„I Float Along the Opportunities and Situations” — An Interview with Matthew Krotov, a GenZ Costume Artist From Ukraine

Mattew at Bucharest Pride in July 2022. © Mattew Krotov

Matthew Krotov is a talented 20 years old costume artist as he refers to himself. But, more than that. We discovered him in Bucharest. Originally he was from Odesa, Ukraine and he relocated to Bucharest, Romania because of the war. We were intrigued by his talent and his eloquent way of discourse. Also, being forced to start a new life far from home is not a small challenge. As usual, we like to discover people and bring them to the front. So we asked and he accepted very kindly to answer our questions.

 You revendicate yourself from the alternative fashion or alt fashion. That shortly means fashion that stands apart from mainstream commercial fashion. Is something more than appearance in alt fashion? Is there a statement that represents you as a person?

I am an artist in some spheres, a crafter, a mighty musician, an activist (LGBT+, ‘disability’, eco, gender equality), a trans*gender guy, gay and aromantic. I am a citizen of Odesa, Ukraine, and was living there all my life till April 2022. Now accommodated in Bucharest, Romania.

I have studied ‘stage setting and costume design for theatrical and entertainment events at the “Odesa Theatre and Art Professional College” and started my medical transition in the second semester of 3rd year. After graduation, I was hired as a social worker and event-maker in PO “LGBT Association “Liga”.

Mattew at Bucharest Pride in the Pride Park collecting funds for his country. July 2022. © Mattew Krotov

What do you think about cosplay? I like the idea you project about being a „costume artist”.

I think European real-life mainstream street fashion (I am going to say it’s more likely a “unitary style”) nowadays became very basic in a lot of details. Many people refuse to use any major color in their daily outfits and a lot of stylists are more likely to talk about basic things like a “good pair of jeans” or a “fine white shirt”. Classic is not a bad thing, but I want more. Yes, there are more experimental people, but statistics would say that they most likely are Gen Z or late Gen Y. I’m guilty ‘cause I’m GenZ.

Today’s mainstream fashion that is popular among youths is a big callback to the 90s – – a style that could probably hadn’t existed in that period, and they see this as something new and interesting in comparison to the main “basicness” – – and early 2000s. There are a lot of people that were interested in some kind of subculture but couldn’t participate and wear that kind of style back in the day. In my case, it is Decora (+ its mixes and substyles) and Emo-fashion.

As it is very obvious Emo is a subculture with its iconic samples and defined statements. In Ukraine and other post-soviet neighbor countries to Ukraine, it was a bit deviated, but the looks were pretty similar. Decora was discovered by me on the internet in the late 2010s. I never saw anyone in my city wearing a full decora look. Probably it was more because of insecurity, and maybe of lack of popularity. In terms of ideals of Decora – – Japanese street style that appeared in the late ’90s and developed in 2000’s – – mainly it stands on 2 biggest incites: first anyone can wear anything and your clothes don’t define your gender, sexuality and how mature you are, second is to have fun decorating yourself with any sort of clothes and accessories. These are the main rules, but the thing that differentiates decora-fashion from other similar styles is comfortability. And that is not really ‘very unique’, they are simple T-shirts, skirts, shorts, trousers, hoodies, etc. that can be very bright and vibrant, light and pastel, or fully black and\or white; excessive layering of everything; prints and cartoons\anime\game merch pieces; AMOUNT of hair clips on your forehead. Ideal decora-look would be so blended and layered, that you see this all as a complete piece of mess, that somehow manages to be well coordinated and stylish.

I could talk infinitely about subcultural styles, especially Decora (gosh I did a whole course work on it in my 3rd high school year) but I’m gonna stop here.

I stand for non-gendered fashion, I stand for the things that make you happy when you wear them, and I stand for interesting-looking comfortable everyday clothes. And I love colors. I’m a collector of wearable things. Nowadays this is my coping mechanism, I can’t stop buying more hair clips.

Matthew’s secret magical dressing room. © Mattew Krotov

I have a personal curiosity. Your Instagram account has part of the name Ken Hikari. Do you like manga, anime, or video games inspired by those?

I did some cosplay (Lance from VLD and Giorno from JJBA for a girl in another city) and had plans to do several characters and possibly work with cosplayers, but all those plans were crashed because of different circumstances.

I was deeply interested in Japanese culture when I discovered it, – – firstly not because of anime, but because of the culture in general and the language – – anime just added a lot more interest. My nickname originated from an almost literal translation of my dead name. 光 (Hikari) means light. Originally my full nick was Tayota Hikari (since 2016, before I recognized myself as a trans*gender), which is kind of “water is wet” and Tayota was picked from some stupid internet test (without any proper writing). 建 (Ken) means horizon\view; was found while I searched hieroglyphs with similar features and I found it very meaningful for me.

I don’t play video games, and nowadays unfortunately haven’t enough time and concentration to watch anime (but sometimes I rewatch my old favorites; the last rewatched was Noragami). I had read a lot of manga back in the day, and even have around 20 physical books (different titles).

How your powerful style was usually received in your mother country, Ukraine? 

I never really wore a full outfit on the streets, I did with a bit toned-down versions. And a lot of times people just thought that I’m a girl, or at least a very young guy (like 12-13 when I was 18-20). And also that sometimes did damage to my passing. Mostly I can explain this by choices for the style, ‘cause it is very hard to find appropriate clothes in the men’s section (the logic of stores “If men wear other colors than basic – they’re gay or clown, or both.”).

In Ukraine, not a lot of people heard of Decora. In Romania, there are much more. During the Pride Park in Bucharest, several individuals asked me if am I wearing decora and I was impressed by this. My college teachers liked my style.

You decided to relocate to Romania. Why did you choose Bucharest when migrated because of the horrible war in Ukraine? I must say I was in Odesa. A nice city on the Black Sea.

It was my mother’s decision. Romania is the closest to Odesa and EU and NATO countries. I didn’t want to leave the city, but I had no choice because my mom needed help with the cats. And also I was exhausted by never-ending air raids and possible danger while working because my office is near the port and the building is made of not a very strong material. Yet, I have had nice experiences with Romania and Romanians so I’ve no regrets


You’ve been living in Odessa before moving to Bucharest and you worked with the local LGBT+ organization. How was it to be a queer activist in Odessa?

I think from many points of view Odesa is more humanly acceptable (if I can say this) than other areas in the country. People are more relaxed there. And also Ukrainians are generally calmer with this subject, probably a lot of people don’t care, and just a few don’t accept.

Our most failed pride was like that because Russian-sponsored far-right people were imported from all over the country and also there are some Russian orthodox activists. They attacked peaceful protesters (some of us were underaged at the time and some were left disabled). Also, some police officers were injured.

The following year pride was successful. All the protesters were safe and all aggressive far-rights were arrested and put into jail.

Fun fact: Odesa has had 5 LGBT+ oriented organizations, 3 of which are mostly trans-oriented. I volunteered in 4 of them. But because of the war, one of them stopped working completely.

How do you see yourself in the future? What do you plan?

Now I have an existential crisis after this question… My life showed me that I always need plans B, C, etc. My plans and expectations are usually ruined by circumstances, so I just float along the opportunities and situations.

If I would be able to live and find work in Romania – I’ll stay. Temporary I live in an LGBT+ shelter and it’s unknown how much longer they can keep us. If I have to move for better opportunities – I will choose between Norway and Canada.

I have a lot of interests, skills, and passion for learning. I would like to have a new education and other work occupation (I don’t know, maybe hairdressing, styling, music). But I still want to come back to Ukraine after the end of the war. I want to make my homeland a better place and to be happy again while living there.

You can find Matthew Krotov on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. All images copyright of Matthew Krotov. Please contact him for any reproduction.

Interview by Dominik Böhler.

Dominik Böhler is the assistant editor of GAY45. A 25 y.o., PhD candidate, passionate about the transcendence of science in the philosophical stance that emphasizes the individual and social potential and agency of human beings. Works in Vienna and from October he will relocate to England at the University of Oxford where to continue the DPhil (doctoral) programme in Information, Communication, and the Social Sciences. Böhler does not have a social media presence.


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