Ukrainian fashion designers Iryna Prachenko and Olena Hryshyna had their lives upended when they were forced to flee their home city of Kharkiv, Ukraine earlier this year.
Five months on, the former classmates are now teaming up for a new business venture that aims to find and magnify beauty in even the most unlikely of places.
Imago Photography Studio is a new styling and photography business inspired by Iryna and Olena’s shared desire to continue to create. The word ‘imago’ means metamorphosis and, through capturing sides of a person that they themselves may have never seen before, this is exactly what the pair hope to inspire.
“Every person eventually tries to understand and find himself,” explained Olena. “Many people need to spend their whole lives on this, and some manage to do it faster. What can speed up or at least make the search easier? Maybe a side view of yourself? The main thing is not to be afraid to take risks, and as a result, you see a different facet of yourself. We believe that our mission is to help you see your inner beauty and reveal it to the world.”
In their new venture, Iryna has taken on the role of photographer, while Olena is working as a stylist. While this creative path is greatly different to the one they knew in Ukraine, it has proven to be a transformational force in their own lives too.
“We really want to create. When we started to do it again, it was like a breath of fresh air,” said Iryna. “Everyone we took pictures of liked them and this is very important for us. We put our creative energy into what we do and seeing that people enjoy it gives us more energy.”
Since setting up their business, Iryna and Olena have captured a wide variety of people and scenes. Their main focus is on individual and family shots, life moments and fashion shoots. The fashion world is one that they both know well, having studied Fashion Design together in Ukraine. On discovering a passion for yoga and realising she could not find the yoga clothes that she wanted, Iryna decided to make her own and so, her brand YOX was born.
“I wanted to create something bright, beautiful, elegant and interesting.
“My graduation work was my first collection. I organized production and started selling clothes, first in Ukraine, and then around the world. The clothes were sewn to order with individual adjustments at the request of the client,” she said. “I liked receiving feedback from clients, watching how clothes change the state of a woman when she puts on a beautiful suit, how femininity manifests itself, how her gait changes, her posture straightens out, her eyes shine. I wanted to bring more beauty into this world.”
Olena studied at the Academy of Art and Design and worked in the field of interiors before furthering her studies in fashion design. She later took part in three seasons of Ukrainian Fashion Week alongside other design students before creating her own clothing brand called GRA. This clothing line focuses on sustainability and promotes the idea that you can have high quality and stylish clothes without harming the planet. Olena’s designs incorporated natural materials including myco-material – a 100% biodegradable material created from mushroom mycelium and technical hemp.
Both Iryna and Olena achieved great success as designers in Ukraine. However, when war broke out, they were forced to shift their focus away from their creative dreams and towards bringing themselves and their children to safety.
At that time, Iryna’s friend and Gorey musician, Damian Brady made a public appeal for accommodation in Wexford for Iryna and her children. His appeal was met with a huge number of offers, and Iryna soon found herself with a place to stay in Ballygarrett. Owing to the many offers of accommodation received, Iryna was able to help friends in Ukraine to flee too. One of these friends was Olena, who came over with her children in April and now lives in Ballymoney.
“We were confused for a few months because it was like we arrived to a different dimension. It’s like we were born again,” said Iryna. “Sure it was difficult, sure there was a lot of pain. But I always try to look at situations in a spiritual way, to try to understand why it happened and what lesson life will give to me. I need to be strong inside, particularly for my children.”
With little understanding of Irish style preferences or where to source materials, and no premises to resume production, Iryna and Olena soon realised that continuing their fashion businesses in Ireland would be extremely challenging. This is what inspired them to take a new direction in the form of Imago.
“Thanks to our Irish friends, we found a way out,” said Olena. “They gave us time and the opportunity to find ourselves here, to understand what we want to do here and be happy at the same time. This is a lot. Many of us did not have such an opportunity at home, because we had to survive. But in Ireland, we were given this opportunity, surrounded by such care, friendliness and a desire to help, which touched us very much. We are very grateful for that.”
“We would like to tell the Irish that their help to us is paying off. We are happy in this country doing creativity and what we love. We want to show the beauty of this country and its people through our creativity.”
More information about Imago Photography Studio can be found on the Imago Photography Studio Facebook and Instagram.