During the communist period, Warsaw was considered one of the most stylish cities of the Eastern Bloc. Neither censorship nor scarcity of materials stopped Poles from pursuing fashion; on the contrary, they forced budding designers to develop new techniques to make their garments a reality.
Nowadays, the Polish fashion industry is thriving, thanks to social media. Fashion weeks persist, such as Fashion Philosophy or KTW, but Instagram is the go-to platform for labels to show off their collections and give a sense of their personality. Following its controversial launch in February 2018, the arrival of Vogue Poland has not only given local brands more exposure, but has created collaboration opportunities for emerging fashion talents: designers, photographers, stylists, models, and more.
The new generation of Polish designers have more freedom than their predecessors, not least in being able to sell their wares across the world. Yet they’re also facing dark times, with the rise of nationalism, discrimination against LGBTQ communities, violations of women’s rights, and the climate crisis. For some young designers, fashion has become a way to participate in urgent social debates, while others are continuing to push the boundaries of form and materials. Here’s a taster of Poland’s emerging fashion talent.
“Retrofuturism” is an apt description of Martyna Sowik’s style. The designer, who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, draws inspiration from subcultures of the past to create witty and ironic collections that often comment on the present. As Sowik says, she’s looking for a new language to discuss today’s prominent problems. Her collection United States of Poland, presented in 2016, featured a leather jacket emblazoned with the words “God, Honour, Fatherland” — a phrase circulated by Polish right-wing groups — to draw attention to the prevalence of nationalism in the country. The title of her latest collection, Please Verify That You Are Human, confronts the aesthetic, informational, and technological overload we experience everyday.
Though his wild vision verges on the avant-garde, Adrian Krupa asserts that his pieces are meant for the streets. The designer is currently a student of Fashion Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź. In 2018, he won the first prize in the Golden Thread competition, open to professional designers and debutants at Polish fashion schools. His designs have already gained recognition among Polish artists and celebrities (singer Natalia Nykiel appeared in Krupa’s clothes in the music video for the song Łuny).
Krupa is particularly interested in form, shape, structure, and their deconstruction. His latest collection, entitled Fetish, was inspired by a Japanese skin-tight garment called zentai, which covers the entire body but maintains an erotic undertone. Both alluring and disturbing, the balaclavas featured in the collection are a visual reference to Surrealist artist René Magritte, whose paintings often depict figures with their faces veiled, hidden, or turned away from the viewer. Combining matte faux leather with semi-transparent textiles, Fetish plays with notions of the covered and the nude.
In her work, Aleksandra Seweryniak delves into the complexity of human emotions and the idea of losing oneself. The designer graduated from the Department of Textile Art and Fashion Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź. Her graduation collection Luzztra (a play on Luzztro club in Warsaw) featuring glitzy and crystal elements, took its inspiration from the iconic New York nightclub Studio 54, and made it to the final of the Łódź Young Fashion Award. Her garments have appeared in prestigious fashion magazines, including L’Officiel, Elle and Vogue.
Leather leg-warmers, gloves, and larger-than-necessary frills best encapsulate the brand. Her latest collection, Erratic, is an exploration of everything kitsch — lace, pearls, and ruffles create one-of-a-kind, opulent, exaggerated silhouettes. Though the colour palette sticks to neutral shades, the cape, sequined overalls, and tailored trousers tucked into wellington boots of the lookbook turn its forest setting into a surreal ballroom.
Slated as one of the most promising Polish designers of his generation, Tomasz Armada creates pieces (or “rags”, as he calls them) that are consistently provocative, flitting between the socially acceptable and the outright peculiar. His work is associated with the city of Łódź, in particular the district of Bałuty, and inspired by local folklore. He uses a range of often unconventional materials: from recycled clothes found in second-hand shops to plastic bags from the local market. Armada is not afraid to be vocal when it comes to LGBTQ rights, social divisions, and the rise of nationalism. His “patriotic wear” collection show sparked controversy at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź Graduation Gala, when organisers did not allow Armada to play a song by feminist punks Siksa. He is also part of the artistic group Dom Mody Limanka (Limanka Fashion House).
Pat Guzik is a Polish designer leading the way when it comes to sustainability. She insists, though, that her collections — a fusion of high-fashion and streetwear — are not meant to be taken too seriously. In collaboration with illustrator Mateusz Kołek, the designer creates colourful garments that combine Slavic and Asian influences to create unusual patterns. Her newest collection, called There were never flowers, there was fire, features splashes of cobalt, patchwork pieces, and patterns adorning scarves, tights, and hats.
The brand’s aim is to tell the truth about the harmful effects of fast fashion and reduce the textile waste that is a consequence of production processes. All the clothes are made in Poland with local materials. Her collections are also unisex and come in one size. Guzik graduated from the faculty of Philosophy and the School of Art and Fashion Design in Kraków; she also lectures on design at the Chongquing Technology and Business University in China. Her collections have been presented all over the world, including Hong Kong, Hannover, Budapest, and Riga. She has been awarded numerous prizes, such as the EcoChic Design Award in Hong Kong and the Eluxe Award in Los Angeles.