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NJAL In Eastern Europe
... follow along as our very own Stefan Siegel goes to Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia and Serbia: Part 1 - Bratislava
Eastern Europe tends to be a bit of a question mark for outsiders and people who have never visited. Long painted with the same communist red paint, these countries were understood at arms length until the fall of the iron curtain in the late 1980s. Tentative steps towards modernisation, not westernisation, have made these cities into creative hubs. Take Bratislava for example, although one of the youngest capitals, its rich cultural heritage can be seen universally. Straddling the banks of the Danube, and with its city limits kissing borders with Austria and Hungary, this capital is no stranger to outside influence. It’s architecture is a mosaic of historical influences with Austrian and Hungarian designs dominating the central square where the buildings are a collection of creams, pale mint and sun-bleached gold all unified with the iconic red-slate roof.
This motley collection of styles is what makes Bratislava’s cultural scene so dynamic, and once a year the Bratislava Art Festival celebrates that vibrancy. Designed to create a unified platform to strengthen the position of art in Slavic culture, this festival aims to enrich the capital and engage its citizens. Targeting the art, fashion and design spheres they offered an active and engaging ranges of exhibitions, workshops and showcases. The Slovak Fashion Council hosted me, for a lecture at the Vysoká Škola Výtvarných Umení - the local academy of fine art and design, where they discussed creative entrepreneurship, the perils of starting your own brand and how to manage the pitfalls of the contemporary fashion industry. The council, established just last year, has made it their mission to promote local design talent as well as establish a strategy to kick-start manufacturing and establish a “Made in Slovakia” following.
At the same time, the fashion council put on Absolventi Módy - a showcase of this year’s fashion graduates. In collaboration with the Slovak Design Centre we began to see the product of this region that was previously unchartered territory. Invited by knitwear designer Dana Kleinert, our eyes were opened to the range of talent that Bratislava has to offer. Bold usage of colour took inspiration from traditional Slovakian embroidery, along with complex draping styles and highly technical garments – like Lucia Cabanova’s ‘hair’ dress, or Lukaš Kimlička’s flowing gowns - highlight an approach to fashion that uses creativity as the core motivator.
NJAL’s very own Marcel Holubec Marcel Holubec W. also based in Bratislava, approaches fashion with an artistic flair that involves a merging of fabrics and materials to create an extension of the creator. After being blown away by the talent and creativity we learned that most Slovakian designers tend to escape Bratislava and head to Vienna for their education, and often establish labels and brands their. With such talent rooted deep in the Slavic soil, we are encouraging these migrants to return and help feed their budding domestic industry.
The next day, we were in for yet another surprise. Our local guide, total Bratislava expert and fashion blogger, Dominika Fričová from Shokolo, led us on a winding country road for an hour outside the city centre to something we never suspected. Surrounded by rolling hills dotted with moss brown cattle is the Zoya Museum. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard for it but this architectural delight comes with some serious art world associations. The modern deco-esque building houses a permanent Andy Warhol collection of over 100 original works. Despite being famously vague when discussing his pedigree, Warhol’s parents were Slovakian and this permanent collection has been established as homage to the Fluxus artist. Whilst looking at Warhol’s pieces one can draw parallels between the artist’s controversial role in establishing the pop-art movement and the Slovakian talent we observed poised to make it’s own mark. We see it lasting more than 15 minutes…
Watch this space for our report from Łódź, the host city to Poland Fashion Week commencing 24 October.