Deconstructing Konstantin Kofta's DRAMA collection

Image credit: Tasya Kudrik

Konstantin Kofta is no ordinary bag designer, his backpacks resemble works of art rather than the emphatically practical and minimalist pieces that we've come to expect from this year's sportswear inspired catwalks, from Saint Laurent's hardy canvas bags built to 'withstand years of commutes, flights and gym sessions' to Prada's utilitarian shell backpacks fitted with sheathes of pockets both inside and out. Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, sprinkling on a nostalgic jumble of childlike badges, may have registered the ornamental potential of the backpack, yet still they stiffly – and sensibly - grasped on to the archetypal backpack shape.

Kofta showed no such reluctance to break out of the functional comfort zone: his FW16/17 collection of bags appear to be made of black marble, carved into extravagant shapes so starkly bizarre, you feel they wouldn't be out of place in H. R. Giger's fantastic-realistic cyberpunk world. They come, however, from a very different place: Ukraine. Kofta, together with the rest of the country's young people, has had to stand by and watch Putin bulldoze his homeland: Eastern Ukraine's coolest bars, clubs, restaurants, and even its swimming pools where they used to hang out at weekends have been reduced to ashy rubble, and the surrounding countryside's fields of winter wheat, spring barley, and corn, have been burnt into the famous black soil. Ukraine's national identity, independence and culture is being subsumed by Russia's iron template, and to protest has serious consequences. In this isolated and suffocatingly oppressive political climate of bored, frustrated and angry youth, backpacks have a lot more to combat than a jam-packed tube, a cycle ride to work, or the transition from office meeting to gym. All of these urban obstacles, which we view the backpack as a defense against, are probably laughable to Kofta. His bags are overcoming something bigger than the Oyster-card barrier.  

His FW16/17 collection is entitled 'Drama' and is inspired by the concept that as time passes, the beautiful works of both nature and man are being constantly and irrevocably destroyed, but instead of resisting the flux of time either by looking back and mourning these losses, or fruitlessly attempting to retrieve them, we should accept such elusiveness as an integral part of beauty and put all our love into the act of creating a new beauty with our own hands. Kofta states, "our utmost is empathy and the act of giving back. The drama collection aims to create a new beauty by our own hands, as an act of compassion".

The current political turmoil is not overtly referenced, but then it doesn't need to be. The bags – angular and imposingly ornate shadowy monoliths – with their symmetrical lines, mechanical, wheel-like curves, and stratified mosaics of squares that look like tower blocks from above, are geometrically evocative of the city in Fritz Lang's 1920s Expressionist film Metropolis: a futuristic dystopia in which the oppressed proletariat rises up against the ruling class but ultimately learns that in appealing for reform, hateful and violent protest is ineffective and self-destructive. Rather, love must be used as the vehicle for change. The parallels are clear: Ukraine's youth have, indeed, found that angrily proclaiming their national identity, and demanding that their leaders hold more tightly upon the reins of old Ukraine, by protesting on the streets has been largely ineffective. Rather than use their patriotic love as an impetus for violent protest, Kofta seems to be suggesting that they channel it as a creative force. To create is, in fact, far more radical than to destroy. Ukraine's youth cannot bring back the cherry-blossom dappled homeland of their childhood, but by putting all their love into making art, they can create a new man-made beauty and vibrant culture that will heal Ukraine.  

Kofta's bags are physical representations of this idea: by alluding to some of the greatest works of art in history – Greek sculpture, Bauhaus style architecture, and even Schoenberg's early 20th century opera sets – they are lauding man's ability to create beauty, but by morphing these shapes into backpacks, Kofta is using that ability to create something radically, and proudly, new. A backpack is distinct from other bags in that it is the the only bag you actually wear, and so you become unified with it in a way that isn't possible with any other bag. Kofta's bags emphasize this fusion, as their smooth lines curve like the body's undulations, almost seeming to pour from the wearer's back. So, when you wear one of Kofta's works of art upon your back, you become an essential part of it, and in becoming art you transcend your merely human form. Since art is the Ukrainian youth's bastion, the backpack is a weapon, and you are, in a sense, a soldier in battle whilst wearing it. This metaphor is manifested by Kofta's beautifully crafted battle-shield backpack, the swooping and detailed carving an unmasked work of love. It is not a shield for fighting against other morning commuters elbowing their way onto their tube, but for fighting against the barren, sterile ugliness of Russian occupation. Not through extra pockets, straps and improved functionality, but through beauty. 

In a way, Kofta's reaction parallels the first wave of European Modernists. The First World War was devastating in the totality of its destruction, but it was the smash-up that finally cleared the field of Victorian values and verbosity, making space for new ideas and artists from Duncan Grant to Picasso. Since no one looked at the world in the same way after the war, artists couldn't mould with the same materials, they had to create something totally new. And they did. Built upon the tenets of traditional Ukraine is the suffocatingly prescriptive and dogmatic fashion education system, so old fashioned that it focuses wholly on the teaching of traditional Soviet-style patterns and skills, and doesn't leave any space for individuals' own creative projects and designs. As the old Ukraine is broken down and transformed, this archaic system must also lose its foundations and, finally, topple. The field has, once again, been cleared. Kofta is just the beginning.

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