A guide to the New East

Marta Jakubowski

The Polish designer offers her take on noughties sex appeal

We rarely think about clothes in relation to memory. In the accelerated cycle of today’s fashion industry, clothes are disposable, caught in a never-ending stream of newness. But garments can be integral to our experience of a given moment: think of that pair of jeans you saved up your pocket money for as a teenager, or the dress your mother used to wear for a special occasion. For designer Marta Jakubowski, memory is central to the creative process. Growing up between Poland and Germany, she is in the vanguard of a new generation of London designers redefining storytelling in fashion. Jakubowski has a very clear way of channelling intangible narratives through her body-conscious designs — whether in a slit or flow in the fabric, or a silhouette that creates a certain feeling. For her Spring 2019 collection, the designer revisits memories of her adolescence, while also tapping into collective nostalgia for the noughties, with their glitz, glam and outrageous sexuality.

Watching Jakubowski’s Spring 2019 show, I was probably not the only person who got a strange tingling sensation. Noughties pop culture often evokes a powerful emotional response. On the one hand, for a lot of millennials, it’s connected to memories of their formative teenage years. On the other, the appeal of Juicy Couture velour tracksuits, rhinestones and overbearing logos has the quality of a guilty pleasure. Marta Jakubowski’s take on the decade was subtle yet on point: low-slung trousers; neon green and popping pink; tiny silky purses; corsets and snake print; colourful jersey dresses with slits which showed a lot of bum and thin cross-body straps which evoked exposed thongs.

Marta Jakubowski. Image: Marta Twin

The collection was partly inspired by Jakubowski’s recent trip to Ibiza, with its vortex of rave and excess. The result was a move in a new direction: previously known for minimalist pieces and bold colours, Jakubowski now works with an abundance of patterns, prints and risky colour combinations. Her method, however, remains linked to the creative vehicle of memory — perhaps a distant echo of her childhood ambition of becoming a psychologist.

“It’s about these memories, like the outfit you’re wearing when you first go to a nightclub or the song you were listening when you just got your driver’s licence… I can’t completely piece together these recollections, so I try to recreate them,” Jakubowski explains. “For example, two seasons ago I designed a green coat, and it started from the idea of a coat which my mum used to wear back in 1989. I didn’t really remember what it looked like exactly, the only thing I knew was that it was a green leather coat. These kinds of memories often make you create something new in your head.”

Marta Jakubowski was born in Poland but grew up in Germany before moving to London to get an MA in Womenswear from the Royal College of Art. She has worked with brands including Hussein Chalayan, Alexander Wang and Jonathan Saunders, alongside a handful of other jobs to fund her business, which she started in 2015. In the last three years, she has gained recognition in the industry: the prestigious NEWGEN sponsorship from the British Fashion Council and a nomination for an LVMH prize in 2018. Setting up a creative business in London was not easy; determination for Jakubowski was the key.

“Before starting my label, I worked making costumes at a theatre, worked for a tailor and tried to travel as much as possible, because fashion is a very international business. After graduation, I worked at restaurants and stores to support my brand. Wherever in the world you are, if you want to create something you have to find the funding, and it’s always going to be difficult,” she says.

What’s the most valuable lesson she’s learnt on her pathway into fashion? “It’s very important to have the right friends around you. That’s a big thing, with so many people who are around me now I have worked with from the very beginning.”

“It’s about these memories, like the outfit you’re wearing when you first go to a nightclub or the song you were listening when you just got your driver’s licence. I try to recreate them”

Jakubowski’s understanding of the relationship between community and clothes and a sense of belonging derives from her own immigrant experience. “I think the more cultures you’re exposed to the better, because later you can just pick what you want from them. I never understood this as a kid because I just wanted to be German and fit in. In Germany I was Polish, but when I used to go to Poland on holiday I was German, so it was difficult. But I can appreciate it now.”

Spending time in Poland as a child certainly had an influence on Jakubowski, but this came much more from her personal, family ties than any broader experience of the country. “My experience of the country was through this little world of my grandmother and aunts. It was always nice because they tried to give me the best time. There was definitely a contrast between Germany and Poland, but also now after living in the UK for a long time, I can see the contrast between Germany and the UK. Some things you don’t realise until you leave and come back.”

This duality of experience notwithstanding, Jakubowski doesn’t have many ties with the fashion community in Warsaw. Indeed, her designs do not reference any particular nationality, belonging much more to the global fashion community, in keeping with the output of other successful Polish designers like MISBVH or Magda Butrym. At the same time, Jakubowski has received a lot of support from the newly launched Polish Vogue and ELLE magazines (ELLE nominated her for the designer of the year; the ceremony is set for October TBC).

In the end, being an emerging fashion designer is a trade of many challenges, of which the most tricky is how to evolve creatively. Young designers are expected to change, whilst also remaining true to their popular signature stylings. Jakubowski’s first big success was her graduate collection, which featured dresses connected with a long train of fabric — a powerful work which channelled grief and sadness. The distance between that breakout moment and her current play on subversive noughties mischief seems considerable. But what matters for Jakubowski is the real emotion which goes into her practical work — with her hands-on approach, fashion design is an integral part of who she is. “With every collection, you don’t realise what it’s like until you get pictures after the show,” she says. “With this one, I had a feeling it was going to be fun, very different to what I was making before. I really enjoy it, it’s like another challenge for me. I don’t want to make the same thing forever.”

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