“When it comes to creating clothes, we can do better, we can create beautiful things ethically and thoughtfully,” Vogue Ukraine fashion director Julie Pelipas explains over Zoom from her home in Kiev. “That’s the challenge and the magic.”
This month, the stylist who is loved for her revolutionary fashion editorials as much as her indelibly clean personal style, will launch Bettter—the small-batch tailoring label she’s been dreaming of making a reality for the past three years. Her very first collection, June’s ‘00 drop’, will feature just 46 looks destined to give upcycled fashion an upscale makeover. That’s where the name comes in. “It was initially a typo,” Pelipas admits, “but if our plan is to upcycle everything, the thinking was: why can’t we also upcycle the word ‘better’?”
So, what makes Bettter better? First, “it’s about special, one-of-a-kind clothes, not big collections.” Every piece is guaranteed secondhand and vintage, sourced locally from Ukraine’s thriving vintage scene where Pelipas spent so much time growing up.
Then there are the signature men’s suiting silhouettes, inspired by Ernest Hemingway, Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit (“the Frida Kahlo of the Ukrainian art scene”), and Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich. Each suit is designed to fit up to three clothing sizes, and the fact that Pelipas’s own wardrobe is built around ultra-flattering, roomy suiting is no coincidence. (Think vintage Alaïa vests, worn back to front, teamed with Katharine Hepburn-esque slacks).
Spacious, masculine cuts have been something of an obsession for the stylist since her high-school days when she first began taking her grandfather’s suits and redesigning them to fit her rangy frame. “I experienced a sudden growth spurt at 13 and went from being the smallest girl in the school to the tallest in the space of one year,” Pelipas explains. “I was like a giraffe. At 185cm (6ft), nothing fit.”
Years later, at Paris Fashion Week in July 2018, the stylist once again pulled out a vintage men’s suit that she’d redesigned, then a pair of voluminous, tailored white jeans — both Bettter prototypes. The street-style photographers went into a frenzy. Hundreds of Instagram DMs later, and the stylist had a viable business plan.
“I loved the way I felt back when I first walked into school wearing one of my grandfather’s tailored cream suits. That’s what I want to do with Bettter — I want everyone to feel that the look they buy is not a random purchase, but something that will stay with them, like a grandfather’s jacket.”
But it’s not just the label’s heartfelt sustainable credentials or the polished fits that make it a uniquely modern proposition. Pelipas is also overhauling the way we shop. Instead of buying a single piece, Bettter sells full looks (or a “model upcycled wardrobe”), consisting of a one-of-a-kind secondhand suit, with one or two shirts, and one or two T-shirts — in other words, the building blocks of Pelipas’s own 24/7 closet. The bonus is that when it comes to both ethics and aesthetics, you never have to worry about what you wear.
“We track everything, from where we found the original suit to the year of production if we can find it, and information about who inspired the silhouette,” Pelipas adds, noting the importance of transparency. “My dream is that we can share the story behind every piece, including the names of former owners. That’s how, I believe, we will learn to build more sustainable wardrobes where every item has a meaning. I would love to get to the stage where people will give us their clothes to redesign.”
The focus on ‘honest fashion’ also includes the label’s price points. “We will consider every little thing about the look before we price it,” Pelipas explains, adding that a fully recrafted look will retail at around $500, with some specially crafted looks priced a little nearer to $1,000. Alongside plans to build an algorithmic tool, which will enable shoppers to custom-design their own Bettter suit tailored to personal specifications, the stylist also has her sights set on launching a line of ultra-affordable looks in time for the ‘03 drop’. “I’m here to bring people joy, not struggle, so I hope that with time we will actually be able to lower prices.”
“Years ago when I bought the beautiful Phoebe Philo Céline pink suit, which I love, I remember I gave my whole monthly salary for that. We need to consume more responsibly and thoughtfully now, reconsidering our relationship with all of the things that we have around us.”