Spectacular flower crowns rule in Ukraine

Flowers, feathers, hemp threads, shells, beads, even pieces of foil and wax–these are just a few of the items that Ukrainian artist Dominika Dyka weaves into her modern re-creations of the traditional Ukrainian vinok (wreath or crown).

Worn for centuries by girls and young women to symbolize purity and fertility—and a mainstay at festivals and weddings—the wreaths are believed to have pagan origins that predate the introduction of Christianity to the Eastern Slavic world in the 10th century. Today, however, they are part of a resurgence of traditional culture that Ukrainians are embracing in daily life—modernized with both a proud history and a bright future in mind.

The wreaths are a class­ic decoration for Ukraine’s Ivan Kupala celebrations in early July. Originally pagan, the ritual was long ago Christianized to incor­­­porate John (Ivan) the Baptist and is also celebrated in Russia, Poland, and Belarus. In addition to fire jumping, festivities include women creating wreaths from fresh flowers and plants. Each woman places her wreath in a river to divine her romantic future by its fate in the water’s flow (or by which man jumps in to save it). But these days the wreaths also make appearances at art and music festivals, in music videos, and as the crowning image of countless social media posts.

Something old, something new

Dyka’s versions—made with collaborators at her Third Rooster workshop in Lviv, Ukraine—are among the most extraordinary. (Third Rooster, she says, denotes the third cry of the rooster in the morning and the cleansing arrival of a new day). She bases the designs on newly digitized archival images from museums, as well as archival family photos sent to her creative group of stylists, makeup artists, and wreath masters.

“We use materials that we know have been used before.” The goal, she says, is to breathe new vibrancy into this discovered history, “to show the traditional clothing of Ukraine through modern photography and remove associations with the vintage, faded colors of old photos.” And no professional models “posing coldly and detachedly” wear her wreaths in photos. “Women are beautiful regardless of height, body parameters, and age, and we show this in our photographs,” says Dyka. Her goal is simple: to catapult the traditions of the past into a colorful explosion of art and national pride today. “There is a natural desire,” she says, “to show everyone this beauty.”

There is a strong demand for it. The wreaths, along with traditional clothing such as embroidered shirts and dresses, “are getting more and more popular” says Daga Gregorowicz, a member of the Ukrainian-Polish band DAGADANA and a proud exhibitor of Dyka’s creations. “For many years we looked for our performance look—we come from two neighboring countries, Poland and Ukraine, and our music blends traditional folk culture of both states as well as modern elements, such as jazz, electronica, rock, and improv.”

Then they saw Dyka’s creations. “Fate must have planned all of this for us long ago—to promote our culture around the world and to tell stories of women from our homeland,” says Gregorowicz. She says the outfits draw people’s attention to the richness of Poland and Ukraine at music festivals around the world: “This relatively little-known piece of the world very often seems exotic to viewers and has so much to offer.”

Within Ukraine, the wreath boom influences florists as well. One of them, Anastasia Prushko, founder of the Kyiv-based A Note on Flowers, says orders have included one for a baby on her christening, gifts to guests at birthday parties and at the opening of traditional Ukrainian restaurants, and accessories for fashion shows. She also teaches master classes and conducts weaving sessions with children.

Most of the demand, however, still comes from brides for their weddings. “These are especially in demand as a tribute to Ukrainian roots and traditions, and the wreaths almost always complement embroidered shirts and dresses,” says Prushko. Examples of those are the vyshyvankas (traditional embroidered shirts) made by well-known designers, such as Vita Kin, and by more traditional craftswomen “who are less famous but dear to the brides.