Beautiful, But Not Yet Bold

Prague Fashion Week Reveals Effort to Shed the Grey

By Erica Gonzales

Beata Rajska eveningwear at Unique Fashion Week. Photo by Erica Gonzales

Red-carpet fashion got a whiff of academic chic last month when Charles University’s Law Faculty hosted “Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend 2014.”

A well-dressed crowd mingled with attendees dressed in sneakers, t-shirts, and dresses that looked more 2004 rather than 2014, and the “crowd” itself was quite sparse.

Yet Prague Fashion Weekend, which this year took place from September 3-7, is the only fashion event in the Czech Republic with an international network, thanks to its sponsor, Mercedes-Benz, which also hosts Fashion Weeks in cities worldwide including Sydney and Berlin. Here in Prague, the 22 fashion shows that took place featured collections by carefully selected Czech and Slovak designers such as Chatty, Zuzana Kubickova, and Klara Nademlynska.

The collections alternated between modest and bold. Designers like Katerina Geislerova, Ivana Mentlova, and Ether had neutral color schemes with black, white, and muted fabrics. However, Tereza Rosalie Kladosova had colorfully avant-garde knitting and Martina Spetlova used vivid patterns and boxy silhouettes. Tique by Petra Balvinova accented its white-based collection with flamingo prints and patent leather. Tereza Ledvinova’s quilted fabrics came in bright blues, greens, and reds. Marketa Martiskova emphasized texture with frills and tutu-like tops. Jakub Polanka surprised audiences by having skeleton-tattoo-covered artist Rick Genest model one of his looks.

“I am amazed by how boldly and fashion-forward the young people here dress now.”

PFW_Richard Genest for Jakup Polanka_via Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend facebook

Artist Rick Genest models for Jakub Polanka at Prague Fashion Week. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Czech labels Tatiana and Beata Rajska, on the other hand, boasted stunning eveningwear and gowns, often with lace embellishments, sequins, and sheer paneling, in their Autumn/Winter 2014 collections. They exhibited their designs at Unique Fashion Week – a seven-day series of fashion shows in Prague sponsored by modeling agency Unique One – which immediately followed Mercedes-Benz’s from September 8-14 and took place in the Slovansky Dum building, near Wenceslas Square.

Prague Fashion Weekend “is different from other fashion weeks because it is almost exclusively local, but that’s a good thing,” said Martina Vackova, a 26-year-old visual merchandiser in Prague and founder of the fashion blog Danny Rose. For emerging designers, events like Fashion Weekend and Unique Fashion Week are beneficial to introducing their brands to buyers, fashion editors, and the general public.

Longest Catwalk in Central Europe

Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend was established five years ago, in an outdoor venue on Parizska Street that became known as “the longest catwalk in Central Europe.” However, Prague is not the only post-communist city with a fashion week or weekend. There are fashion weeks in Berlin and Moscow, which are also sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, Budapest has one sponsored by Toni&Guy hair salons, and smaller versions exist in Poland and Bucharest, Romania as well.

In the 1990s after the Velvet Revolution, foreign visitors would often scoff at Czech fashion. Czechs had a very low per capita income owing to decades of communism and could not afford to keep up with expensive Western trends.

The dawn of Fashion Weekend was a way to let the world know that Czechs were not only commercially part of the fashion pack, but that they could define their own way to the proverbial European house of style. Still, most style critics would argue that Prague has not caught up to Paris or New York when it comes to looking sophisticated and hip, regardless of income.

“We have creative, great designers, people working in the fashion industry that can bring these events to the top level, but unfortunately we don’t have the fashion market for it.”

Sometimes size matters.

For instance, New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week took place from September 4-11, with 146 participating designers, and while London Fashion Week only lasted from September 12-16, it featured 272 designers. Compare these figures to Prague’s 29 participating designers.

This year, Prague Fashion Weekend moved indoors to Charles University’s Faculty of Law because its neoclassical architecture evoked the image of a “fashion temple” that organizers wanted. This was the first time designers participating in the event showcased collections two seasons in advance, in this case for Spring and Summer 2015.

Czech fashion photographer Lucie Desmond, a former Prague resident currently residing in Oxford, UK, has attended both London and Prague fashion events. The 28-year-old former Prague resident took photos at Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend in 2013. “After visiting London Fashion Week only a few days before, I found the event much more relaxing,” she wrote in an email.

Prague fashion a bit “lackluster”

This relaxed nature applies to both Prague Fashion Weekend’s show schedule, and the Czech style of dress.

“Prague fashion is a bit lackluster,” said Heather O’Brien, the freelance fashion and lifestyle journalist behind the Prague Fashion Scene blog who has been living in Prague for 6 years after first living in Los Angeles and New York. “Black or grey are the standard colors of anything, be they the ubiquitous shapeless dress or ill-fitting suit. Pair them with flat shoes of the ‘comfortable’ variety and you have the general idea of Prague fashion or Czech fashion for that matter,” she stated.

Typical outfits for Czechs tend to consist of jeans and t-shirts, or more outdoorsy looks. “Why would you wear trekking shoes to work or school? That I will never understand,” visual merchandiser Vackova wrote.

But Prague, which some foreigners have called the epicenter of “homeless chic” dress – wearing polyester and mismatched, ill-fitting separates is rather typical – has not always been down and out on the fashion radar.

“If you look at much of Prague during the First Republic (1918-1938) you’ll see it was quite the fashionable place,” journalist O’Brien said in an email. “Unfortunately, communism helped ensure that the fashion industry become a recluse hiding out in the chata (country cottage) and not to be seen on the streets of Prague.”

Fashion week attendees.

Street style at Prague Fashion Week. Photo by Erica Gonzales

Blending in has long been a means of protection in Central Europe, from the Austro-Hungarian authorities, the Nazis, and then the communists. It is a skill taught from generation to generation. Being a fashion original is not going to score you points at home, at school, at work or among your friends.

“I think they might be a bit scared of bringing too much attention to themselves because they think that people will be looking at them with disapproval,” photographer Desmond added, when asked about how Czechs like to present themselves to the world. Blogger Vackova said that she and her friends have had strangers criticize their way of dress, which includes high heels, bright-colored skirts, and showing midriff.

The price of well-made clothing is also a decisive factor for Czechs when shopping, according to Desmond. “Sometimes the quality can be replaced by quantity and often Czech people would buy cheap material ‘made in China’ clothing and support this ‘cheap market’ shopping.”

Although the Czech standard of living has come a long way since 1989 when the communist regime was ousted, it is still below the European average for gross domestic product per capita, coming in at 21st place among 37 European countries.

“What’s out there is really expensive,” said Veronika Stankova of Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend. Stankova is a university student in Prague and a residential assistant at New York University in Prague. She and her college friends prefer small boutiques in Prague, such as Yaxi Taxi and Sweet Design 666, to designer labels, because they are cheaper.

“We have creative, great designers, people working in the fashion industry that can bring these events to the top level, but unfortunately we don’t have the fashion market for it,” Desmond said.

Despite the historical and financial setbacks, Czechs are not completely devoid of style, and Prague’s fashion scene is gradually improving. Czech brands, including some menswear lines, are recreating themselves to keep up with rising designers in London and are networking with each other on online commerce sites, according to O’Brien.

The trends seem to be changing with the younger generation, Desmond and Vackova both believe. “I am amazed by how boldly and fashion-forward the young people here dress now,” Vackova said. “So we are getting there.”

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Erica Gonzales is in the NYU College of Arts and Science Class of 2016. Her hometown is Wyckoff, New Jersey.

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Categories: Culture, Fall 2014 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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