LOVE ME, I’M POLISH

...first came the models, now make way for the designers

by Edyta Knapinska
The Poles are beginning to make their mark on international fashion. Edyta Knapinska explores the Polish connection: Generous Mother Nature has blessed Anja Rubik with legs as endless as the Great Wall of China, silky blonde hair, dazzling blue eyes and a Colgate smile. She is the face (and yes, the legs) of Gucci’s most recent pre-Fall advertising campaign. She cuddles up close to Sasha Knezevic in the Gap advert. And she was the obvious campaign choice for Balmain. Anja is one of a new generation of Polish models who are winning international attention. Other names to conjure with (and stumble over pronouncing) include Magdalena Frackowiak, Malgosia Bela, Anna Jagodzinska and Kasia Struss. But while Polish models are making an impact abroad, the relationship of Polish designers and fashion is a more complicated one. Unless you were born in Warsaw or Gdansk, the good chances are that you will never have heard of Maciej Zien or Gosia Baczynska, even though these designers have been playing leading roles on the Polish fashion scene for some years now. Fortunately though, there are some new kids on the block. Over the past couple of years the Catholic country of delicious dumplings and vodka has produced a steady stream of very talented, confident and intriguing fashion designers capable of breaking the spell.

Konrad Parol – The Rebel
There is a pleasant feel of mild freshness in Konrad’s designs despite the bulky rucksack of experience on his back. Since his graduation from the Arts Studio in 2003, whilst the press has paid close attention, celebrities have easily appreciated stitched to perfection dresses in pure silk, wool and cashmere. After his very first show in November 2007 he landed himself a London-based agent who was to launch a concept store promoting young talent. Or so she said. ‘I signed a contract and had gone to London twice to give her all I had, nearly two full collections’, recalls Konrad. ‘Then after a few weeks the website had stopped working, neither did she reply to my emails, nor did she answer my phone calls.’

What didn’t kill Konrad, indeed only made him stronger. ‘I then decided to design my first collection for men. I had always been afraid of that, it had always been a challenge that scared me and that I had been endlessly postponing. However, that was the moment when I had no choice, when I decided it was now or never. I had to prove to myself that after all those disappointments I still can; that it still gives me joy and that I didn’t lose the sense for designing.’

The ashes of his hopes mixed with determination turned out to be a solid foundation for what came next. And next was a menswear collection that sensibly showed a brilliant aversion to symmetry, classic proportions, lifelessness and routine.

At first glance stitches and buttons appear on his shirts apparently at random but on closer inspection it becomes obvious that every detail was carefully thought through; such as teaming up a loose coat with gladiator sandals.

Konrad, who’s currently working on the promotion side of his menswear line but ‘already has another collection on his mind’, describes his designs as ‘creative, avant-garde and perfectly made’. I couldn’t agree more.

Asia Wysoczynska – The Sculptor
Anyone who expects to find effusiveness and lavishness in womenswear will be disappointed in Asia Wysoczynska’s designs. The personality of her clothes is not of an oversized ego. Instead, the language the clothes speak is exquisite, graceful and yet simple.

Asia is a fashion designer with a few impressive diplomas in her drawer: a Psychology degree from Jagiellonian University and Marketing Communications and Social Sciences from Radboud University in The Netherlands. Most recently she joined the International School of Costume and Fashion Design in Warsaw and is currently working on her diploma collection.

Her personal style, ‘based on architectonic shapes and longing for beautiful simplicity with a twist’, is strongly reflected in her designs: structural, muted colours and pleasantly austere but with an obvious ‘je ne sais quoi’ about them. They are also a nod to the countless possibilities that a woman’s body hides; this potential revealed and accentuated by Asia’s taffeta dresses.

The dexterity of not frantically following trends also works to her advantage. Whilst fashion is ‘a game of chasing a crazy rabbit’, style is ‘cherishing the rabbit and taking care of it so it blooms’, as Asia puts it.

Maldoror – The Artist
When a legendary French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, died in June 2008, his lifetime friend, Pierre Berge, admitted that even though he wasn’t sure if fashion was art, he was convinced that it needed artists. Grzegorz Matlag, the mastermind behind the Maldoror label is an artist locked in a body of a fashion designer.

Don’t be quick to pigeonhole his designs as artsy, pretentious and unwearable, though, as they are quite the opposite. Under the magical layers of delicate tulles ducks a powerful shot of wearability and accessibility. It is tough to describe Grzegorz’s majestic dresses in some other way than beautiful. Or alluring. Or sublime. Grzegorz himself calls his style ‘chaotic, raw and simple’. That – yes – but beautiful too.

Warsaw based designer, the master of modern haute couture packed with a great dose of playful spirit, this year has already shown his collections during Opener Music Festival and Fashion Philosophy Fashion Week in Lodz, Poland.

‘I design’, he explains, ‘because it allows me to sculpt the human body’. And sculpt he can. When he doesn’t, Grzegorz relaxes playing computer games. And, probably very unnecessarily, is afraid of ‘running out of good ideas.’

Anna Pitchouguina – The Dreamer
One doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to detect a hint of a little girl in Anna’s fashion vision. ‘Inspired by emotions’, a young Russian-born and Poland-based designer, is a refreshing answer to the urban warrior looks that have been the big story for a bit too long now.

‘I design for lovely young ladies who like to be called cute and charming...I like romance’, she says. Made primarily in soft chiffon and silk, her dresses remain poetic but are far from being corny. They are sweet – but without being sickly. There is a healthy balance apparent.

Whilst being more than capable of creating the character of clothes defined by maturity, Anna is still slightly puzzled when it comes to her own personal style. ‘It is mixed but still not fully established...I am a confused little person. I don’t think that I will ever make up my mind regarding some things. I am guessing fashion is part of that group’, she says.

Creating a new line and adapting to New York, where she’s staying, are on the Anna’s agenda right this moment. Some are already holding their breath.

Ania Kuczynska – The Grown-Up
Already well-established crème de la crème of the blooming Polish fashion scene: Ania Kuczynska, the golden child of modern city-sensual is not fashion-ample just in her home country. She’s appeared on the radar of Vogue and Style.Com which is always encouraging to see.

Warsaw-based Kuczynska, the winner of the Polish Elle Style award for Best Designer in 2006, sells her chic and ladylike version of simplicity through her own flagship store,' L’aura boutique', and through other independent sellers. When you are on holiday don’t be surprised to find her trousers or leather jackets neatly folded on the shelves of boutiques in Tokyo, Ravenna or Rimini.

‘The woman I design for is not obviously sexy and embraces a less-is-more attitude. She wants to feel special and appreciates quality’, says the designer.

Bold aesthetics and strong silhouette by Kuczynska are not for kids to play with. They are not for boob-flashers, wardrobe-confused or attention-seekers either. They’re for those celebrating their style and body in a mature, sensual way. When asked how one can cleverly mix austerity and draping, simplicity and baroque, with 50’s-borrowed references all in mild palettes of deep blues and greys, the answer is: Ania Kuczynska.

So when little birds tell you that the usual clique of fashion designers hermetically locked in the Paris-Milan-London-New York circle cannot sleep at night, that may be because they’re just a tiny bit threatened by the growing fashion force in a former Eastern bloc country called Poland.