even negative experience, as well as the ability to learn from it.", Maria concluded.

Meeting Indian Immigrants in the Gulf Region San Francisco led to the fact that the designer had clients not only from Hollywood, but also from Bollywood. Another client of an immigrant from Odessa was “Miss California” Katherine Liang. Largely thanks to Maria, the Californian beauty learned about Ukraine and still calls among his favorite things is a yellow suit with hand-painted blue, which he considers "a subtle and beautiful symbol of Ukrainian culture." However, with the outbreak of the war, Maria had to tell the Americans much more about her homeland.

Fashion and war

Although during the immigration Maria Milovidova did not come to Ukraine, throughout her life in America, the girl continued to communicate with her close school friends from Odessa:

«When my producer Natalya told me that Ukraine was being bombed, I couldn't believe it at first. I called my friends in Odessa, and they confirmed that they really had just been bombed.».

From the very first days of the war, the fashion designer began to donate to help refugees. According to her, she did not even have to specifically draw the attention of her American friends to the tragedy - the vast majority of them responded themselves.

«Of course, many people knew that I was from Ukraine. But I was struck by how many Americans sincerely supported Ukraine and really empathized with it. One of my clients, an Indian from Bollywood, organizes periodic tours of famous Indian musicians in California. When he found out that I was from Ukraine, he himself volunteered to hold a charity auction at one of his musical evenings, all the proceeds from which we gave to the Ukrainians”, Maria shared.

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The designer recalled how, at one of the recent evenings organized in support of Ukraine, she met a woman who managed to leave Bucha at the beginning of the Russian occupation.

«Of those with whom she tried to leave, she was the only one who managed to escape - the invaders simply shot other cars for no reason. This woman said that everything really happened as reported in the media: the Russian military allowed themselves to kill people for no reason on the streets and did not stop at any violence", - complained Maria.

And yet, the Ukrainian believes that sooner or later this nightmare will end. Then, according to her, she will definitely go to her native Odessa and see her old friends, whom she is trying to support today in word and deed.

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