POLISH GOTHIC GALERIA DIZAJN BWA WROCﾅ、W 2015
— Katarzyna Roj p. 9
— Michał Niechaj p. 12
— Maldoror p. 37
— Oluhi p. 55
— Paulina Plizga p. 77
— Sylwia Rochala p. 89
— Anka Herbut p. 117
— Bios p. 155
INTRODUCTION ——— Katarzyna Roj
Katarzyna Roj By way of introduction We are the dressed beasts In the spring of 2014, we opened the Polish Gothic exhibition in the BWA Dizajn Gallery. The exhibition curators, Michał Grzegorzek and Michał Niechaj, decided to showcase the works of four Polish designers – Maldoror, oluhi, Paulina Plizga and Sylwia Rochala. Today, we are presenting the publication documenting both the exhibition and the actions that preceded it or emerged as its immediate results. This exhibition would not have come into being if it had not been anteceded by the gallery-based Polish Wardrobe 90_10 project run by Michał Niechaj since 2011. Its purpose was to document the current situation of Polish fashion design. The starting point was provided by the transformation of the political system in Poland and the gallery’s programme which presents design in relation to the material and visual culture as well as the presentday needs of both artists and users. A wide range of activities included a series of questions and answers sessions with the invited designers and the audience, film screenings, workshops for children, creation of the Polish fashion archives and search for the right language to describe new phenomena which incorporate both design and experiences of everyday life. The attention was largely focused on the authors whose activity had formed the image of Polish alternative fashion scene – Maldoror, oluhi, Paulina Plizga, Marcin Podsiadło, as well as brands such as Cock’n’bullstory, Hyakinth, Marios. All of them visited Wrocław with heavily stuffed suitcases, the contents of which represented a genuine exemplification of their work. Open to a lively discussion with the audience, they shared their experiences and insights. During those meetings, the media-driven distance in fashion discourse was reduced to a minimum. We were able to explore the theoretical, manufacturing and visual aspects of their projects. At the same time, we accompanied them in their studios and during the professional presentations of their collections. This cooperation between the curators and the designers was complemented by the photographic documentation,
which has eventually formed a visual library, which is partially presented on the following pages. The Polish Gothic publication comprises only a part of our rich documentation. The intention of the curators was to perform the editorial work on the content and demonstrate those visual and theoretical tropes which constitute a credible context for this specific project activity. The choice of designers, both for the purpose of the exhibition and this publication, has not been accidental. The presentation of a wide range of creative approaches in Polish contemporary fashion (the Polish Wardrobe exhibition, 2013) turned out to be just the prelude for an in-depth analysis of a particular phenomenon, for which we managed to coin a catchy term, namely the Polish Gothic. However, we shared both apprehension and enthusiasm towards it. Luckily, the intuition did not fail us â€“ all the designers selected for the project, despite the understandable distance for such a â€šlabelâ€™, acknowledged it as a reflection of their inspirations. This syncretistic and ambiguous denominator perfectly highlights both their personal attitude as well as and the nature of this informal group. They share the common iconography, preference for materials and perception of fashion design, as well as dramatic tension between the environment and the human body, naked and demanding appropriate clothing. Despite the different strategies of converting such dark fantasy into the product as well as the other work models, a coherent group of objects belonging to the same kingdom has evidently emerged.
POLISH GOTHIC ——— Michał Niechaj
Michał Niechaj Polish Gothic
The title of the exhibition presented in the BWA Dizajn Gallery (April – May 2014) may be associated either with the name of the typeface or the concept derived from architectural lexicon. Both of these connotations would not have been accidental. In order to write down the biography of Polish fashion design after 1989, we had to try to forge concepts in a language that has not been fully formed yet. In the end, our goal was to capture a certain style in contemporary Polish fashion. The latter has already been described in some preliminary, albeit incomplete, collective summaries. So the time has come to take the risk. The idea for the Polish Gothic exhibition was born in the process of preparation of the previous one entitled Szafa Polska (The Polish Wardrobe) which took place in BWA Dizajn Gallery, 2013. It turned out that the attempt of historical synthesis in such form is doomed to deficiencies. To our surprise, we observed as an area, which we considered to be developed enough to urgently demand exposure, is not accustomed to exhibiting. Some artists, recognized as the leading representatives of Polish fashion, did not even show any interest in that kind of reception. Only a few of them disposed of necessary archives. Collecting fifty projects to appear on the show turned out to be almost a miracle and was full of compromises. With surprise, we can conclude that the archives of Polish fashion do not exist, in some cases even those referring to the previous season. So maybe this area is not as mature as we originally thought, and it is better to look at the piece using the name that appears to be deliberately old-fashioned. Do we even have any national design schools nowadays? Besides, it would be probably a lot safer to showcase the achievements of the four invited designers without imposing any label to the whole undertaking. Even if not considered Gothic after all, you cannot fail to notice some similarities – if not aesthetic than certainly the programme-based ones – which are reflected in their design, work ethics and areas of inspiration. Sometimes it
is reflected in the overall mood of the collection, the collection of meanings; another time it might be the frame of the show or even the name of the collection. Bearing in mind that the number of common features almost equals the number of differences, we cherish a sincere belief that the dice is loaded in the favour of the similarities. Our guests have also supported this approach. Designer oluhi commented the fact that her projects got showcased side by side next to Maldoror in the following way: Together with Grzesiek we have come to the conclusion that our clothes like each other. The same counts for the collections by Plizga and Rochala, which were already presented together at Grzegorz Matląg’s showroom for many years before, and now they are available at the Palace showroom in the centre of Warsaw. It is symptomatic that somewhere in the beginning of their career paths all the aforementioned designers implemented some sort of an upcycling element. This approach reminds of the rebirth of Polish fashion – in the ‘90s and the first decade of the twenty-first century – which tried to create something from nothing on the ruins of the discontinued tradition of dressmaking and destroyed national textile industry. No coincidence that those designers presented their collections at the Fashion Week in Łódź, which tried to consolidate the disintegrated environment including independent Polish designers. The OFF section, and also finally the main avenue of the Fashion Week Poland, were the first places where one could observe the maturation of Polish avant-garde fashion trend. The projects of Maldoror, oluhi and Paulina Plizga were at first compared to the tradition of deconstructive fashion, especially the Japanese one. Perhaps this is why they were so successful and popular in Japan (especially Plizga and oluhi). The Japanese accent is also to be found in Rochala’s work – the designer developed her interest in traditional boro fabric techniques. While trying to understand those, at first glance, pretty exotic references, we come across a specific local situation. It is true that we used to have Polish Fashion (Moda Polska), a legendary clothing brand, but have we ever encountered a specimen of professional fashion design in Poland? Breaks, starting from scratch, no education – all these factors can be identified while looking at the fashion shows of contemporary Polish designers. It is
not difficult to guess that this consciously promoted state defines our identity. It is deliberately highlighted by foreign media spectators who focus their gaze on the local markets. However, the decentralization is progressing and it is difficult not to talk about the prevailing atmosphere of disappointment. All the designers presented at our exhibition were actually missing during the last edition of the Fashion Week Poland. Grzegorz Matląg has recently left the country, Paulina Plizga has decided not to return at all and oluhi has given up design. They speak openly about the illusory nature of the Polish market and the pressure concerning the preparation of new collections, even if such need does not coincide with the actual demand and sales. Art for art’s sake – unfortunately, this motto could be applied to the situation of many domestic brands, which represent the clothing industry after all, so their products should be destined for marketing and use. However, the above mentioned realities are echoed by the common trend presented at many Polish museums and galleries which aims at equating fashion with art, probably in order to valorize it. The same applies to the language used to describe it which is extensively rooted in art criticism. It is true that the artistic activity is generally much more respected by the consumers of culture. It seems to us, however, that with respect to such almost dramatic trading condition as it is, the best option would be to include Polish fashion again in the family of industrial design disciplines. The question remains, how to define fashion and at the same time not to shove it down to the ambiguity of etymology and references to such expressions as trendy or fashionable? Apparently, the motto of the fashion design school in Antwerp (considered to be the cradle of the European avant-garde fashion) states: We do not make clothes, we make fashion. Maybe the ontic status of fashion – prone to objectifying gaze – is best illustrated by the effects of photo sessions. It often happens that – except for the signature on the photo – the garments themselves seem invisible, fuzzy, remote or even located outside the frame. Fashion can, therefore, become invisible, also in the sense that it requires grasping its true nature, meaning a thorough comprehension of its cultural references to a particular culture (or subcultures) and its approach to the body. Such bibliography can be found in the first book of the Bible, where
the biblical God is depicted as a first designer and human skin represents a response to sin and shame. Even The Emperor’s New Clothes fairy tale by Andersen poses the question of who gazes at fashion. A naked king or a child (who has not yet undergone the process of culturisation)? Fashion provides here – apart from the requirements of culture and nature – the context for clothes, which have already turned into a part of the lifestyle’s pop aesthetics of equal importance as fitness and plastic surgery. Were those kinds of lifestyle and design categories born in Poland after 1989? Let us look back for a moment in order to embed the phenomenon of the Polish Gothic in the history. We know that fashion in Polish People’s Republic represented a creative vent, even if not for the whole society, then for at least for one person. This person was Jerzy Antkowiak, a leader of Moda Polska (Polish Fashion) brand. The mere fact of the designer’s professional fulfillment – with an emphasis on the individual – was intended to represent a sufficient evidence of a normal functioning of the design in the frame of the communist system. Antkowiak tried to create collections dedicated strictly to the catwalk, while the sole national fashion house was selling completely different, ready-to-wear and political – satisfying mass needs – garments. On the other hand, there was also Barbara Hoff, whose almost private activity hid the fact that the state was constantly trying to suppress independent crafts while, paradoxically, it promoted design and do-it-yourself products. Therefore, even if necessarily affiliated in the unions, a strong, independent craftsmen infrastructure existed until 1989, coupled with the para-tailoring skills developed by most of the Polish people due to the economic situation. Meanwhile, both Antkowiak (in his book entitled Secrets of fashionable ladies, published in the early ‘90s) and Hoff (in the TV document called Polish Wardrobe 1945-1989) emphasized the fact that the last decade of the twentieth century symbolized the demise of Polish fashion (or rather the demise of Moda Polska) which definitely ended when Chinese products flooded the market. To this day, the situation of the textile industry (tailoring, shoemaking, pursemaking, millinery) has not been significantly changed and all of the above occupational groups are on the endangered
list. Production and manufactory, with few exceptions, have been replaced by disposable product repair services. At this point, we can make a psychosocial hypothesis that the Polish wardrobe – which remained cut off from the world for 44 years – has finally opened up to import, and what had been already there, has suddenly become so familiar and boring that could be no longer considered attractive. Thus, the same trail can be used to explain the phenomenon of neologisms in the names of start-up companies which all went for the mandatory English-sounding suffix -ex. The last decade of the twentieth century in Poland could be generally regarded as a focus on complexes treatment and completing western labels. There is another difficulty in the construction of Polish fashion history. The cognitive problem stems from the unique way this field of design has emerged because the access to the reality of fashion is based on the media. Few of us have direct contact with artistic design and invitations to fashion shows are mostly sent to journalists (apart from the people from the fashion industry, clients and celebrities) so they can pass the images to the rest of the world. Not to mention the fact that the contemporary fashion – which does not have any dedicated museums in a way the historical costumes do – only recently has started to mark its presence in exposition space and a growing number of publications. Thanks to this situation it is possible to replace its exclusive, commercial purpose with a purely aesthetic, egalitarian valorisation. Contemporary fashion studies are based primarily on information instead of tangible stitches and textiles. Recently born Polish fashion needs – apart from schools which will educate professional designers – the parallel emergence of a magazines market and subject matter experts. Finally, the virtual reality and structured media have formed the legitimate fashion cosmos where, along with the proliferation of niches, the texts about those niches slowly start to appear. The scarce books on the history of fashion in Poland have commemorated the death of Moda Polska brand with a decade of silence. Maybe this story is still too recent? Or maybe the 1990s are actually a symbol of fashion desert in Poland with few oases or even just mirages? Therefore, the more it is worth to mention a few important events of that time in the
world fashion without which it is impossible to understand the local ones. Revolutionary, in retrospect, was the Belgian-Japanese success in the late 1980s: the Antwerp Six with Martin Margiela and parallel collections of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto (not forgetting the Issey Miyake brand). The beginning of the ‘90s was very strongly – what is often surprisingly highlighted – impacted by the grunge aesthetics, which was used by Marc Jacobs and lobbied by the influential American editors and a new wave of fashion photography. What may seem important to us, is an interesting fact that grunge was the first subculture of the ‘90s which echoed in democratic Poland that did not have any ideological fulfillment but only aesthetic value. Punk-like, but without its political core, it proved to be the first example of how to cite youth authenticity and understate the age of fashion. In this deconstructive atmosphere – where an example could go from the bottom up – ‘the flower of Polish fashion’s decay had to bloom’ (Grzegorz Matląg has coined this expression to describe his brand Maldoror). The fashion category in terms of the four designers presented at Wrocław exhibition extends also to the interdisciplinary activities. Maldoror has designed furniture in collaboration with Anna Szczęsna (who worked together with Urszula Wasielewska on the set design of the exhibition). He has also experience, just as Paulina Plizga or oluhi, with producing costumes for theatres and dance groups. Sylwia Rochala, in turn, has started her own magazine. Since each of them is still professionally active at various levels, it was not our goal to narrow their aesthetic field with a category derived straight from the history of art. Given all these facts, why would Gothic provide a point of intersection of the separate paths they have chosen in their approach to design? The term gothic fashion is, of course, as capacious as problematic. The West designers who get lumped together under this category (because that is where the term goth fashion triumphs) often struggle with being pigeonholed. Despite this fact, fashion critics persistently use the term in relation to their projects. This example is also a metaphor for curatorial work itself, which must –despite of the necessary simplifications – name and group certain phenomena. The four designers asked about the Polish Gothic term agreed
to it with a similar attitude. As did not want to leave the exhibition without the title or the proposed clothing set without any comment, we decided to choose such expression which would broaden the field of possible clues and references. Subjecting their heritage to interpretation, we do not need to cling to the obvious associations that they offer us. That is why we allowed ourselves to confront their references and visual material with the readings of culture in its various aspects. The fragments of horror movies, quotes from science fiction, occult art, medieval architecture, religious symbolism, apocalyptic folk, subcultural codes and romance – all that required a viewer; somebody to connect to the works of designers in the perception process. The purposeful excess and looped stream of references – in the form of photo and video projections – enabled the multifactorial perception of meanings of the Gothic category. During the exhibition, the fragments of the sessions and fashion shows were continuously mixed with references suggested by the designers and complemented by the curators. No power over the allusions that were produced each time the audience visited the exhibition, seemed to be the only way to avoid pinning the designers like insects in the cabinet. We hope that also according to the visitors those moments were – after Les Chants de Maldoror by Lautréamont – as beautiful as a coincidental meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table. Finally, it is impossible to ignore a deep human dimension of this whole project. The friendship and mutual assistance of Anita, Grzesiek, Paulina and Sylwia – as opposed to the stereotypical opinion about this professional group – strengthens our faith in the existence of Polish Gothic, whatever historical significance may it gain.
It is difficult not to induce shock in Poland ——— Michał Grzegorzek
It is difficult not to induce shock in Poland You are one of the most recognizable Polish designers, making it also the most commented. Do you have any problem with the emerging definitions of your creativity? : I do not mind the definitions. Even these uncomfortable and hardly acceptable ones are important for both consumers and creators themselves. The problem is, unfortunately, that most of those attempts undertaken here, in Poland, are very superficial. I would say the main reasons for that are insufficient knowledge of the realities of my work and amateurism of critics, even those involved in the fashion journalism. People outside the world of fashion seem to possess greater sensitivity in determining my work. The casual recipients, who have encountered my projects for the very first time, or people involved in art, design and generally wider humanities, tend to be closer to the truth than the fashion experts.
Me and Michał Niechaj represent such a duo. Our interests extend from fashion to issues closely related to cinema, art history or even pop culture. When I talk about black romanticism, he immediately counters with techno culture; I mention Gothic, he responds with cyberpunk. The Polish
Gothic exhibition represents a common place for all those attempts to gather various threads together. : My inspirations intertwine with all these possible interpretations of the term Gothic.I created collections directly referring to the Middle Ages, inspired by sci-fi or gothic symbolism reworked by pop culture. My fascination with the used and damaged fabrics refers to the approach of people from the Middle Ages, when every piece had its own value and clothes were repaired until their complete decomposition. Some ideas refer visually to the medieval costumes like, for example, liturgical vestments, but also to the clothing of the poor – holed and damaged. The selection of materials – wool, silk, linen – also finds its source in the medieval period. In the Spirit of 69 collection, which refers to homosexual fantasies about skinheads, you can definitely discern the cyberpunk or sci-fi aesthetic. Military cuts are sewn in modern shiny fabrics, typically associated with a slightly tacky dystopian visions originating from films or books from the 1980s. The symbolic art has certainly had an impact on the Asphyxiation or Mary of Magdala collections (both concern the form of a woman, in the first case, Ophelia, in the second Mary Magdalene), in which one may find Pre-Raphaelite visions of women. It is impossible to be cut off from your own interests,
knowledge and experience. I never try to restrict myself thematically in my work, which certainly complicates the determination of specific sources of direct inspirations. Certainly I do not feel ashamed of the Gothic label, but only with the assumption of all the complexities and different possibilities of interpretation. Unfortunately, the common perception of the Gothic concept, especially in fashion, is very restricted and basically limited to the phenomenon rooted in the gothic subculture. At the exhibition held at the Dizajn Gallery, your works have been put on display next to the projects made by Sylwia Rochala, Paulina Plizga, oluhiâ€Ś : For me it is a natural society, not only because I am acquainted with their works, but I know them personally. I think each of us fits the Polish Gothic idea, although in a different way. On the other hand, it would be difficult to imagine any other names in this group, as well as the lack of any of us. I will just add that I have their garments in my wardrobe, so it is not just about being a passive fan of their work. It is not hard to notice that your private life largely affects the collections or individual projects. Especially you emphasize this relationship. You live where you work, you work where you
live. You are not an anonymous producer. Your personality provides a distinct statement. : Without a doubt, the work is a natural state for me. Ideas usually just pop up, I do not have to search the Internet or think of what to do next, I do not make notes to write down my inspirations. Unrealized projects just prove the fact that the term of their usefulness has passed and I am somewhere else now. I have worked on my brand always entirely alone. Therefore, not only the garments count, but also the numerous shows, sessions or PR activity, which has always been a very important part of the brand. I regard publicity, often labelled as scandalous by the mass media, as a way to seize the opportunities they create by commenting on the current state of fashion or socalled culture in Poland. What is sad, but completely natural, is that people involved in this mechanism are not usually able to apprehend that they are the victims, not me. I have to admit that I always believed in the no PR is bad PR principle. Therefeore, my public behaviour could be described as black PR. You escaped to Berlin and Polish media are not longer interested in you. : At this point, I start a different mode of operation and positioning of my work, so it is natural that this
change affects everything around me. This is related in particular to my private plans and moving to Berlin. Please note that my business is not a local tailoring workshop, but it requires creation of the whole brand image. It offers you a wide variety of means of communication with the customer. I think I have always shown a strong critical standpoint towards all kinds of standards â€“ some call it punk, others nihilism or sarcasm. It is hard to say whether the garments can carry a large amount of information and people are just the ones who are incapable of reading the code. Are you quitting fashion? : I feel like my work becomes less and less associated with fashion. I mostly work within its boundaries, I am coerced to be a part of it. It is strange, but it is noted also by the people who do not even especially know my work. I would compare my current activity to the proffesion of tailors at the royal courts in Europe in the past, when the reception of fashion was different. Maldoror â€“ a royal tailor?
: You know, you create your vision, you have the confidence of the client, but it is still a very personal interaction between the creator and the customer, even if this client lives only in your
imagination. I create my garments here and now, according to the specific needs, lifestyle, trends, but also my own interpetation of all those factors. The best example of is Berghain, where people collide fashion with their real needs, which needs determine their presence there in the first place. And what are the needs of Berghain? Comfortable, but sexy. Your outfit has to make an impression, but it can not distract from the personality. The garments should be perfectly balanced with the individual. Everyone there is different. It sounds rather more like a description of a modern fashionable individualist... : Well, yes, but with the difference that in Berghain you are dealing with the real contemporary elite. Such Kupisz, for instance, can stand there, at the most, in the corner because nobody will pay attention to him. Even Galliano, who has reportedly appeared there once, has been completely ignored. Overdressed people drop out. This is not so obvious, but at the same time it is very easy though. Just dress up, but do not overdo it by considering whether the clothing is fashionable or impressive. It is just a little more than a simple outfit. If you have a need for
attention, it will definitely ruin your evening. If you just dress the way you like it and you do not have a problem with the fact that some people might not accept it, it will be a good way to go. In Berghain, the outfit is not only about clothing, but also about the body and the conciously controlled nudity. It is evident that the less garments, the more important the choice. The clothing emphasizes the body or is it equally important? : It depends on the person because the personality overwhelms everything. The clothing is only the complement, the body as well. The most difficult thing is to strike the right balance, but it is actually the key element. I think the Poles find it difficult to understand because we are unsure of ourselves. On the other hand, paradoxically, we want to show by all means that it is not true. Why is there so much controversy in the country around your person? Is it easier to experiment and shock in Poland than anywhere else? : It is difficult not to induce shock in Poland. Especially when my projects only emphasize the anxieties – and I mean all my collections – that are deeply hidden by the society instead of promoting common values, underlining them. All those controversies,
however, refer to the issues related to bodies and sexuality. All the disputes are rooted in those matters. The vast majority of Polish society expects fashion to be transparent and easily available in the big retail chains, somewhere between McDonalds and a newspapers stand. Fashion is not much different from other design disciplines, taking into account the issue of sizing the product up, regardles of the fact whether it is a garment, graphic or chair. However, this particular dimension is at the bottom of many fashion discourses because of its controversy. Many designers are accused of promoting anorexia. Is there only one body size in fashion? : As a designer, I usually set a pattern to begin with. The question of the body is a cultural issue that has not been settled in other areas, fashion is only an afterimage. It is definitely not a problem of the client or fashion project itself. I always make the assumption that the customer has to look good, according to my sensibility, but also good in terms of this person’s environment. Recently, I am less and less interested in a mainstream ideal, I do not follow it. Truthfully, I have never much did. I remember one conversation with Małgorzata Baczyńska. She demand-
ed right away that I do not ask why she does not design clothes for people in her size. She added that clothes look simply better on slim people. : That is true. It is like asking a furniture designer to adjust the width of the chair by 10% because it would better suit the table. Fashion is all about selling dreams and, unfortunately, a lot of people can not cope with reality. You have to remember that the designer is not obliged to satisfy everyone. Fashion is not a public good. On the contrary, there are continuous efforts to sell fashion as something within reach of everyone only because of financial profits. However, having money is not enough to be able to consume fashion. I often tend to think that this is actually what I do. It is not easy to buy something of mine, but I do not perceive it as a problem. If someone does not care, I do not care neither. I have no aspirations to create trends and dress everybody. But yet you participate in projects that sell such dreams. Let me just mention, for instance, the Fashion Week Poland held in Łódź with very skinny models on the catwalk.
: In a sense, when it comes to women, it is a standard. With men it is different. But I do not want to emphasize the gender dimension, or even the
feminist one in this case. Generally speaking, it is a matter of organization. When it comes to proportions, I also prefer to sew all garments in one size and skip all the fitting and figuring out how to find the right models or to be politically correct. On the other hand, there is a specific vision that each designer wants to meet. Really very much depends on the context in which the collections are presented. In my case, the ideals of the female and male body are two completely different stories. I refer to women from a completely different angle than I do when it comes to men. I think it is much easier for me to be vulgar in relation to a male figure, than a female one. A woman for you is either Marie Magdalene, Pre-Raphaelite nymph or sexy cyborg. And who is a man? : Definitely both women and men are strong characters, but while creating a menswear I mainly think about the clothes that I would either want to wear myself or see other men wearing them. You can not avoid sexual connotation here. Fashion has become highly seasonal. We are constantly told what are the current must-haves of the season. So tell us the magazines and so say the designers flirting with large retail chains.
: For an adequate sum I may also say so. For at least ten years, fashion has been run by concerns. Corporations are governed by the principles of business and nothing else. Designers need money to carry out their projects, and these are huge amounts we are talking about. This is how the mass market looks like. So how would you describe the group of contemporary Polish designers who do not cooperate with any concerns? Is it a margin of fashion? Its reverse? : Polish designers are not even a margin. These are basically small workshops making dresses for wealthy women from small towns or tiny companies trying to sew cheaper than the Chinese. Todayâ€™s market is merciless. Poland has never been a part of it besides being the point of sales. Are you not too cruel? What with your Polish Gothic friends? : Oluhi is out of conversation because Anita does not perceive herself the least bit a part of fashion. Paulina is an artist and her work is closer to haute couture, which today merely belongs to the PR sphere, not business. I think Sylwia works similarly to me or somewhere in between it all. However, none of us can be compared to the well-
known fashion houses and designers. They work differently, because their conditions are different. Certainly our greatest asset is that, despite the adverse circumstances, we have found our own way of survival and development, and this context has also influenced the way we design our projects. Could you compare this situation to some other design disciplines? : Furniture designers, for example, do not need to organize a show with 20 models every season, for which you need to pay a deposit. They visit fairs, bring new models and present them. They do not have to produce each product in several sizes. I think that the amounts are not comparable. It makes no sense, however, to list all the differences or similarities because there are a lot of issues to be mentioned. Fashion in Poland is treated as something trivial, frivolous, and definitely not worth the price it costs. On the contrary, streetwear brands raise a furore. : Streetwear brands just make it worse because they prove that you can sell cheaply. People do not see the difference between a gray printed sweatshirt and a dress on request. Both are from fashion designers, so why the prices are not the same...
Exactly, why? : Because the amount of work devoted to the design process is different, the materials cost more. But you do not design streetwear fashion, neither do I, so I guess we can not make such assumptions? : I think we can. There are different sorts of design, but designing prints can not be compared to designing collections. The whole preparation of new cutouts and solutions takes time, skills and money. I do not want to belittle anyone, but you can not compare streetwear, especially the Polish one, with fashion design and fashion collections. There are two separate worlds. What is it like to work with individual clients? Let us imagine that a woman comes and says that she is going to a ball and wants to have a beautiful dress?
: No, nothing like that. They usually ask for something specific, what they have already seen and found interesting. I would then design something in a certain style or try to address someone’s particular need. For example, more pants! I get commissioned to design a casual dress, but with a number of requirements. I do not prepare completely new things for individual customers.
I do not know anyone, who would be able to afford it. It takes a lot of work to complete a personalized commision from scratch. Although I would not say ‘no’ if someone approached me with such an idea. Have you ever taken any strange orders? : There are no bizarre demands, they only happen to be formulated in a strange way. Sometimes I meet nescient customers and I have to refuse to execute their projects. However, people usually wish the same. I treat my job a little bit like a doctor’s appointment. These needs are deeply rooted. It is not only about clothes. People want to express something about themselves, but they also want to feel fulfilled. Good clothes can completely change human behaviour. How often do you have to compromise? : All my work is based on compromise. I mostly assume that I do not get what I want and I have to look for other solutions, but it is always a challenge. The point is to turn it into a real art. How would Maldoror’s opus magnum look like? : I think I am just inherently unable to accomplish such a project. Every-
thing I do is always in progress and the process itself is never finished. I am never able to tell if this is already the ultimate dimension of my work. I am rarely accompanied by the thoughts telling me that something is perfect and cannot be improved. So the idea of opus magnum is a completely opposite concept to the way I work. However, I dream of creating liturgical vestments someday, such really high-end ones...
No one will get you there ——— Michał Grzegorzek
No one will get you there I will start with a definition. Many artists have trouble with them. Especially if these definitions are formulated by critics. Is it possible to contextualize your work, to label it? What do you think? : I do not use definitions. I do not look for descriptions. I leave them to others. My work results primarily in visual effects, so, therefore, it is naturally defined. However, if people comment on my work because they just feel the urge to define it somehow, then go ahead. I have no problem with that. The Polish Gothic exhibition is an attempt to define, among other things, your work. This term is very vaque because it references to the medieval style in art, worship of irrational elements, horror novels and films or Japanese deconstruction fashion and techno. How would you place your activity in the context of these phenomena? : I do not place myself nowhere at all. The most inspiring elements are those which are usually pushed to the side, those which slide in shadow.
How does the selection of materials look like â€“ what is the major rule of
this process? There is a popular opinion that a significant percentage of Polish designers use the same fabrics, because it is difficult to find anything at all. Is it really a problem? : I usually begin with the selection of the materials and I have no problems at this stage. This is exactly this phase of work which I like the most because I feel that I excel in something (laugh). Then, usually, I stumble across the stairs and I fall of them, but it is only later... I always choose fabrics which can be considered as the most friendly to us. I avoid synthetics. Why carry them on yourself if you are already overexposed to dangerous chemicals after all? What is the purpose of initiating the global scandal surrounding Bisphenol A, if we are constantly dealing with many other similar chemicals these days and no one cares about this fact? Well, maybe except for the activists, but they are already considered to be a little bit too sensitive... Some things can not be probably changed in this world, but fortunately some of us were born in the preplastic era... I am so smart because I have recently read Breasts by Florence Williams and I have chemists friends who are willing to talk about it. Threfore, the choice of materials is simple for me: linen, cotton, wool, cotton, linen, wool, cotton... They all offer endless possibilities. I do not go for polyesters, polyamides, polycarbonates. The most
I am glad when I can select textiles from the manufacturers themselves â€“ some of them produce even some small orders on request. However, this is just the beginning as there is still a long way down the spiral staircase before the finished garments are ready. And what about the production? Do you sew your clothes or do you collaborate with professional tailors? Does it actually make any significant difference as per the process itself ? : Oh, and here begin my stairs... The formation process is very tedious. During the internship at Srula Rechtâ€™s studio, I actually saw how many people work on the implementation of the whole collection. This is a collective work. The work gets done thanks to completion of many different stages: brainstorming, production of samples, toils, working patterns and numerous forms in non-stop updated copies as well as the final execution of all garments on the old Juki sewing machine placed at the studio. There are a lot of very different sewing machines there and each one is useful. At work any form sketched on the paper seems beautiful. Just as the daily meetings and research... But of course this is how it looks like if you have money. If you do not have the budget, everything takes on much less spectacular proportions. However, even just one machine and
a passion will do, you can easily handle the rest of it... Sometimes you just need one or two people. And it does not necessarily affect the quality. Quality comes from passion and discipline. And the most important thing is not to despair, no matter what. To remember that you are not the only one going through this process. Even if it is damn hard and you want to give in... I did it once. I do not wish it to anyone. Before that, however, I was lucky to work with talented women and I thank them for being willing to listen to me at all. As far as the manufacturing process is concerned, how close are the final results to what you had previously designed in 2D? How do your projects usually emerge: do you stick faithfully to graphic or do you act directly on fabrics and experiment until you achieve a satisfactory form? : I love to start on paper, but then set off to 3D â€“ fortunately or unfortunately. The concepts themselves may appear on paper or they can as well arise on the fabric. Everything is smooth and there are no explicit rules. Sometimes you want to hold on to the lifeline, but sometimes you want to let it go. A man would be a machine, if things were otherwise. Emotions are always crucial because they indicate shapes and forms. It is immediately apparent whether someone is guided by emotions. If this
person calculates or is emotional, but premeditated, it is recognized immediately. A drawing symbolizes a separate entity to me: when a dash appears, it gets so inspiring that you can barely stand it. I would always modify some things! This is perhaps a curse, because how much can you change a drawing? Everything gets delayed and all, but that is just me... I struggle with this attitude. I often change so many details that I have to go back to square one. It is good to be able to photograph the process to always revert to the past state as in Photoshop. Sometimes it would possible to make even a hundred parallel projects on such occassion, because the process does not proceed linearly. Your experience as an architect is certainly relevant to your work. Does the knowledge gained in this field translate into fashion design? Is interior design, beyond the obvious differences, very different from fashion design? And if so, what is the most important difference to you?
: Well, these two design disciplines are practically the same â€“ only the scale is different. We use similar tools: rulers, splines, pencils, pens, knives, paper, paints, and other treasures, so basically all that you can bring or carry to the studio in order to reach your goals. There are some deadlines, endings, relations as well. The scale is certainly different, but
it gets covered with dust just as badly as a construction site... In both cases, you need to acquire some technical skills, read a little bit about the history, talk to the right people and necessarily show some admiration. You have to take the delight in it! Or hate it. Some of the clothes designed by you seem to shift the boundary of profanum and everyday use. I remember that the theatrical costumes designed by you could only be touched by one person in gloves: the idea was to not damage the boundary between the dancerâ€™s body and the costume. Can such dress intimacy be combined with the mystical values? Do these clothes seem liturgical to you? : Those costumes, about which you are talking about, were designed for To-En in accordance with her requirements for the maintenance of the costume, and above all, its relationship with the body of the dancer. It has nothing to do with the sacredness. It concerns a characteristic approach of a Butoh dancer to costume as a â€˜a second skin, which is used body, which is used in the course of the dance. This may sound convoluted, but in fact it is a very nice and practical set of principles. To-En has learned them from her master. They have nothing to do with sacrum. How did your collaboration with To-
: To-En returned to Poland after a long stay in Sweden, where she studied Butoh with Su-En. She picked up Machina magazine and read about oluhi there. She wrote to me and sent her first performance entitled White. I turned it on and it fascinated me. Actually, there was almost nothing happening there. Beautiful light and a kind of slow softness. Of course I agreed to cooperate. We started to work together, which was a great opportunity to learn a lot from ourselves. We have become good friends. To-En works this way â€“ she creates bonds. I like that.
are supposed to be used and worn by someone, you start thinking about this person and try to live up to the expectations. Not only my ego is important, but also the thoughts of others. All forms, shapes, colours emerge from them. I have always loved that idea and I have found a sense in it for myself. I examine how people feel in their clothes, what are their thoughts, needs, goals. I wonder how will those clothes look like on them after many years of active living, because those clothes are obviously not made of steel. The garments will surely alter the form and I know that it is possible to predict this change to some extent. The most complicated things must be, above all, comfortable. They must perform their function. All we do is for the people, about the people and by the people.
And what is your system of work? Do you create relationships or do you rather run away from them? You make the impression of a person who likes to escape, isolate and work from a distant place...
MichaĹ‚ Niechaj has selected four designers for the Polish Gothic exhibition. Your works have been put on display next to those of Sylwia Rochala, Paulina Plizga and Maldoror. What do you think of such company?
: I have a predilection for solitude, but I love relationships. I start relations immediately whenever it is possible. I want to make friends at once. After all, we all work for other people: you seem to do something because of an internal need, yet it is done for others. When you prepare garments that
: It is probably an honour to be among them. Gothic or not, whatever you call it. I know all of them very well (except for Sylwia â€“ we have never met before) and I appreciate them for their talent, passion and hard work. Whether we can be pigeonholed, it is not up to me to judge.
En start? What was the most fascinating thing about her work? Did To-En find anything interesting in your projects?
Who would you define as a good designer in relation to design and fashion? : I think the rule is the same for each designer, regardless of industry. A good designer is someone who just keeps amazing us. You do not even have to understand design, to intellectualize it. It has to strike you, fulfill something in you. But we have different dreams, different thresholds and we are captivated by different things. In times of universal access to information everything enhances and multiplies... And there are also voices saying that it is now extremely difficult for people to get amazed. I do not agree with this notion. Although I have difficulty with falling in such state, I still remember what it feels like to be excited. In my case it happens mostly when I ask: ‘Hey, but how is it done?’. When I look at a seahorse living on corals, I think: ‘Wow, how is it done?’ When I look at men’s clothing like, for instance, a habit à la française from 1770-1780, I think: ‘Hey, it seems like a really basic form, but these cuts give a real wow effect – how is it done?’. I love all those secrets.
In the 1960s, Ken Garland wrote that designers should concentrate all design efforts on education and public tasks that promote the betterment of society. Do you agree with this
conception? Is fashion capable of managing such challenges? : Gosh, people have really complicated this subject... For me it is simple: Beauty, Durability and Usability. This formula was so often repeated at the Academy of Fine Arts that at some point I had enough of it, but now I know that it is truly essential. A kind of milk that every designer or creator must drink. On the other hand, if a designer drinks this sort of milk, it does not imply that he or she must necessarily become immune to viruses and bacteria of commercialism. The waves will throw him somewhere far away, but as soon as he can stop and think for a moment, look around and become enthused by, for example, an ordinary pencil, he is not going to want to participate in this farce of excess and senselessness any longer. Maybe he will choose to follow this exhausting, miserable, bumpy path with a stick instead of cane. Sooner or later, he will reach the finish line and realize how beautiful his stick is. And then he will tell his children that he did something useful, durable and beautiful. We need things. However, we should just let them be beautiful and wise. We do not need much. Of course, the formula Beauty, Durability and Usability is one thing, but there is also the question: how does it relate to the environment? It is very important. We are all responsible for this world where we live and breathe.
We are accountable for what we did and what we will do. Beautiful, durable and useful things have a real educational value. There are some people to whom it is not enough and who want to give humanity the most out of themselves. Well, there is a nice scene in the Fargo series: a guy wants to give his whole existence to others because he thinks the world needs it. Yet the world does not need us at all! We only produce litter and poison the environment. Sometimes it happens that we manage to create a nice film. From time to time something nice comes out of our existence... One gets the impression that you have been absent in the ‘world of fashion’ for a long time. You do not appear at fashion shows any more. We also have not heard about any new collections so far. I do not want to be an inspector, because maybe it is just me not being aware of some things, but I wanted to ask you about your activity over the last few years – what have you been working on and why have you abandoned the participation in the Polish fashion scene? : What have I been dealing with? Well, I taught English. I gave lessons to groups of children, actually hundreds, thousands of them. At some point, I had enough of this whole design thing! I ran out of money and I could not afford
it anymore. The truth is, you can not climb to the mountain top and pick mushrooms all the way up. However, that was my own trodden path, the tree grew, and even the flower finally bloomed. When I destroyed it in anger and said ‘enough’, an invitation to the first edition of FashionPhilosophy Fashion Week Poland in Łódź arrived. So I went, I did what I had to do and went home. And that is it. I learned a lot from the cooperation with the Dune Agency from Tokyo, but I informed them politely that it is over. You should not do that. You should go on despite adversity and not to get discouraged by anything or anyone. Where is the brand oluhi today? In terms of its actual presence on the fashion/design market? : Today, oluhi is working on a new endeavour. What? How? Where? Soon there will be some more news around that. You gained your experience in many places, especially abroad. Can you tell us something about the fashion educational process in Poland and abroad? What was it like for you? : I do not know much about the education of fashion designers in Polandbecause I studied Interior Design. I had to discover everything by myself while
working with people, who knew this job. But it was a long way to go. I know for sure that the most important thing in art school education and defining who you are is freedom. You can go wherever you want. No one will get you there. Your projects are often characterized by quite complicated ‘architecture’. Let me quote Machina magazine: ‘Every thing designed by her reminds of a cataclysm full of fancy forms and broken structures’. How do you construct your figures? How does the production technology look like?
: What do I look for in a structure? I look for the structure itself. I do not know everything right away. I learn by experimenting, working on the project, conceptualizing, pulling different strings... Otherwise I would not do anything new. You can do some standard and uncomplicated things, but I think all those complication and cataclysm are only word replacements, excuses for the fear of unknown. Because who the hell said that, for example, sleeves are generally comfortable and nice? Bollocks. And here comes the guy that drank this aforementioned bottle of milk and begins to combine: I do not want this sleeve, it is ridiculous to put your hand into a sleeve after all! I will do it the other way around. Complication is an excuse for something that you do not really know, because it is scary, or it goes
far beyond your safety zone. Designers are destined to boost ideas rooted in their sensitivity in order to give people things which they, after all, approve. And from a purely technical side? : These are my secrets.
Tailoring is a universal language ——— Michał Grzegorzek
Tailoring is a universal language. Before I start contextualizing Paulina Plizgaâ€™s projects with regard to the Polish Gothic exhibition, I would like to know what is your attitude to all those critical attempts to define your work, to create the contexts of interpretation? : It is simple: my attitude depends on whether the definition is consistent with my feelings, what, of course, is quite subjective and I perfectly know it. Typically, the terms used by critics are accurate and I have rarely met with so-called overinterpretation. In addition, I tend to think that those accurate observations can be the key to further actions. It is pretty much obvious that negative criticism does not lift my spirits, but sometimes it can be constructive.
Together with MichaĹ‚ Niechaj we have taken up a difficult task to present the works of four Polish designers in the Polish Gothic context. The capacity of this concept is tempting, but unfortunately it does not facilitate the task. The term refers to a number of associations: the Gothic style in art and architecture, medieval philosophy, Gothic fiction (Gothic novel), black romanticism, symbolism, horror films, Japanese experiments and final-
ly the dark sci-fi style of post-punk techno version. How would you define your work against the backdrop of those phenomena? : The concept of Polish Gothic seems vague to me. According to me, it might as well denote the baroque, that is, a search for beauty in ugliness, turpism. I would describe this phenomenon as the aesthetic splendour of poverty. The neo-Gothic eclecticism, symbolism, romanticism and punk are very dear to me, but I never treat them literally. They provide both a sort of a background and a shell, but they do not constitute the content of my work. So how do you work? : The major source of inspiration is mainly my everyday life. Trivial activities such as collecting threads and scraps from the studio floor have become an impulse to the development of my own technique, which I called Nest. The final mood (or concept) signifies the result of research initiated by the original inspiration. With a handful of sewing trash a nest is formed, then I come across a Japanese legend about the Heron Maiden who wove the precious fabric from her feathers. The idea of nest refers to a number of meanings. Finally, I create a cocoon dress that is almost completely sewn from waste. For me, this process resembles organic
tailoring. Therefore, I am fascinated by the unusual materials such as cobwebs, ichthyosis or onion peelings. I would like to create garments from such materials. It sounds like a very poetic approach to design. : Yes, but the mood is built by a number of various factors: loud music from behind the wall, morning light coming through the curtains, encampments of homeless people, women finishing their make-up in the metro, childhood memories, travels... I do not know whether similar thoughts are shared by other designers like, for example, Maldoror, but we decided to exhibit your works next to his projects. : All designers who took part in the Polish Gothic exhibition are definitely my friends. I have very close relationships with some of them, we help each other and exchange experiences. I met Anita – oluhi many years ago in Paris. I came to her show in the Korczynski Gallery. We started to talk and quickly realised that we have many things in common. We use to meet in Cracow, if I am there on a visit. I like her very much, she means a lot to me, probably also because we were born on the exact same day. When it comes to Grzesiek, Maldoror, I used to meet him at parties
in Warsaw, but we did not talk much to each other. I had this strong impression that he preferred to keep the distance. We finally broke the ice when he first came to visit me in Paris. We spent a lot of time together and it turned out that we like each other’s company. We have started to exchange mutual opinions via the Internet ever since then. Following that, we also met in a hotel at the Fashion Week in Łódź, Poland. Grzegorz suggested adding my collection to his showroom located at Poznańska Street in Warsaw, which was very beneficial for me. Due to this decision, my creations have appeared in the fashion sessions. In comparison to Anita and Grzegorz, I know Sylwia at least. I met her at the Łódź Fashion Week. At first I felt a barrier between us, but Sylwia turned out to be a very helpful and selfless person. Moreover, her mother has even become my client after Sylwia showed her my collection at the Warsaw fairs. Regardless of the fact that you closely know each other, is there any sense of formal belonging to the group? : More or less – yes. I definitely feel a kind of common agreement with them. I notice a lot of similarities in our projects. On the other hand, I’ve always been a freelancer and belonging to any group has never been my priority. To be honest, this formation has not so much surprised me as it made me happy.
Its logical cohesion resembles of something modeled on the idea of a family. You might easily trace some joint features of this relationship such as similar design techniques (patchwork), reuse of materials, deconstruction, et cetera. Much is said about the differences between working for individual commercial customers and institutions involved in cultural activities. You have designed theatrical costumes. What is your experience in those fields?
: As far as my personal experience is concerned, both the commercial and the artistic customers fall very much under the same category. So far, I have been very lucky to be always offered the freedom of interpretation. I was able to do my work and happily create at the same time. However, the important criterion in both sectors, in addition to bright ideas, is the high quality of the work performance. An art concept allows for a crazy creativity, while a jacket has to be comfortable and warm in the first place. Its primary role is to be functional, the beauty is always on the second place. On the contrary, a costume may be ugly or even dirty if it is required by the role. Unfortunately, neither here the aspect of practicality can be overlooked – a costume has to be comfortable, not to mention its durability, so each time extreme exploitation and frequent washing have to be
taken into account. Each of these activities is both difficult and yet enjoyable. On the other hand, average customers can also benefit from your unusual experiments. I recollect the characteristic masks which you presented during the Fashion Week in Łódź. Where is a place in everyday life for such bold projects? : Unfortunately, there is not much place for that, indeed, unless someone is an eccentric and can naturally afford such extravagance, because he or she does not care about people’s reaction. Fashion experiments remind of fitting, they allow you to test what can and what can not be sneaked into the so-called everyday life. So it was with tattoos in the past, yet once reserved for hermetic groups. Then the fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier or Margiela let tattoos into parlours. They popularized garments sewn from fabric printed with tattoo designs and initiated the trend for temporary tattoos.Today, tatttoos are so common that being tattooed does not shock anyone anymore. However, as far as my masks are concerned, it is not so simple. Unfortunately, these types of accessories are prohibited in public as they are commonly associated with terrorism. I can only imagine how perfectly they would go with outfits worn on ski slopes.
Well, and what about the political design? Would you agree to design uniforms for the army, if you were offered such a proposal? : Sure! I would happily do that! Let me describe you a spontaneous idea that has just popped up to my mind: a gold unisex suit with lots of pockets and a builtin parachute rucksack. I know that this is a utopia because there is no chance for a peaceful army without any weapons. You have not lived in Poland for a long time. If you were to create uniforms for the national army, perhaps you would have to become entangled in politics one way or another. : I think that the inclusion of high politics into fashion is absurd. There is no denying that politics has a big impact on what I do because I analyse the world around me. However, I do not feel connected to any political movement. From the commercial point of view, designing for politicians is preferred, but we risk losing the freedom to express our views. If fashion is my language, I do not want it to be corrupted by any political partyâ€™s ideology. Is design (fashion) political? What do you think? : In fact, everything we do is in some ways political. This is the result of our
decisions. The decision-making process, on the contrary, is controlled by politics (and politicians), whether we like it or not. Another issue occurs when design (fashion) gets politicized in the service of a particular ideology. Such approach implies active involvement in promoting specific policies, dogmas. Here ends the freedom of expression. I do not want to be forced to politicize my works. Where does the boundary between art and design lie? Does it exist at all? : I always tend to think that the difference lies in the usefulness of the object. Art is there to be admired, while design is simply used, regardless of whether it gains respect or not. I do not know whether this distinction is relevant. While doing things, I work as an artist, that is, spontaneously. The results of my work undergo critical assessment and become adapted to certain standards. Then they might be called design. I find it difficult to firmly attribute my work to design though. I am more of a responsible artist. I really like this term. Certainly the fields of art and design can be united by means of manifestos. Although they are not characteristic of all artists or creative groups, their appearance often symbolizes a breakthrough for the entire area. Have you ever wished
to compose a manifesto expressing your attitude towards what you do, which would show the desired direction of this kind of discipline? : Trash couture has always represented such a manifesto for me. It constitutes the combination of the traditional tailoring, which refers to haute couture, and fabric recycling devoted to the punk style. The inspiring history of fashion, fantastic creations of masters and craftsmanship tailoring are interspersed with various processing methods for materials recycling and aesthetics of polishing junk treasures and raising them to the rank of worthwhile rarities. It has all started with my deep fascination with the surrounding reality: on the one hand, the Parisian salons splendour, on the other, tramps lying on the sidewalk in torn clothes. This is Paris!
I guess I cannot fail to mention the legendary Papanek’s book about designing for the so-called real world at this point. Your work is very close to the field of haute couture, but you are also keen on socially engaged projects. In 2014, during the Tajsa exhibition in BWA Tarnów, you ran the workshops, which were inspired by the issues covered by the aforementioned book. As a result of the seminar a blanket was created. The blanket can be easily perceived as a fashion product, but
it also has a very practical function, especially in the nomadic or Romany context presented on that exhibition. : There are many different manifestations of the socially involved design. You can recall here such things as ‘ethical fashion’, which is slowly growing stronger and stronger in the industry. This design is far from causing any harm to people or animals, it is ecologically responsible and financially correct. Recycling and upcycling, or, in other words, re-use, promotes conscious consumption and reduces excess of waste. Production becomes based on professional reintegration of socially excluded people. The possibilities are endless. The fashion itself is associated with something exclusive, but tailoring, the main pillar of fashion, remains open, accessible to all. A lot has been recently said about the loss of human relationships. Tailoring, thanks to its possibility of transferring skills from one person to another, presents an excellent example of a social project. It just so happens that I share this basic knowledge of sewing on various occasions very often lately: during such events as the Tajsa workshops, activities with children from poor families in Silesia, with elderly women from northern France, and as part of my afternoon classes with students of the Paris School of International Affairs. I am pleasantly surprised
because the process of transferring these skills turned out to be really easy. Tailoring is a universal language. However, fashion is still mostly associated with the idea of a show as a best medium for public presentation. How do you create the scenery to show your creativity? Who do you work with, for example, at the Fashion Week? : A final version of a show concept is usually preceded by quite a complicated process. The show is just a final result of numerous time-consuming preparations and considerations associated with the process of working on the collection. The fashion show should, in some way, depict the birth of the collection. Its formula gets affected by various external elements, such as daily life, news or books. All the emotions that accumulate in the course of the process find their vent precisely at the moment of the show. The show itself often takes the form of a performance. In fact, I am a freelancer, but sometimes I need some extra energy, so I invite other artists to collaborate. With the help of the choreographer Kaja Kołodziejczyk, I was able to create an amazing show for the Flesh & Bone collection, which was inspired by the world of dancers. Jaga Hupało helped me to express my vision of decadent chic through the extravagant hairdos at the show pre-
senting the Carapaces collection. The cooperation with other artists reminds me of a lightning arrester, when the voltage is at its zenith. However, it requires trust and mutual understanding. And what do potato chips have in common with all of this? : The fries were just a humorous metaphor describing the current situation on the fashion market from my point of view. It seems like the great fashion has lost its prestige in favour of rapid consumption. The blunt metaphor was just a way to highlight this deterioration pf quality as compared to potato chips and burgers – ubiquitous, popular and commonly associated with cheap (?) fast food. Why is the issue of critical fashion actually marginally treated in Poland? Significant festivals do not invite fasion designers and only a small number of fashion exhibitions is brought to life. Not to mention the fact that the publications on this subject appear only in the context of one-dimensional reviews in popular magazines. : In my opinion, the Polish fashion DESIGN is still fairly young. Besides, even here, in France, it is not so common for the design-related festivals to actually invite designers and vice versa. Fashion designers have their own events and their markets, while furni-
ture or cars designers meet elsewhere. Summing up, there are really few such events that are trying to show more of a global aspect of design (including fashion). This assignement is much more often taken up by museums which aim at offering a variety of retrospectives. What is, by the way, the difference between the design in France and Poland? : It is paradoxical, but perhaps in Poland it is much more easier to be a designer now. I do not consider administrative and legal issues because I do not have sufficient knowledge about starting a company in Poland. It seems to me, however, that Polish designers have much more better opportunities now. It is a moment when design is still something new, something we desire and what we yearn for. Something of what you can expect more and more. At the same time, any creative initiatives in the old Europe have been completely paralized by the crisis for many years now. The market is glutted. Parisians are jaded and they prefer to spend money on electronics or real estate. But when you started in the 1990s in Paris, the situation looked quite different.
: The early ‘90s were a golden era of heyday end design, which fell
here in the late ‘80s. I got it literally at the last stage of the process. In the ‘80s, people partied in Paris and spent money carelessly. I have heard this from my French friends. At the same time, we were standing in queues outside empty shops to exchange ration stamps for some random goods sold straight from the bag, packed in brown paper. Instead of original labels, they only had ‘label replacements’ stamps. This was a true antithesis of design. I still have the fondness for the Polish crisis era, by the way. And you decided to leave. : The departure from Poland allowed me to realize my dream of designing. In Paris, the boom for jeunes créateurs, young designers, just began. Thanks to the competition for young designers I was able to create my first collection and organise a show. New clients found me on their own, they literally came straight from the street. People used to delight in fashion and the most avant-garde fashion lovers wore clothes from niche designers. After a wave of Japanese minimalist era, the famous six of Antwerp appeared. Margiela’s show held in the devastated metro station made an electrifying impression on me. He was, in a sense, my idol. Given those conditions, succeeding as a designer in Paris was a lot simpler than it is today. Thanks to the hard work, I was able to
gain experience and recognition. The following years represented also the next steps forward. Paris gave the potential for international expansion. My projects have begun to attract people from all over the world through the website. If I stayed in Poland, I would probably never meet my customers from New York and Tokyo. I was lucky.
with the time, but they also provide a record of my creative process, which is why I can not get rid of them. It happened several times that a new brilliant idea came to my mind through the old garments. In contrast, I admit that I was depressed when I heard once from a friend of mine that she had got bored with my projects. I hate that term!
Is there any fashion garment that you particularly appreciate?
I know artists who, like, for instance, Grupa Sędzia Główny, exclude some actions from their portfolio after checking on the effects of their actions and they place them in a sort of a mistakes and errors folder (the aforementioned group created a special Beznadziejniki cycle to collect such hopeless items). Are there any projects that you feel ashamed of today?
: My favorite form of clothing is blanket, with its simple, yet highly protective function. It has been my inspiration ever since I discovered its potential as a source of innovative design solutions. You can use it to create almost everything: a skirt, coat, dress, tent. Is it possible to become bored with your own projects? Has it ever happened to you that you could not bear your own piece of clothing anymore and you just wanted to get rid of it? : I try to create timeless things so that they are not stigmatized by the transient fashion trends. Given this approach, one can say that I treat them as works of art. I do not throw my creations away! If I am not sure what to do with them, I just hang them up and wait. Sometimes I go back to them, sometimes not – they might as well remain there for years. They mature
: I do not recall any projects that would ever made me feel embarrassed. I do not have the impression that I should create something unique at all costs. It is true that every now and then I feel disappointed after completing a project, but that is no reason to feel ashamed of yourself. Occassionally, I even appreciate things with errors because they are inspiring. Cataloguing errors means, in my case, putting them back. Mature mistakes may eventually become new hits.
I prefer to work rather than complain ——— Michał Grzegorzek
I prefer to work rather than complain Sylwia, what do you think of critical attempts to define your work, to explain it through the contexts of interpretation? : Firstly, it should be noted that, as in the case of art and culture objects, fashion does not exist without criticism. In this sense, I welcome each attempt to interpret my work. The more of these readings, the more evidence that I exist as an artist and designer. And how would you refer it to your situation?
: Over the past five years, I have encountered a number of more or less accurate analyses of my collections, accurate presentations reviews and inspiring opinions on my brand. I have noticed that the most difficult thing is to escape from the pigeonhole and I have understood that the objectives of critics and designers differ dramatically. Fashion, with its constantly repeating cycles, is the best place to create closed concepts or stories. That is why I decided to start my own brand. Theoretically, in a season-controlled madness, I have the right to show distinct ideas, new contexts or creative techniques that make up the collection (even the word collection itself is associated with a closed
entity). Criticism, especially in Poland, still seems to have a problem with that. Our fashion language is a fairly new phenomenon and it is evolving as we speak. Despite the development of new media, trend forecasting analyses and visual culture studies, fashion journalists still happen to fall into thinking patterns. For example, it has been four years since the last time I used recycled fabrics, but the press continues to call me a â€˜recycling queenâ€™. I hope that the media will finally stop telling me that I am an ecological designer. The process of revaluating something, on which upcycling is based, seems much more complex to me. For instance, synthetic fabrics are still treated in Poland as an inferior material to silk or wool. Meanwhile, the artificial materials can have brilliant technical properties, but also a very interesting look. Since I am not a typical sports brand, my use of these fabrics is focused on the aesthetic judgement. At the time when I was just beginning to run my own label, I got strongly inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement. The echoes of those fascinations are still very dear to me today. This does not mean, however, that I create unique artefacts in isolation from the realities of the fashion market. What, according to you, should be the core of fashion criticism? Could you point out any specific attitudes or maybe even some names?
: I think it is not up to me to judge fashion criticism. This discipline has evolved just recently, so it is no surprise that the descriptive function of fashion language still poses so many difficulties. I have already mentioned that I actually enjoy receiving critique, even if I disagree with it. This is due to the fact that in Poland it is still not enough said about fashion. The worst thing for young designers is not a devastating critique, but lack of interest in their activities from the press. Other design disciplines are much more popular and their promotion in Poland is much more advanced. The scarce number of publications about fashion, as compared to other areas of design, shows it beyond doubt. Of course, over the last five years, the fashion criticism in Poland has definitely boomed. However, this discipline still requires a greater interest on the part of cultural institutions and broadly-defined media. As the curators of this exhibition, we have undertaken a difficult task – to present the works of four Polish fashion designers under the banner of the Gothic style. Was it justified in your case? : The epithet Gothic is one of those terms, or labels, that accompany Sylwia Rochala’s brand from the very beginning. It is not surprising that the title of this exhibition seemed instantly ironic
and even funny to me. Given each collection in particular, I have always tried to distance myself from this concept, recognizing it as irrational or limiting. The other participants of the exhibition have similar experiences. The usage of such an unfettered notion deliberately mocks the contemporary criticism or mass market, but simultaneously stimulates discussion about the meaning of this exhibition. At the same time, it can not be denied that the term ‘Gothic’ in relation to my person remains relevant. The Gothic aesthetics is close to me both privately and professionally. Taking into account the overall idea of my brand, it demonstrates particular Gothic elements or features. Not only in the scientific or historical sense, but also the colloquial definition of this concept. Do you find yourself more in the Gothic style referring to the medieval architecture or cyberpunk? : Rochala’s gothic motifs are primarily associated with black colour, openwork fabrics and penchant for detail repeated cyclically in every collection. Initially, these were woven or stitched silhouettes from the Shaman collection and hand-knitted items from the Snag collection that evocated of the openwork constructions of Gothic buildings. The transparent lace dresses and details from the Boro collection, apart
from any Asian inspirations, refer to the neo-Gothic aesthetics and nineteenth-century England fashion. The monochromatic cottons printed with X-ray images of skeletons designed for the X-Ray collection provide a shift towards late Gothic graphics and horror vacui. The recent Android and Robot collections depict the gothic pop culture. The futuristic clothes for men made from technical fabrics in bright or dark colours refer to sci-fi, techno culture and Japanese cyberpunk style. Do you think that the choice of designers invited to take part in the exhibition was right? How do you feel in their company?
: Almost like in a family. The exhibition is selective and rightly so. There are plenty of designers fascinated by the Gothic culture, new wave music or deconstruction inspired by Comme des Garçons, also in Poland. However, the four of us forms a complete whole, and thus, as a group, we symbolize a phenomenon, I hope a noteworthy one. I guess it is like that because we know each other personally, but also partly because our collections have gained popularity around the same time and have been demonstrated many times during the same events. Me, Grzegorz Matląg and Paulina Plizga showed our collections in the showroom at Poznańska Street in Warsaw. We all had somewhat longer
or shorter episodes with Polish fashion weeks. We keep looking for unusual fabrics and sewing techniques that are unconventional. We have rejected commercial activity in favour of avant-garde. The correlations are endless. The Polish Gothic exbibition is actually the first show that summarizes our achievements in the context of a group and for me it is a big reason to rejoice. And as you move on towards the avant-garde, how crucial it is as viewed from the fashion industry perspective and existing dependencies between brands and clothing companies? : Of course, it was a rhetorical simplification, because the avant-garde is not excluded from the sales – and by analogy to the situation in the art market – it is a part of the fashion world, and not necessarily its margin. Moreover, it is often up to the independent designers – they create this new aesthetic, which is then immediately picked up by the fashion industry. There are numerous brands that have managed to achieve commercial success on a global scale. The famous Antwerp Six, Margiela and Japanese designers including Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Today, their names belong to the pantheon of alltime greats. The same principle applies to the controversial projects that, with hindsight, eventually gain the cult sta-
tus. Take the first mini skirt by Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood’s punk sweaters, which marked a new fashion direction, but were also associated with social transformations. The avant-garde fashion is full of such positive examples. In the end, it is the distinctive design that stimulates media and customers to develop interest in fashion, but also the institutions responsible for the promotion of fashion and culture in general. But you are talking about classic names now. Does it pay off to represent avant-garde in Poland? : Probably due to the laborious, or let me call them ‘avant-garde’, projects, I was given the opportunity to present my first collection at the FashionPhilosophy Fashion Week in Łódź, Poland. The support of mass media, distributors and customers showed only later. The four of us was, in a sense, the alternative core of the first editions of this event. Interestingly, the organizers immediately understood the need to create an alternative space, the so-called off scene. What distinguishes Poland is, however, the difficulty to escape from the margin. The absence of traders and investors results in a lack of understanding the distinction between the image and the product. Even though the awareness of consumers is increasing, an independent designer is forced to sell clothes almost straight
from the show. Ironically, one might say that the Polish avant-garde fashion is doubly avant-garde because no fixed orders result in the ongoing development of samples. We are also constantly facing unrealistic demands. We have to be revolutionary as the West – what is the least difficult challenge to accomplish – but at the same time we should guarantee the same quality, and also the lower prices... Even if we wanted to finally give up the avant-garde for commerce, it would not be so simple. You are the youngest designer among the four. What does nowadays the success for young fashion designers mean? : For me, the greatest success is the fact that, after five years, the brand is still there, growing and providing the main source of my income. Keeping up with your own business, especially so variable and uncertain as clothing design, is a huge challenge. The hardest part of the whole process turned out to be watching the market and, in a way, finding ways to overcome it. Formerly, the interest of critics coincided with the interest of customers. Conceptual fashion, yet subtle and not intended at vulgar effects, could gain media coverage and win the hearts of customers. Today the situation has changed dramatically. Intellectual fashion represents a setback.
The concept of banality fascinates not only designers, but also photographers and stylists. However, it is worth remembering that such interpretation of kitsch equals a higher level of sophistication. Being unfashionable is fashionable, but also misunderstood. I understand that it is a reaction to the fact that major attention in the fashion industry is directed towards celebrities and bloggers, not design itself. It is something opposed to both classics, sensitivity to cut and body awareness. I have always resented the idea of a popular, oversize and formless sack sewn from a gray sweatshirt fabric. Therefore, the more I am glad that I have managed to gather such an audience within few yearsâ€™ time, and that I can boast of clients who collect the most famous brand projects. It is a success, especially because it has been accomplished without any superfluous publicity and free gifts for bloggers. Let us consider how many other contemporary Polish brands operate without advertising campaigns on popular fashion blogs? Would you say that the self-expression is more important than the customer?
: Whenever I create projects, I always identify with someone who wears them. For me, it is impossible to separate creativity from thinking about the recipient of your work, because I express myself through my clients. I am the
first one of them as I wear my own projects. In this way, I try to guess how people will look like in a given thing, what would they think. Not only in the trivial sense stating that fashion has to be functional... Because fashion is not just about the palpable ready-to-wear collections, but also about creating some cultural codes which can, for instance, influence impressions evoked in others by means of a particular piece of clothing. Take the symbolism of black colour, for exmaple, which, depending on the context, can be mournful and Gothic or elegant and festive. It fascinates me how many consequences can outfits have, which are, after all, not always chosen consciously. Fashion can not only decorate, but also identify or represent our preferences and social status. It is also crucial to me, as a designer, to create garments that interact with the userâ€™s body. The interplay of covering and nudity expresses a sense of beauty. Through a well-tailored fit, I try to go in counterpoint to the unisex approach to design that covers the body and thus loses the sense of sexuality. I believe that fashion functions equally with respect to our physical and psychological needs. How is fashion design different from other branches of design? : Fashion design is the most capricious form of design, because it is the most obsolescence-prone one. Just
like any other object, a well-designed garment must be functional, innovative and compliant with the spirit of the times. However, only in terms of fashion, we are confronted with arbitrarily set seasons and their release dates. Designers are obliged to release at least two collections per year, what forces the overproduction of mass market trends. Fortunately, in the case of such brands as mine this change is organic and results from the development of the language of fashion rather than any external pressures. Of course, there is no way to get away from all the metatrends. We all succumb to them, but inspiration taken from them can be positive. For example, patchwork, which had already been used in my first collection, has remained with me to this day, despite the fact that it recently took on a more sporty character. It is just that my uderstanding of sporty is paradoxical, because it is closer to the elegant tailoring than sport itself. From what steps do your projects consist of? How do you work? : In designing I am not interested in fashion, but in the garments that you can collect as much as design. My collections are the implementation of issues that arise from my personal interest in culture and art. Sometimes they emerge due to discovering some unknown knitting and tailoring tech-
niques like, for example, boro, which has become a leaven of a series of my projects. It also happens that I want to explore something important to me. Currently I am working on a collection dedicated to mafia. The spectrum can, therefore, be truly broad. I will try to point out how the design process has looked so far in my case: does magic exist and if it does, can it be accumulated in the matter of dress? (Shaman, 2010); the positive value of error and chance in the design process (Snag, 2011); the noble attire of working classes (Boro, 2012); the terror of the future in space represented in the works of sci-fi (Android and Robot, 2013). To sum up, the real reason why I start working on the next season is a fresh idea and not, for example, an upcoming fashion week. I hope that through conceptual approach to fashion, my clothes can function outside the mass market trends while never losing on actuality. I am extremely pleased that my hand-made sweaters and decolourised denim skirts â€“ made from avant-garde fabrics, but in a classic cut â€“ are just as popular today as at the time of their release. Naturally, such selection of topics and specific themes cause the particular aesthetic effect. Thanks to the above mentioned approach, my brand embraces both crafts, wildness and prefernce for natural or degraded fabrics, as well as futurism, artificial or shiny fabrics, abstract prints. Therefore, it is difficult to
trace the obvious similarities between the collections. This does not mean that there are no common characteristics nor a brand core. In addition to the careful selection of topics, I am also interested in the fashion matter itself, that is the fabrics. Your activities in the Palace can be called a business that arises from global trends for this type of space.
: This is not a trend, but simply a place where stylists can borrow clothes and customers try something on the spot. In a certain sense, this showroom continues the idea of Maldoror’s studio under ironic name of a palace. We used to enjoy the fact that our projects were usually hung side by side. We represented similar style features, beliefs, we had the same group of customers. By continuously staying close and helping each other, we had much more influence than if acting alone. Gradually, our projects began to be associated with each other. I see this as our strength, not a weakness, because any trained eye will notice both our similarities and differences. With this consistency, but also thanks to Grzesiek’s personality, his dark showroom at Poznańska Street eventually became a cult place. My Palace located at Nowogrodzka 25/34 in Warsaw is quite a different place because I completely changed the team. I invited contemporary de-
signers whose work I appreciate, and who are currently, at least according to me, the most interesting creators on the domestic market. I hope that the Palace will bring together the leaders among young designers and set the direction for the Polish avant-garde fashion just as Maldoror’s showroom used to do it before. It is hard to call it a business, because it is not a commercial showroom. It is not only about the personal choice of brands, but more of a real influence on the context in which our clothes are presented. The fact that every day we are visited by the top Polish stylists and a large group of customers is a proof that developing grassroots initiatives makes sense. The same applies to the magazine, on which I am currently working. Admittedly, the fact that it still suffers from a major Polish deficiency, that is finances, does not cool my enthusiasm. Instead of complaining about the lack of independent newspapers, we can set up our own. My recipe is simple: I prefer to work rather than complain. Finally, I would still go back to the combination of Gothic and horror. Former irrational fear factors have been replaced by both the irresistible technical progress and growing conquest of space. According to the sci-fi works, computers and visitors from foreign planets become a major threat representing an expression of
dehumanized reality. Do you think that the new technology will replace the traditional fabrics? Is it possible that future design will turn out to be a horror similar to the one filmed in Hardware? : I am not a wearable technologies whiz, so I must accept the challenge and try to predict some futurological news based on theories that I have encountered in the literature. In short, contemporary realities conceal such opposites as, for instance, creativity versus commerce, convention versus individual vision, fear of the unknown versus utopian visions of the future. In this context, futuristic design is neither the expectation of some kind of Eureka nor the apocalypse. It is rather focused on the search for practical solutions to current and future problems. All the potential innovations stem from the observations of socio-political trends and technology, but at the same time they remain to a large extent random. The practical aspects are, of course, crucial, but they do not stand for the unique factor that impacts development of fashion and design in general. The taste for tradition and cultural continuity blooms in parallel to projects aimed at development. Accelerating progress results in a growing fondness for classical, backward things or simply the ‘old’ ones. The phenomena such as the return of handicrafts, fashion
vintage or antiques collecting are just some of the examples. Thus, the technocracy and nostalgia seem to grow steadily. In the future, we may observe a growing tendency to exchange traditional materials with the newer ones. The styles of clothes and their tailoring can move towards uniformity and usability. Electronics integrated with users will possibly improve the physical properties of clothes what will help us function. It may also be that natural fabrics – given the current economy in the world – will become a very scarce and exclusive product outside the mainstream. Frankly, I do not think, however, that we are bound to experience it in the course of our lives, so if you’re dying to do so, just go to the cinema.
PAULINA PLIZGA ———
SYLWIA ROCHALA ———
POLISH GOTHIC: MAPPING ——— Anka Herbut
Anka Herbut Polish Gothic: mapping The euphoric state of fashion has ceased to be interesting. It does no longer intrigue. Today, it spreads the most radical visions and define formally or intellectually revealing trends due to its critical potential. The most interesting phenomena in the fields of art, philosophy and science are characterized by similar contestation. Nobody asks about the true character of man, truth, evil or nature any longer. Instead of this type of questions, which have been blunted by hundreds of more or less authoritarian responses, most of the attention is currently focused on the issues of relationships between social practices and systems in which they can grow or from which they remain excluded. Therefore, nobody is looking for the essence or the only truth any longer. There is no contemplation of an optimistic view of the world. Instead, there is common suspicion of the romanticizing mechanisms and consistent, morally smoothed, narratives. Suspicion of the superiority of mainstream proposals over the niche. At the same time, the normative narratives are being constantly challenged in favour of sharp turns in the direction of margins and interest in non-canonical solutions and creative aspects of errors. Norms and formats are passĂŠ. Individualism has been radicalized, private autonomy grows stronger and atoresponsive questions intensify. This process results in an increasing number of collective and private crises showing up in discourses... At this critical time for the institutional authority, fashion urges people to look inside. To look at yourself as an individual. As a personality. In the end, these are the roots of fashionâ€™s phenomenon â€“ equally important as its self-reflective character which persuades us to problematize our own choices and repeatedly undermine our being.1 system of coordinates At the dawn of the twenty-first century, people are mostly fascinated by the things that contradict the previously established rules, destroy or negotiate 1. Gilles Lipovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy, trans. Catherine Porter, Princeton University Press, 1994 : 241.
them. Multiple texts of contemporary culture present the extreme versions of man and his world, especially those which derive from the opposition to the traditional definition of humankind in relation to animals or machines, stretched between the feminine and the masculine, functioning in an unhealthy, traumatised, non-optimistic world. The inidividuals existing in a kind of convergence space, where organic tissue and technology merge, are considered to be cult â€“ just to mention A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway or the pioneering visions of unions bewteen humans and technology in the form of Robocop, replicants from Blade Runner and Leeloo from The Fifth Element. Another direction of research is situated at the demarcation line between men and animals, explored in the context of freak shows, films such as Brotherhood of the Wolf and trillions of TV series including shape-shifters and werewolves in the leading roles. The binary form of heterosexual society, which is most fully expressed in a form of androgynous continuum, is also starting to melt down. And besides, obviously: the darker, the more mysterious and scary (or, in other words, the further-reaching, traumatic and deconstructive) the problems, the greater the power of attraction. This system of references could be expanded to infinity: from the Gothic architecture and eighteenth-century literature, the vampire films and TV series like The Walking Dead, Lady Gagaâ€™s concerts, to the iconic collections of Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh or Issey Miyake. The synergy of above mentioned cultural practices induces, in turn, a feeling of decay, uncertainty, melancholy and pessimism. And additionally: the collapse of great narratives that structured reality, their deconstruction and susceptibility to recycling. Multiplication of meanings. Also in fashion. blur and rhizome
Fashion blurs the senses which it produces. The signs generated by it are changing too fast for an interpretative machine to remain consciously able to keep up with them.2 All relate to each other, mutate, create variations. The fashion world is a rhizome, whose roots are growing in all directions 2. Ian Chambers, Maps for the Metropolis: A Possible Guide to the Present, [in:] Cultural Studies, vol. I, no. 1, January 1987: 2.
and reach different time orders. The Polish Gothic category, proposed by Michał Niechaj and Michał Grzegorzek, a collective formula intended to indicate some of the features characteristic to the work of Maldoror, Paulina Plizga, Sylwia Rochala and oluhi brand, seems to work with respect to the similar principles. It does not close, it does not define, it does not limit. It initiates the possibilities of perilous associations. In this way, it also allows to map the works of above mentioned designers by using categories reaching far beyond the world of catwalk. It refers not only to the more radical fashion trends, but also to the whole reservoir of elements typical of the so-called high culture, pop, alternative activities and strictly commercial culture. Thus, although the Polish gothic actually refers to a very specific phenomena in the fields of art, lifestyle or architecture, it refers to them in an extremely vague way. In search of a pattern to define the works of those four Polish designers, it combines scattered stories and inspirations, assuming only a small number of constants and a lot of variables. In the context of reflection on Polish fashion after 1989, which seems ephemereal, fragmented and not easy to systematize, it appears to be the natural consequence of a much broader phenomenon. This is the Polish Gothic. An open formula swelling of meanings. And its Polishness? As a category that presupposes the nationality or topographic affiliation, it does not appear much interesting – especially given the fact that Maldoror currently lives and works in Berlin, and Plizga has been already residing in Paris for a long time. The Polishness category implies much more meanings in terms of socio-political and economic circumstances that determine aesthetic and ideological choices. fashion desperados In the early nineties, a group of graduates from Central Saint Martins founded a group which, altough lacking formalization, was nevertheless able to receive an immediate recognition by fashion critics. Fabio Piras, the British fashion critic, baptized them as fashion desperados.3 Although young and deprived of financial abilities to create spectacular shows, they were also 3. Caroline Evans, Fashion on the Edge, Yale Univeristy Press, New Heaven – London, 2009, p. 70.
extremely creative and demanded transgression in the fashion world. One of them was Alexander McQueen, who organized his first show entitled Taxi Driver in an old, abandoned garage complex in Chelsea. He could not afford to buy chairs – the audience had to stand throughout the show. The models looked quite dangerous and so felt the audience.4 The British desperados managed to make an advantage of their apparent deficiencies: they turned all the material and institutional obstacles into their asset. As a result, they began to create the most distinctive collections and shows that presented their authors’ personal expression. They looked for inspiration in their own biographies, media, things they saw or touched. The principle was simple: clothes should reflect feelings – even those nasty, bad and uncomfortable ones. They can, and even should, overwork cultural traumas understood not only in the medical and psychoanalytic context, but quite commonly: as an emotional or psychological shock which enables the possible transgression. Similar realities accompany the designers affiliated with the Polish Gothic category. Trashiness and sombre mood of their collections are not yet the result of calculation, but the outcome of interests, fascinations and socio-economic conditions. They shape the production of desires which is drived by fashion. The various ways of stimulating and boosting the desires. It is known that desires develop most effectively in the visual sphere5, which has been recently shifted into the much darker areas. Into mysteriousness. Ambiguity. Confusion and trauma. Deterioration. Shattered shows. And, finally, into damaged clothes. black is the new black
The Polish Gothic is black. That night, longing, hunger, resignation, evil, madness, boundary between reality and dream. Symbolic imbalance and move away from perceiving the world as a harmonic creation have been present in Europe for a long time, namely since the middle of the eighteenth century, when first industrialization processes started. Death, previously 4. Maureen Callahan, Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the ‚90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion, Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2014. 5. Abigail Solomon-Godeau, The Other Side of Venus: The Visual Economy of Feminine Display, [in:] The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, University of California Press, Berkley – Los Angeles – London, 1996, p. 114.
tamed with the use of rituals, changed its character – it became denatured and began to return in the form of ghosts and vampires in various forms. In the finale of The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe destroyed a great castle by drowning it in a nearby pond to show the priority of sinister, evil nature over the world. People feared the apparent death and the unexplainable, and the signs of decay were supposed to reflect the mental condition of the characters. Those were the technologies of fear used as a primary way to impact consumers at that time. Gothic fiction inspired the expressionist films such as The cabinet of Dr. Caligari, vampire literature, Hitchcock’s thrillers. The black film and vampires worship came to life. Horror. Everything was dark, black, scary. This swelling darkness was slowly beginnign to seep into the world of fashion, where it spectacularly burst in the mid-nineties. In December 1997, the German Vogue published the photographs by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinodh Matadin produced for the Viktor & Rolf fashion house: the black model Missy was painted black as she posed on a black background. A few years later, a similar strategy was transferred to catwalks: in the collection’s show of the same brand (2001/2002 season), inspired by the phenomenon of the black hole that swallows light and energy, the models walked on the catwalk with their faces and hands painted black, dressed in black clothes. Only the background remained clear. References to the German expressionist cinema appeared unconsciously, but the collection of V&R had aso a different tone: in the context of the show, the black models functioned as a negative image of reality. Like a shadow who lost his own body. Like beauty and splendor turned inside out. Not without reason, black walls, shelves and platforms provided an ideal ecosystem for the Polish Gothic exhibition in the BWA Dizajn Gallery in Wrocław. And black mannequins. Black on black. Black was immanent in the exhibited garments from Maldoror’s Asphyxation (2010) and The Accuser (2011) collections. The first one was inspired by Shakespeare’s Ophelia and the Victorian cult of death, its title referring to the gesture of suffocation. For the purpose of this collection, Matląg designed dresses using scraps of materials resembling rotten, putrefied or dead coral reefs.
He draped the fabrics tangling the models’ bodies in successive layers of material, yet loosely leaving out long cords on their arms to sway like seaweed. The Accuser is, in turn, all about black capes, satin corset dresses and transparent textiles, patchwork and scarlet sequins. Gothic in a glamour version. There are a lot of references to liturgical costumes, some satanic influences, afterimages of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and stylized stitching inspired by the anatomy of the human body. As if those things, which are usually suppressed in the major circulation of ideas and art, came evidently back to disrupt and undermine the seemingly natural state of things. city trash
Designers associated with the Polish Gothic label, mostly show their collections in various postindustrial spaces, emphasizing the urban contexts of their collections and exploiting their trashy character. Raw and dark interiors, street vibe. Street fashion. Poor image quality, dirty aesthetics, shabby walls, abandoned buildings and post-industrial lofts that have their glory days long behind them. The use of this kind of spaces became popular in the fashion world after being initiated by Wolfgang Tillmans’ photo sessions for iD and Corinne Day’s for The Face, who photographed friends living in the famous Soho and infamous Brixton as well as the club scene of the nineties. In 1996, Dazed & Confused published Surveillance – a series of photographs by Rankin that represened low resolution aesthetics and blur characteristic for CCTV cameras6. After a while, more sessions in a similar style began to appear. However, this type of photographic practice was not marked by signs of voyeurism and did not use a hidden camera mechanism – Tillmans, Day and Raskin preferred to explore situations in their natural environment. Their models wore T-shirts and jeans while laying messily sprawled on sofas, often captured in pretty much intimate situations. However, while in The Face or D & C such photographs were simply regarded as a progressive element, on the pages of Vogue they immediately took on the hardly subversive nature. So far, fashion photography was usually combined with sex, class and good taste. 6. Rankin, Surveillance, [in:] Dazed & Confused, nr 17, April 1996.
However, this quasi-reportage style slowly penetrated into the mainstream press. Urban violence, provocation insured by imaginary situations, gangs, skinheads and punk appeared to be higly tempting. But the purpose of this kind of photography has never been any alleged discovery of the truth concerning social groups, their documentation or representation. It was rather about outlining their specifics, mood and atmosphere that accompanied them. Therefore, private interiors, incorrect framing and blurred, dark images constituted a perfect specimen of that approach.7 The similar attitude is demonstrated by Oluhi who contextualizes her collections presenting them in post-industrial spaces with poor visibility; Paulina Plizga uses vast halls of industrial magazines; Maldoror presents his collections to small groups of people in club interiors with raw, broken decor. errors, defects or failures Not only the context can be broken. The structure itself might also be devastated. At the same time when in the nineteenth century the industrial production began to grow and the catastrophic question mark appeared over the future of crafts, William Morris took the lead over the Arts and Crafts movement. By rejecting the industrial mechanisms and commercialization of art in favour of handmade strategies, they used the hand-crafts organizing principle to establish error, iteration, offset. The pre-industrial hand-craft â€“ as an antidote to the post-industrial alienation â€“ found its reflection in techniques such as knitting, woodcarving, patchwork and lace. A century later, on fashion runways, one could observe a great return of manual tailoring techniques. In 1980, Rei Kawakubo designed the hand-woven defective fabrics for Comme de GarĂ§ons. By deliberately loosening knots and stretching or condensing braids, one could cause the symmetry of the structure to collapse. As a result of such practice, it resembled an old knit with plenty of clothes moths holes and vintage tears. In her Shaman (2010/11) collection, Sylwia Rochala presented hand woven, stitched, openwork fabrics with asymmetrically deformed structures. Perforated sweaters, translucent mesh and woven dresses with long strips of 7. Rebecca Arnold, Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century, Rutgers University Press, 2001, pp. 32 - 47 and 86.
material. The braids which she used in her next collection Snag (2011/12) strongly resembled the Gothic structures. The collectionâ€™s title referred to such natural materials and textures as rough bark of trees, tearing, stretching, error, irregularity.... In the Boro (2012) collection, she incorporated a storytelling element into designed garments through upcycling, the aim being to reveal the past life of used materials. Upcycling techniques are currently associated with opposition to overproduction in fashion industry, but they originally appeared in the Middle Ages among the poorest states of society. Its modern coming out dates back to roughly the same time as Arts & Crafts. That is when the first symptoms of fashion deconstructionism in Japan appeared. The technique named boro was born among the poor citizens who manufactured new materials and clothes from used and dyed dark blue cotton scraps. Boro was characterized by ragged, jagged edges, worn and processed fabrics, loose seams. Something that had nothing to do with art or design, suddenly began to be perceived as a work of art. fashion-found-footage
Fashion is variable and it accustoms us to the perceptual recycling8, which, in addition to criticism of its consumer aspect, might also expose alleged copyright gestures of the designers who naturally draw inspirations from the achievements of their predecessors. They process them and develop. Similar mechanisms can be observed not only in the field of fashion: the whole counterculture thrives on existing elements of reality by giving them new autonomic meanings. Already in the fifties, one of the main founders of the situationist movement, Asger Jorn, used to buy pictures at flea markets, repaint them or modify, just to finally call it radical art. The sixties, in turn, symbolised the apogee of dĂŠtournement strategy, collage and found-footage, what, according to Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, constituted an attack on the capitalist system of overproduction itself. Since 1980s, the upcycling methods have been implemented on the catwalks by Martin Margiela. In his carrer, he already managed to sew uneven 8. Gilles Lipovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy, translated by Catherine Porter, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 149.
parts of different cocktail dresses and cut the front of a ball gown from the fifties in order to rework it into a tunic. He created sweaters with military socks and used broken crockery to make a vest. He produced T-shirts out of plastic bags. This was his second-hand version of haute couture by Margiela. Since second-hand garments could turn into rarities that receive recognition because of the designer who created them, the value of such garments began to increase. The fashion abject became re-entered into circulation. Similarly, Paulina Plizga performs her textile recycling in combination with traditional tailoring and her authorial technique called Nest. The technique was inspired by an old Japanese legend about a woman-heron weaving her precious fabric with feathers. Plizga combines scraps, threads, fish scales and onion shells, using a multi-layer technique that mixes intricate textures and materials. In addition to the organic ingredients, she chooses cashmere, mohair or velvet, creating surfaces resembling paint or cracked bark of trees. In her work, one might see the influences of artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz and Władysław Hasior. In an interview with Michał Grzegorzek9, Plizga defined herself as the responsible artist – however, the same definition could be used to describe the other three designers. According to the upcycling rule, Rochala sew skirts from some old shirts and Maldoror reworked parachutes into clothes in his Spirit of 69 (2012/13) collection. He also reshaped the second-hand military clothing for the sake of his BHO (2013) collection inspired by George Marchall’s Spirit of ‘69: A Skinhead Bible. The latter was accompanied by Maria Konopnicka’s patriotic song, a German Shepherd, lots of discomfort and danger. new fear technologies Irrational – because rooted in ignorance – anxiety might be also aroused by technology associated with dehumanization of human relationships. The machine is us, our internal processes, one of the dimensions of our corporeality10 – wrote Donna Haraway in the legendary A Cyborg Manifesto. Since the mid-eighties, however, when the manifesto was first published, tech9. Interview with Michał Grzegorzek for Polish Gothic exhibition. 10.Donna J. Harraway, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, [in:] of that Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, New York 1991; p. 180.
nological and human suffixes have become much more complicated. The increase of industrial production has led to the independence of objects and their autonomization in relation to the user. In this way, the upgraded version of nature has been created: automatic, composed of organic and inorganic tissues, organized on an even higher level than the pre-technological one.11 Androids, cyborgs and robots which appear in various contemporary artistic works, mostly interfere with the traditional, and supposedly natural, boundary between humans and artificial intelligence. Literary fiction and scientific narratives that confirm the possibility of creating a new being from both organic and inorganic components which would resemble humans, have appeared in the literature since the early twentieth century. However, the visions of increasingly mechanised work, determined by economic utility of man in terms of the functioning of industry, have been already reported much more earlier. The first concepts of human-machine connections came into sight after revealing the secret experiments carried out by the army shortly after World War II. The cyborg is illegal because it undermines the foundations of Western civilisation and explores the boundaries only to surpass them. By the way, cyborgs become the most prevalent forms of human functioning in society. It was Baudrillard who wrote that Mowgli, the main character in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, was raised by the wolves, whereas today today he would be raised by computers. The immune system protecting us against technocracy does not hold water. In Matrix, Wachowski brothers showed an apocalyptic vision, according to which humankind would be used by sinister machines as the only possible source of renewable energy. The same vision of dystopias could be found in Maldororâ€™s works, especially in the military cuts and extremely shiny fabrics. Rochala designed monochrome printed cottons with X-ray skeletons, resembling the examples of late Gothic art (X-RAY collection from 2012). She used transparent materials, multiplied them and collided with some heavier ones, creating anatomical shapes with slightly futuristic features. While working on the Android and Robot series (2014), she was mostly inspired by Japanese cyberpunk, sci-fi and progressive technologization of everyday life. 11. Mateusz Borowski, MaĹ‚gorzata Sugiera, Trapped Opposites. Ideologies of Identity, Theatre Institute, Warsaw 2012, p. 91.
deconstruction As far as the dialogues reaching out to the future seem rather phantasmatic, the same dialogues with the past in the context of Polish Gothic appear to have a deep structural dimension. It is not due to quoting or representing the elements from the past, but inducing the effect of ambiguity and multidimensionality by referring to it. According to this principle, the afterimages of Gothic architecture, constructivism and deconstruction appear in the works of oluhi, Plizga, Rochala and Maldoror. Strongly geometric ornaments, symmetrical structures full of sharp bends and constructions based on triangles: echoes of such solutions could be found in oluhi’s projects which resemble small cataclysms full of fancy forms and broken constructions.12 Her clothes remind of sculptures which blur the boundary between functionality and value of design. Complex, heterogeneous cubage turns them into spatial objects of heterogeneous structure. Plizga’s favourite construction forms are blankets because they can be easily remodelled without losing their utilitarian function. In case of the projects flirting with deconstruction, contestation and rhythm seem to be the most important features. Such clothes remain very close to the musical genres based on a strong pulse and subcultures ideas. As far as deconstruction of clothes’ volume seems to be the most spectacular and gets directly associated with Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto or the Six of Antwerp, the deconstruction as a structural change may take the form of recycling of the originally used fabrics, straining the regular structure of the textiles and liquefying the difference between men’s and women’s fashion. Above all, it is a kind of free drifting in the space full of associations and contexts, and their mutual straining, what endues it with a glorious stigma of classicism. Polish Gothic: mapping Fashion blurs the senses which it produces. The signs generated by it are changing so fast that the interpretive machine is not able to consciously keep up 12. Machina, nr 1/2007.
with them. All relate to each other, mutate, create variations. The fashion world is a rhizome, whose roots are growing in all directions and reach different time zones. The Polish Gothic category seems to be working on a similar basis. It does not close, it does not define, it does not limit. It rather provides enumerous possibilities of perilous associations that enable us to map the projects designed by oluhi, Maldoror, Plizga and Rochala using the categories reaching far beyond the world of catwalks. In search of the formula for their creativity, it combines scattered stories and inspirations, assuming only a number of constants and a lot of variables.
Grzegorz Matląg (Maldoror)
Born in 1986. In 2007, Matląg established his own brand Maldoror Low Couture (ultimately Maldoror) deriving the name from Les Chants de Maldoror by Lautréamont. After a brief stint with fashion education, he decided to learn independently. He quickly gained media’s attention thanks to the outstanding avant-garde aesthetics and soon he was able to present his primary collections, among others, at the fashion weeks in Berlin, Vienna, Reykjavik and at the fair in Amsterdam. From the very beginning, his collections were presented as a part of the FashionPhilosophy Fashion Week Poland. Before his last show in Łódź, he deliberately misinformed a popular tabloid stating that he would employ Magdalena Waśniewska, also known as Madzia’s mother, to model at the event. That false news was not the first occasion when he used the antithesis of celebrity to ridicule the mass media (for instance, for his fashion show inspired by the character of Mary Magdalene, he decided to hire a trash reality show star – Jola Rutowicz). He is the author of costumes for dance performances, music videos and concert tours. He uses unusual materials and various recycling techniques to create unique hand-made pieces. For over three years, he has been working as a lecturer at the School of
Form in Poznań. Since 2013, when he decided to move to Berlin, he has been mainly focusing on individual orders and interim projects. As he says, his collections remain strictly related to his private life and interests.
Oluhi was born in 2002. The initial sale of single samples in London-based boutiques enabled oluhi to boost her portfolio and gain more attention. The brand got eventually appreciated by A4 magazine. The A4 editors invited oluhi to a group show in Warsaw and started to promote the brand on their pages. In the meantime, oluhi took part in the Heyah contest which she won. The collaboration with A4 magazine resulted in the contract with Tokyo Dune Agency. The agency introduced oluhi to Gallery Conceal (Shibuya, Tokyo) and also sold it to Permanent Modern (Kumamoto), Solomon Grundy (Hiroshima) and Ysh (Tokyo). Soon the encouraged designer got promoted to the second stage of the El Boton Mango Fashion Awards competition in Barcelona. As a result, she received an invitation to the first edition of FashionPhilosophy Fashion Week Poland in Łódź and Fashioner Opener in Gdynia. Moreover, she started a long-lasting collaboration with TO-EN Butoh Company that resulted in production of costumes for such performances as: Transformations (premiere – the Manhattan Gallery, Łódź), Melange (premiere – The National Museum, Gdańsk), Heat (premiere – Municipal Coastal Theatre, Gdańsk ). She also managed to complete a fashion internship at Srula
Recht’s studio (a niche, avant-garde brand from Iceland which has a great reputation among fashion critics).
Born in 1971 in Silesia. At the beginning of the ‘90s she has moved to Paris, where she currently lives and works as a freelance fashion and costume designer. She debuted in 1994 with a collection showed in the gardens of Place des Vosges. After visiting Europe and the United States, in 2005 she eventually went to Japan, where she presented a fashion happening – trash factory – about producing unique samples on clients requests that took place in the reconstruction of her original studio. She participated in numerous activities that combined art and fashion, including the Transit Station in Berlin (2005) and Edinburgh (2006) where she painted designs directly on the models, the Body. Spirit. City Art Festival in Racibórz (2008) or the Nest exhibition in the Korczynski Gallery in Paris (2008). She collaborates with the FashionPhilosophy Fashion Week Poland in Łódź, where she managed to present eight fashion collections over the past few years. In 2012 she was granted the K Mag creativity award for being ‘the best designer in OFF Out of Schedule category at the FashionPhilosophy Fashion Week Poland’. She also designed costumes for the theatre, including such spectacles as The Architecture of Light (Polish Dance Theatre, Poznań, 2013); The Legends (Bytom Dance and Movement Theatre
ROZBARK, 2014); Back to the Roots (Abandoned Theatre, Ruda Śląska, 2014). She exhibited her work in the BWA Dizajn Gallery in Wrocław (The Polish Wardrobe, Recipe for Small Design) and BWA Tarnów (Tajsa). She runs creative workshops with young people and adults. She works as a lecturer at Sciences PO in Paris. Over the years, she has developed her own method for fabrics design by combining pieces of different materials in order to create characteristic nests made of thread and patchworks with texture imitating feathers and fractured bark. In her work, she is greatly inspired by the artworks of such Polish artists as Abakanowicz, Hasior or Potworowski.
Sylwia Rochala Born in 1988 in Pruszków. She graduated from MSKPU in Warsaw, continuing her studies at the Department of Fashion at Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź. She is currently studying at the Institute of Art History at UKSW in Warsaw. For over five years, she has been creating collections which seek to combine the utility aspect with unique textile arts. She made her debut at the Re-Act Fashion Show in 2009 which she won. Due to the re-use of materials, her works were published in Refashioned (Laurence King) book, which aimed at presenting the most important eco fashion achievements. Thanks to the regular presentations held at Łódź and Berlin fashion weeks, she has been recognized by the editors of Vogue Italia, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Viva! Fashion magazines. In her collections, she incorporates various conceptual inspirations, the scope of which extends from the shamanic rituals to biomorphism, not to mention the creative interpretation of Japanese boro technique or the collection dedicated to Philip K. Dick. She runs her own studio and showroom in the centre of Warsaw.
p. 128-129 The Cathedral, design by Witalis
Sylwia Rochala, RAM, Robot, F/W 2014,
sweatshirt – polyester; pants – polyester
p. 130 Paulina Plizga, ADOR F/W 2014,
oversize sweatshirt – wool, patchwork
p. 141 oluhi, costume for the play Heat by
TO-EN Butoh Company, 2011, dress – cotton
p. 131 Maldoror, Accuser, 2010,
p. 142 The Cathedral, design by Witalis
cape and leggings – patchwork: polyester
and cotton knitwear, sequins
p. 143 Goth and AfterGoth, exhibition
posters, screen print, design by Jakub Stępień
pp. 132-133 A view of the exhibition,
design by Witalis
p. 144 Paulina Plizga, Carapaces S/S 2013,
p. 134 Paulina Plizga, Medusa, S/S 2011,
bolero jacket – NEST patchwork; Carapaces
dress – hand-painted openwork knit with
S/S 2013, corset dress – two-colour patchwork
p. 145 Paulina Plizga, Eclosion, F/W 2010,
p. 135 Maldoror, Spirit of 69, 2012,
dress – openwork knit with NEST inserts
silver flight jacket – nylon, acetate;
sleeveless dress – cotton gauze, knit viscose
Maldoror, Mary of Magdala, 2009,
dress – silken shirts
pp. 136-137 A view of the exhibition,
design by Witalis
pp. 146 A view of the exhibition,
design by Witalis
p. 138 Sylwia Rochala, X-Ray, S/S 2012,
dress – viscose, lurex; Robot, F/W 2014,
p. 147 Sylwia Rochala, Shaman, F/W 2010,
vest – viscose
dress – recycled men’s shirts, silk
p. 139 oluhi, cloaja, half cape, half jacket – cotton and cotton sateen ——————————————————— p. 140 Maldoror, BHO, 2013, sweatshirt – wool with cashmere, nylon string; pants – wool ———————————————————
Polish Gothic The publication provides a summary of the Polish Gothic exhibition curated by Michał Niechaj and Michał Grzegorzek at the BWA Dizajn Gallery. The idea of the exhibition was derived from the Polish Wardrobe 90_10 educational project, which was run for several years at BWA Dizajn by Michał Niechaj. Editor: Michał Grzegorzek Authors of the texts: Michał Grzegorzek, Anka Herbut, Michał Niechaj, Katarzyna Roj Authors of the illustrations: Anna Szczęsny, Urszula Wasilewska (Witalis) Authors of the photographs: Justyna Fedec, Łukasz Rusznica, Karolina Zajączkowska Graphic design: Jakub Stępień (Hakobo) Proofreading and translation: Sonia Mielnikiewicz Publisher: BWA Wrocław – Galleries of Contemporary Art ul. Wita Stwosza 32, 50-149 Wrocław www.bwa.wroc.pl Director: Marek Puchała Edition: 750 copies The project was co-financed from the grant of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.
Polish Gothic The publication provides a summary of the Polish Gothic exhibition curated by Michał Niechaj and Michał Grzegorzek at the BWA...
Published on Mar 5, 2015
Polish Gothic The publication provides a summary of the Polish Gothic exhibition curated by Michał Niechaj and Michał Grzegorzek at the BWA...