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REVERE ― Lidiya Romanchuk was born to be a fashion designer ― but it’s been a long time coming.
“Trust me, it’s a long journey,” she admitted. “I finished high school in 2002 and, 20 years down the road, it’s about time.”
Romanchuk came to the United States from Ukraine 17 years ago, after studying fashion design in her home country. The Revere resident admitted that she had been knitting and crocheting since kindergarten. While her trajectory may have seemed linear at one point, a vacation to the states, which turned out to be permanent, caused her studies to veer off course.
“I was always an honors student in high school and university (but) I never came back (to Ukraine) to finish my university,” Romanchuk said. “It was very, very challenging in the beginning because I didn’t speak English at all. It wasn’t fun, because I’m very talkative and when you can’t express yourself, it’s torture.”
Not one to give up on a passion, Romanchuk wound up working at various wedding-dress-alteration shops. She took care of her family and saved money for 12 years until, finally, she stumbled upon something wonderful.
“When I approached the School of Fashion Design, I was just like Alice in Wonderland,” she said. “I was like ‘this is it, this is my time.'”
Located on fashionable Newbury Street in Boston, the School of Fashion Design (SFD) has been a home to budding couturiers since 1934. For Romanchuk, the opportunity to enroll was really kind of a miracle.
“(President Emerita Dr.) Denise Hammon; she is the one who actually signed me up and introduced me to the amazing teachers,” Romanchuk recalled. “I feel like she’s my angel because she always supports me, encouraged me and was always there for me.”
Hammon, who assisted in awarding Romanchuk a scholarship in her name, said she believed Romanchuk to be the embodiment of “the SFD mission of learning to be the best in the fashion industry.
“During her tenure at SFD, Lydia consistently demonstrates her passion for fashion design and her outstanding pattern making, construction, and draping skills,” Hammon added. “Her numerous runway shows, collections, and social-media posts showcase her impeccable eye for detail and quality. In the classroom, Lydia supports her fellow classmates with encouragement and energy.”
Romanchuk’s energy and enthusiasm for SFD is one of the first things one learns about her. To her, the opportunity to work one-on-one with industry professionals and delve into the granular details of construction and patternmaking is what sets the university apart from other fashion institutions.
“The second class that I took was how to make a leather handbag,” Romanchuk said. “Parsons (School of Design in New York), they don’t have a class on how to make leather handbags, and we learn how. It’s another level.”
When turned loose in the workroom, Romanchuk draws on architectural influences to incorporate a strong geometric element to her work. She also draws upon nature for inspiration, which sometimes is as easy as looking out the window of her Revere home.
“I live on the ocean and I do have an ocean view; that’s my inspiration,” she said. “It’s almost like I need to see that kind of beauty every day in order to be inspired.”
When it comes to concept, Romanchuk is all about the interplay between gentle femininity and warrior strength ― perhaps with a greater emphasis on the latter.
“I love strong women,” she explained. “So even though I love softness and delicate romance, at the same time, I would incorporate leather (and) heavy structure to empower women and show that strong powerful side of women ― that we are unstoppable, that we can do it all, that all those obstacles only make us stronger.”
And that’s what inspired Romanchuk’s first collection. “Unstoppable” could be seen on the runway of the sixth annual New England Fashion Show at Boston’s Liberty Hotel in September 2021.
How did a student at SFD come to share the runway with established designers, many of whom boasted multiple collections under their belts?
As with most things, it came down to a combination of luck, drive, and skill.
The luck aspect may seem unlucky at a distance, but the COVID-19 pandemic actually offered Romanchuk the time to take more classes at SFD than she anticipated. Initially planning to take only one class per semester, Romanchuk was able to complete seven to eight classes per year since the pandemic started.
And it’s safe to say that Romanchuk got more out of her classes than the average student.
“If (instructors) say, ‘let’s make a pair of pants,’ I make three pairs of pants and those pairs of pants better be complex,” she said. “Each class that I take, each project that I take, it has to be more complex than the previous one… I go like 10 steps ahead.”
Because of her tendency to overperform in her courses, Romanchuk’s class projects became the very garments that went down the runway in her “Unstoppable” collection. Since September, she’s added even more: The collection now includes swim- and sportswear (as well as a few celebrity fans; Amanda Mena, star of American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and Spanish-language The Voice ― and a born-and-raised Lynner ― plans to wear one of Romanchuk’s dresses onstage.)
Romanchuk will be graduating SFD in May, but first, she’ll have to complete her last two courses. In them, she is anticipating her biggest challenge yet.
“If the project is going to be to make two dresses, it’s probably going to be four dresses,” she said. “Especially now, in my last two classes, as I’m about to graduate, I have to push myself and I cannot wait for that. I’m graduating, so those dresses have to exceed; forget what I did before this. It really has to go to another level.”