Slavik, the best dressed homeless man

by • 15. February, 2015 • All, Culture, Fashion, FeaturedComments (0)2047

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Focussing on the East European scene, Yurko Dyachyshyn takes photographs of surprising surroundings and events from Ukraine, especially his hometown Lviv. He became a professional photographer in 2002, but the moment that changed his career and gained more attention from the public was between 2011 and 2013, when he shot his well-known project Slavik’s Fashion. His photo series with Slavik became famous for its ability to unveil striking images of a reality that has been carefully ignored by everyone else. In the following interview we got to to hear more about the story that lies behind his project.

Slavik is 55 years old, comes from Ukraine and he represents the living essence of having a sense of style. He is a homeless gypsy wandering the streets of Lviv, yet at a closer look he does not fit into the box of the regular homeless person that we all have an image of. He does ask for change on the streets, but he doesn’t carry the classic plastic bags after him nor does he have connections to the rest of the homeless and gypsy crowd of that area. He is on his own.

His uniqueness comes from his countless outfits he puts on each day, sometimes even changing it twice a day. He does not stop at changing his coat or t-shirt. What he does is to create these full looks from day to day, that have an amazing sense of taste and original aesthetics. Considering his social status, he is not stuck in the current rush for brands and expensive clothing, which makes him break this superficial pattern and be creative and inventive at the purest level. The only reason why he got to fade into the crowd and not get noticed sooner comes from the default filter we put on when it comes to the homeless sight.

Meeting Slavik. How did the project begin?
All my daily life and creative work is tightly bound to the central (old) part of the city, where I spend much time. The central part of Lviv, just like similar places in other cities, is a magnet for everyone. There are always lots of people and events, tourists, various eccentrics, and Slavik was among them. I noticed him long time ago passing him constantly in the streets, but I did not see what might come out of it. Later I noticed him daily changing clothes and decided just to gather his collection of fashionable suits (as is now fashionable to say “looks”).

All photos (over 100 different portraits) have been taken at occasional meetings for the last two years. Slavik liked to pose for pictures, because I think he wore the costumes for a reason.

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It was his constant performance and the fact that someone had pointed this out, brought him pleasure and made him happy.
Later he got used to me, and he tried to find me himself, knowing the places where I usually spent time. And I, in my turn, wandered around the places where I could come across him. Sometimes, going somewhere on business, I could hear behind me: “Hey buddy, where’ve you been? I’ve been looking for you for two days in the streets”. It was impossible to do it otherwise, because you could not negotiate with him.

How does Slavik differ from other homeless people? Where does he get clothes? How does he live?
Slavik didn’t want to talk about this, but most of his things come from trash containers and from places of social assistance for homeless.

Most homeless are people wearing dirty clothes, carrying big bags in which they keep all their things. They also collect bottles, paper and other rubbish. They always drag their belongings, beg, and lie on sidewalks and corners. But I’ve never seen Slavik with a bag and or carrying something except a bottle of beer and a cigarette. It looked like he was going out on an after-lunch stroll around the city to have a beer and show everyone his new outfit.

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Slavik indeed has a sense of fashion. What does he think about fashion and style? What is his story?
Slavik is a freak, so he does not communicate adequately and his answers are not entirely clear. To all my questions about clothes and why he does it, he replies that things are vanity and that you can find lots of things in the trash. Slavik says that you should care about health and keep away from those who could ruin your peace of mind. Despite such indifferent answers, Slavik still has a sense of beauty, style and fashion and his suits are not random. It is not accidental that he changes them every day, adjusting them carefully to weather and season.

My attempts to learn the story of his life were vain. The excerpts of his story that I revealed are difficult to build in some sort of chronology. I did not try to influence or change your life. I was documenting another strange and unique personal story.

Often Slavik disappeared for long periods of time and, suddenly, re-emerged again, asking where I had been. He called me his friend and said that it was very scary to lose a friend.

I saw him for the last time in January of 2013. I hope he is well now and that, one day, he will suddenly appear behind my back saying: “Hey buddy, where’ve you been?”

What does Slavik think of his popularity on the Internet? Does he know about it?
I have no answer to this. As of January 2013 Slavik disappeared from the streets of the city. Today, because of the great popularity of the project on the Internet, many journalists are trying to find him. Sometimes there are rumors that he has been seen, but there is no evidence. My attempts to search for him have failed.

According to one of the Italian media “I want to believe that Slavik is all right and that he works at a modelling studio where he creates his outfits.”

Yurko Dyachyshyn

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