This wave of supporting homegrown designers and local production has contributed to a revival of Ukrainian folk staples, most noticeably the much-blogged-about vyshyvanka and zhupan, courtesy of contemporary Kiev-based designers like Vita Kin and Yuliya Mahdych.
And a new addition to that list?
The vinok, a traditional Ukrainian flower crown.
These days, vinoks are sold almost everywhere in Kiev, even the gray, dilapidated Soviet spaceship-type bazaars on the outskirts of the city’s main center, where they sit alongside pale pigs heads, mounds of beef, fresh fish, fake Adidas tracksuits, neon puffer coats, and rows of pantyhose.
Even at the metro stations, kiosks sell vinoks made with fake daffodils, roses, and yellow and red ribbons.
Recently, I counted the number of my Ukrainian friends wearing petal-pumped vinoks in their Facebook pictures: It was more than you might think.
From afar, the flower-woven headpieces might bring to mind the bohemian flair beloved by buzzed concertgoers at Coachella; or Jean Shrimpton in a 1965 issue of Vogue; or even Lana Del Rey, who probably had both in mind when she posed with a band of flowers on the cover of her 2012 EP.
But here, in Ukraine, the vinok isn’t merely a pretty accessory:
The meaning of the wreaths traces back to Ukraine’s early history, when they were associated with virginity, marriage, and womanhood, and have continued to be, up until the early 20th century.
“In both Ukraine and Russia, both spouses-to-be would wear crowns during the wedding ceremony, apparently continuing an ancient tradition from Byzantium,” says professor Alexander Mihailovic, who teaches at Bennington College and specializes in Slavic Literature.
“Ukraine has preserved the original Greek and Byzantine tradition of wedding head wreaths.
However, in Ukraine there is yet another tradition, of young unmarried women wearing the wreaths during the spring, which, I suspect, explains why female dancers in Ukrainian folk dances wear floral crowns, whereas their Russian counterparts generally do not.
The latter practice in Ukraine of wearing the wreath is meant to signal the purity of a young woman before marriage.”
So, not just an accessory:
If an unmarried woman “lost her vinok,” it implied that she was also no longer “pure.”
Ancient history aside, the vinok is still associated with marriage, though its literal matrimonial meaning has transformed into more of a decorative piece.
This past summer, model Nadiia Shapoval wore a modern, ethereal vinok with white ribbons, dotted with orange flowers, at her wedding.
“After the revolution, more people wore them to weddings. Now even ordinary people wear vyshyvanka at weddings and vinok as well,” she says.
“As for me, wearing these things was important, and I wore it because I wanted to marry in national dress. The vinok is a part of that.”
Even for people who do not work in fashion, the vinok has become a marriage tradition.
Yulia Trukhyan, an HR manager in Kiev, grew up in a Russian family in Crimea and is now married to a Ukrainian man:
She wore a vinok at her bachelorette party.
“It makes me feel closer to my husband,” she told me, pointing to two traditional vinoks hanging by her bedside.
“I would not have worn one before the revolution—not because I didn’t feel close to Ukraine, I just had never thought of wearing one.”
And it seems that more and more people are sharing that same thought:
Spotting the vinok in everyday life has become increasingly easy.
Ulyana Yavna, who owns a store of vintage and antique traditional Ukrainian clothing in the city of Lviv, has noticed a real uptick in purchases since the political strife.
“After the Ukrainian revolution, all Ukrainian symbols have become really popular,” says Yavna.
“The vinok is really simple to wear and buy, and it’s not expensive. People here in Lviv will wear a small vinok in daily life.”
Additionally, the growing popularity of the vinok has contributed to the increase of vinok specialists, as well as the demand of local florists, like A Note on Flowers, to create the garlands for customers.
Pared-back, casual versions of the vinok have popped up as well:
It is not uncommon to see women in Kiev wearing a headband embellished with fake flowers during the summer.
The subject of the vinok and national pride is an obvious connection, but there are political connotations that come along with representing the homeland’s florid past:
The Motherland Monument—a 203-foot-tall statue that was constructed during Soviet times and remains a potent symbol of WWII—was decorated with a massive vinok made of red poppies for the May 8 holiday known as Victory Day.
Abroad, the influence of the vinok has also made waves in a sartorial sense beyond festival girls and summertime fetes, like on the Comme des Garçons Homme Plus men’s Spring 2016 runway, where models wore heaping botanical crowns in a show titled “Armour of Peace.”
In fact, peace may indeed be the most prevalent reason for wearing the flower crown in today’s world.
“I think we are coming back to floral themes because fashion is starting to react on wars that we are having around the globe,” says Shapoval.
“We need some tenderness.”
It seems like the vinok is here to stay—and hopefully even grow.