IN CONVERSATION WITH SVEN MARQUARDT
This year, Berlin experienced a special kind of fusion: Club culture merging with denim…
Last Friday, the Los Angeles based couture brand unveiled its new, incredibly heartfelt 28-piece collection in the vast space of the Santa Monica Barker Hangar, presented by Numéro Berlin.
It was an evening to celebrate light, hope, and the firm belief in the good, even in the midst of the heavy darkness surrounding us. It was about creating magic in chaos and finding peace in pure intentions—limitless as the horizon.
It is Friday, the 13th, a date that sounds magical in itself. Outside, the darkness had begun to set as the guests entered the gigantic hall of the Barker Hangar, which the independent couture brand transformed into an almost surreal, moody movie set, filled with emotions that have been chasing us for a while now. Tonight, Lever Couture and Numéro Berlin longed for a brief respite from the past and recent chaos in a get-together setting that offered a moment to reflect on all these intense emotions, especially those that are currently challenging our faith in humanity. Understanding that in these moments, the idea of togetherness and interconnectedness becomes crucial, Ukrainian-born designer Lessja Verlingieri, who has dressed talents such as Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Tems for the last Oscars, is creating quite a buzz. She sets everything into motion with her unique, artistic designs that blend subtle beauty, elegance, conceptualism, and surrealism while exploring a unique take on shapes and silhouettes. This night, as it continues to unfold, provides space for a runway show that aims to be remembered by speaking to people’s hearts. It’s meant to be an exploration of how quickly light can turn into darkness and vice versa.
“Velocity of Emotions,” the title of Lever Couture’s new collection, becomes a piece of art capturing emotional states that seem to underlie frustrating powerlessness.
However, for Lessja, these exploratory experiments have become quite challenging: violence, pain, loss, and war have never been so close to her as they were last year when the war in her motherland, Ukraine, started. It’s not only the country her heart still belongs to, but also the place where she discovered her desire and talent for fashion, sewing together different fabrics that surrounded her and her grandmother. Her limitless curiosity in fabrics, most of them quite unconventional, has remained within her until today and has also shaped her new collection.
Now, with the months passing, empathy has turned into a scary, political concept, and just now, we are witnessing it again on another brutal level. “Velocity of Emotions,” the title of Lever Couture’s new collection, becomes a piece of art capturing emotional states that seem to underlie frustrating powerlessness. But at the same time, there is always room for a statement that reminds us of what it means to be human. At the back of the hangar, from where the models will enter the show later, the hall is separated by a tall, slim LED screen, which serves as a canvas for digital artist Jesse Woolston and a custom installation capturing water in the most beautiful moments of flow, representing emotions that run like waterways through Lessja’s designs. But before finding ourselves in the midst of these massive waves, the screen turns white, introducing a moment of silence to invite all guests, including Milla Jovovich, Ari Lennox, Geena Davis, Shenseea, Jordyn Woods, Mario, James Goldstein, and Siobhan Bell, to listen to a strong speech of hope: Blackout, sound on:
“Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.”
“Since I live and work in Los Angeles, everything has become way lighter, bolder, and more open-minded, even in dark moments.”
Emotions rise: “The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin, one of the most iconic peace speeches of all time, opens the show, followed by water that starts to flow, on the screen and also on the models’ faces, artistically interpreted in a stunning makeup look that hits the nail on the head. For some, the water even starts in our eyes when brand muse Alyona Subbotina opens the show with a gigantic, nude-colored dress that wraps her body like a warm, subtle embrace, while the sound, exclusively produced by composer Tommy Simpson, creates an atmosphere of beautiful tension. As Subbotina almost floats through the light cones, creating a play between shadow and light, referring again to the nature of emotions, we are waiting for the bass to start after Subbotina finishes her long runway walk through the hangar, setting the tone for the show and collection perfectly.
Every single handcrafted design follows with powerful grace, grouped in color themes that appear almost eccentric due to its bold diversity of fabrics that play wildly but harmoniously together. Nude tones set the tone for the beginning, and it could not make any more sense. Introducing some cold but striking feels, the color group is followed by matte and shiny silver, sparkling whites, pinks, including two new neon designs and two more in neon yellow, closed by a group of five black dresses. The very last dress hits specifically deep with its gigantic, voluminous cape that is more than four meters long, worn by former Gucci muse Sedona Legge. Just like the first look, the cape is worn around the wrists, as if caught between holding on and letting go of a huge load of emotions.
“How do you feel?” I ask her after the show, and she laughs: “Relieved. It has been quite a rough time working on this collection on different levels, and I think you can really feel this emotional rollercoaster in my designs,” explains Lessja to me in a calm moment after the show. “When I work on my designs, it’s like I have a conversation with the fabrics, and how that goes is really determined by so many internal but also external factors. Since I live and work in Los Angeles, everything has become way lighter, bolder, and more open-minded, even in dark moments.
Each design has its unique way to capture and spread it out into a new space where time does not exist.
When I look back to Berlin, where I worked and lived before, I always felt like I was being choked; I could not free myself from this cloud that constantly surrounded me. I am still grateful for that time since it gave me a great foundation, but I am so happy to be where I am now. Of course, life here is not always easy, but I love the motivation and focus I develop here thanks to my surroundings.
Lessja’s L.A.-made designs transform women into goddesses, embracing fluid but also technical, textural forms, redefining the conventional and expected. Gigantic volumes that appear massive and heavy from afar turn into the most beautiful lightness when looked at more closely. Each design has its unique way to capture and spread it out into a new space where time does not exist. This is how Lessja’s designs appear, unrelated to time, dimensions, and traditional codes. She transforms many unconventional fabrics into objects of beauty and explores all ways of redefining shapes. The way she approaches couture is not only innovative but also extremely inspiring in how it creates new ideas of modern elegance. The brand’s next steps are already planned: for the first time, the brand will work on its own shoes to enter the gigantic accessories market.
Last year, Lever Couture showcased its collection in Tokyo as a guest designer. Her growth in the past few years has been incredible. It all started in 2011 with a show in Berlin, where she also encountered loyal brand supporter Nicola Formichetti. A show at the Los Angeles Albright space followed. She often hears that she belongs in Paris, and I ask if that’s one of her next goals. She answers, “It was, but not anymore. I feel like L.A. deserves this and deserves me. It gave me so much, and now I want to give back. It feels good to be home and to create for my home. It’s beautiful to experience the support and appreciation here.
“People just wouldn’t understand what I was doing, and they didn’t want to understand, so they barely showed support.”
Back in Germany, I would never receive it the same way.” Why? I want to know, and she pauses for a moment. “I was always told I was too much in Germany, that I could not create wearable clothes. People just wouldn’t understand what I was doing, and they didn’t want to understand, so they barely showed support. It was crazy because at that time, international names and titles such as Vogue Italy and Vogue US were showing me the greatest support, but not once did Vogue Germany.
I come across an artist’s quote the day after the show: “I wonder how it feels to not feel everything.” Maybe life would be easier, but it would also be cold and flat. What a gift it is to feel, to accept the powerful waves of emotions flowing through us. And sometimes you are lucky to encounter souls that feel as deeply and intensely as you do. That conversation alone gives strength to surrender to all the ups and downs of this crazy rollercoaster called life. What a blessing to work with you, Lessja. We cannot wait to see what the future holds for you. Continue to make a difference in this world; we need it more than ever.
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