In one of the factory’s workshops, employers give shape to finished jackets using steam.
© Ganna Bernyk
The antechamber of Larisa Voronina’s office, the head of men’s suit maker Voronin, looks as classic as the suits the company crafts – it’s large with two assistants and furnished with cozy armchairs that convey the sense of being in the presence of a big shot.
That impression vaporizes once inside the boss’ office, a big, snug and messy place with fabric samples piled high on a leather sofa.
“I didn’t feel like moving to my father’s office, but he wanted me to,” says Voronina.
Her father, Mikhail Voronin, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind Voronina’s desk, put his life into establishing Ukraine’s largest production center of classic men’s attire. He started as a tailor in the 1950s and ended up owning chain of 61 stores in Ukraine and a sewing factory in Kyiv.
When Voronin died in April at the age of 73, his daughter officially took over the company that she’s de facto ruled for the last two years due to her father’s illness.
In taking the CEO’s chair, Voronina left the United States, where she spent the last 19 years, arriving in 1993 to give her seven-year-old son a shot at a better life.
“The early 1990s were a dangerous time for business people and their families. My father’s business was already quite large at the time, and my son, Eugeniy, was the family’s only weak spot. I took him abroad to protect him and give my family freedom to do business,” Voronina says.
Her life in the U.S. exemplified the typical American dream. Having to work as a press operator at a dry cleaner at first, she ended up owning a senior citizen’s home. Still, Voronina says she had no doubts about returning to Ukraine when the family business demanded it.
Voronina says it was difficult to face Ukrainian bureaucracy after the experience of doing business in the U.S.
“I’ve got so used to filing documents on payments by just one click of a mouse that all the paperwork I have to process here is quite unusual for me,” she says, touching piles folders on her desk.
Her father had probably suffered even more difficulties making the transition from being a tailor to a successful businessman in a Soviet environment.
“Voronin used to say: ‘From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. I am a businessman, but after that I’m a designer,’” recalls Svitlana Batrak, the company’s spokeswoman.
Referring to her father, Voronina often calls him a “genius” for his attention to detail.
She shows off her father’s tailoring inventions. The most important one looks like a vest cut in details, connected by pieces of measuring tape. This vest model was meant to help fit a jacket for a future client on custom tailored orders. Instead of taking a client’s measurement, Voronin would count how different the client was from the standard, placing a vest on him and moving measuring tapes. That meant the client didn’t need to come for multiple fittings.
Individual orders played a huge role in Mikhail Voronin’s brand reputation. Italian opera tenor Alessandro Safina and Ukraine’s former presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma are on the list of Voronin clients.
Even though foreign top brands like Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna have conquered Ukraine’s elite lately, Voronina says her company is not hurt.
“Buying a Brioni suit can be hard if you have a non-standard figure. Like, sleeves can be too short, or a jacket won’t fasten because of your belly. To avoid these troubles, at Voronin we sell each size in many fits,” Voronina says. “And of course, our suit would cost several times cheaper.”
Depending on apparel, Mikhail Voronin suits cost Hr 1,800 to 3,800, while custom orders start at Hr 5,000 and have no price ceilings. The most expensive suit ever, according to Batrak, was made in the 1990s and cost $50,000.
The company also produces a small collection of women’s apparel meant to allow Voronin to accept corporate orders that include women’s wear. Boryspil International Airport employees and Customs Service officers wear uniforms made by Voronin.
Voronina confides she once ran a small garments business of her own, having gained experience very close to her father’s communal apartment sewing. In the 1980s, she delved in children’s clothes design and production.
“We would buy some nice children’s suit produced abroad, cut it in details and copy it in all sizes,” she says. “I used to come home from work, put my sewing machine on the kitchen table and work. The kitchen was the only place in our tiny one-room apartment where I could do that. When father came home from work, I had to put down sewing machine so he could have dinner. Then the machine went back and I continued.”
Now Voronina confidently leads her way through multiple workshops of the Voronin factory, showing production stages in suits. The factory’s staff numbers about 400 workers.
Larisa is not the only Voronin family member at the company. Her mother, Inna Voronina, spent her life helping with her husband’s business, starting with delivering orders to clients and ending with her current position as the public relations director.
Larisa Voronina’s son, however, doesn’t plan on entering the family business.
“He shocked us once, saying ‘I guessed what my grandfather’s business secret was. He was so successful because he was doing what he liked. I’m going to do what I like too.’ So now he is a tennis coach,” Voronina says with a smile.
“But we still have hope.”
Voronin Kyiv locations:
54 Zhylanska St.
14 Velyka Vasylkivska St. (former Chervomoarmiyska)
55 Kharkivske Shose
23 Moskovsky Av.
Kyiv Post staff writer Olga Rudenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org