Fashion Invasion. The Modern Fashion and Photography from Poland.

Polish fashion does not exist. There are, of course, designers, stylists, make-up artists, hairdressers, editors of magazines, male and female models and even photographers, who put this all together and send in the form of beautiful pictures to colorful magazines.

In Poland, however, there is no fashion as a widely discussed social and cultural phenomenon, there is no fashion as an important form of expression and fashion as space for experimenting with the identity of individuals and groups. There is no heated debate on fashion shows, no deep or critical feedback about this or that collection, not mentioning reflections on trends. There is no flood of blogs where pitched battles at the front line of style war would take place, there is also a lack of districts and streets in Polish cities where one could look over new clothes in boutiques and concept stores without being embarrassed. In the modern art galleries, there are no fashion exhibitions and fashion photography, there are no great designers or tailor artists so the lack of historical description of this phenomenon in the country laid by the river Vistula does not surprise. The lack of prestigious academies training professional designers and reliable tailors and the lack of real-life fashion industry are noticeable. There is also no fashion underground, no magazines other than the mainstream ones, sustaining the dependence from the patterns developed in the West, supporting the fashion status quo.

There are few glamour supermodels, who are better known in New York than in Warsaw, and less than a dozen talented and ambitious photographers, there are less brilliant stylists than there are fingers on one hand.

The Polish fashion does not exist - it may be a sad conclusion but also it is liberating to some extent because fashion - in a broad sense - is being made up in Poland almost before our very eyes. Certainly, the history of Poland has influenced the late birth of the fashion system. Starting from partitions, through consecutive world wars up to the half-century of the Polish People's Republic, the society was busy with things more important than the fashionable style. The Polish fashion are the January Uprising’s national day of mourning long black dresses, legion socks, practical clothes of the boys from the anti-fascist underground movement and socialist-realistic drill. If something shined out and stood out, it was rather a case of an exception proving the rule (including the episode in the recent history of Poland, which is the interwar period). Paradoxically, the transitional period after the year 1989 also did not work for fashion. Catching up with the West, elite getting rich, the transition into capitalism did not result in any particularly attractive, recognizable style. Polish economy, culture so also fashion after 1989 shined mainly reflected light, putting Western patterns for nonreflective consumption. There was no place for subtlety and beauty here. The change that is taking place today has been prepared by the emergence of the first illustrated magazines made in Poland and addressed to the local receiver. Slowly, Polish designers (Joanna Klimas) with photographers (Jacek Poremba, Piotr Porębski, Marcin Tyszka) and models (Ewa Witkowska, Małgorzata Bela) started to get into the mainstream and co-design not only the fashion system but also the star system. After the first decade of freedom, the vibe straight out of the Polisch People's Republic was going away, new faces were appearing on the scene.

Fashion Invasion - it is a tricky title which, in a rather idealistic way, tells what is about to happen, points at the potential of the Polish fashion system rather than the actual state. The idea is that it is the first exhibition to present the mainstream of fashion as seen from the perspective of the most eminent photographers and stylists. In this respect, the exhibition presented in Szczecin - on a festival with a name so relevant to the subject, Inspirations - does not refer to the history of the genre but to the fashion-related exhibitions in the field of art designed earlier. In contrast to Paweł Leszkowicz’s Vogue (CSW Łaźnia, 2009), the exhibition prepared for inSPIRACJE devoted to glamour does not center on the homoerotic subjects, nor claims the emancipation of sexual minorities through fashion. It rather examines the beauty inspiring the mainstream of culture; it examines how what is global intertwines with what is peripheral (Polish). Is a country with complicated history and poor tangible culture able at all to generate positive value in the form of beauty, luxury, bliss, in other words: glamour? According to the Oxford Dictionary, glamour means magic, enchantment or illusive, alluring, attractive, exciting beauty or charm (especially feminine), physical attractiveness. In this definition, the significant specification draws attention - especially feminine - femininity, as inherently tied to fashion, seen in a different way from the post-feminist view dominating in the field of modern art, is also part of this puzzle. The exhibition mainly connects fashion and photography (taking design into account) but does not get involved in the subject of architecture or industrial design, which happen to be shown on exhibitions dedicated to glamour. In this respect, the subject area of glamour is narrowed down in order not to embrace the whole area of reality. Fashion invasion, through the exhibition of photography, videos, fashion projects/objects is set to be the beginning of the process of Polish glamour’s recent history development, drawing attention to this phenomenon that is as important as it is being made marginal by the world of art (which the aforementioned Vogue exhibition in CSW Łaźnia indicated, in a way).

Fashion Invasion analyzes the phenomenon of formation of new lifestyles and aestheticism of everyday life which we are dealing with in Poland today. The bloom of fashion with the new glamour aestheticism appears interesting. Thus, not by accident does the exhibition not focus on the artists but on the photographers and stylists who, through their photographs, works, videos present clothes from the most important Polish fashion designers: from Gosia Baczyńska, Anna Kuczyńska and Eva Minge to Paprocki&Brzozowski duo, Tomasz Ossoliński, Krystof Stróżyna and Maciej Zień.

An important problem, from the point of view of Fashion Invasion, is the contemporary subject’s forming of own I, creating image, and reflexive work on the individual personality. This is not the only burning matter that demands attention. Certainly, an important matter for better understanding of the modernity is capturing the relationship between fashion and art. A relationship which has long history. At least from the times of Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde and Georg Simmel, fashion and art remain in as toxic as an inspiring relationship. In reference to Baudelaire, one could compare them to two twin sisters, each one of which has unmanageable, capricious character features and, while one is getting older before our very eyes, the other is being served well by the time, which ads to her value and splendor. The first of the sisters, the fashion - as wished the author of Curiosités Esthétiques - is as airy and evanescent as modernity; the beauty of the other - maybe not so stunning at first sight - is timeless. In case of art and modern fashion the situation has gone through wide-ranging complication. It is far more difficult for us than it was in the 19th Century to predict what is art and what is fashion and works of which one of them will survive the ruthless test of time. Certainly, both sisters, sticking to the metaphor introduced earlier in the text, wake the desire in today’s dandies as well as in their grandfathers interested in expressing their own I through the clothing style, lifestyle, aesthetic reception of the world and collecting moments of artistic illumination.

This attitude is being met by - springing up like mushrooms after the second half of the 1990s - lifestyle magazines, often and curiously writing about modern art, and art magazines, more and more willingly going on for fashion and - more broad - lifestyle. The development of modern art in Poland goes hand in hand not only with the success of national models and designers but, first and foremost, intensification of the relationships fashion/art, which materialize in the form of a dandy, more and more often met at the streets of large Polish cities. Fashion is characterized by constant change and return of the new - a typical feature of modernity - and we, craving to be absolutely modern in a Rimbaudian fashion, have become its worshippers, as Małgorzata Trzeciak, a critic and historian writing about the relation between fashion and 1 art, correctly points out in her text in the Internet’s Cycle. A production for the needs of fashion industry having artistic ambitions is different from an artistic production touching fashion. Such attitude might be exemplified by the photographs by Zuzanna Krajewska (from 2006 in a duet with Bartek Wieczorek), Magda Wunsche & Samsel, Szymon Rogiński and Katarzyna Korzeniecka (working side by side with Ania Kuczyńska), Magdalena Łuniewska, Artur Wesołowski, Mateusz Stankiewicz, Aldona Karczmarczyk, or, last but not least, Marcin Tyszka, one of the hottest Polish photographers working in the country as well as abroad. Each of the aforementioned photographers (and photographers’ duets) works like an agent poisoning the everlasting world of art with evanescent fashion and vice versa, introducing subversive and transgressive elements better known to gallery visitors than fashion admirers having their noses in popular journals.

The photographer’s view is the key to understanding contemporary Polish fashion but what is being photographed is already carefully chosen, arranged, composed, so it is designed. It is hard to imagine contemporary fashion photography and fashion without style and the persona of a stylist. It is no coincidence the best stylists become gods of contemporary culture, they define new trends, show what and with what and, first and foremost, how to wear. If in Polish fashion, a proverbial red sequined skirt on fashion shows is met with louder applause than an extravagantly tailored suit, it is a stylist’s function to restore the order and balance between what is original and what is popular. Unfortunately, it also results from the fact that the designers in Poland still put thinking about an unsophisticated receiver before the project’s originality (thus the lack of designers as artists on the exhibition - with an exception of Krystof Stróżyna, Tomasz Ossoliński and Ania Kuczyńska). Today, it seems, designers deliver rather raw material, needing further work, stylization. This will undoubtedly change soon but today it seems that the way Polish fashion looks and the way it is received is more influenced by the artists in the role of stylists: Marek Adamski (an author of clothes’ designs, collage, photographs), Łukasz Pycior (projects, films, photographs), Andrzej Sobolewski (objects, installation works, performances, films).

When writing about new phenomena taking on the topic of beauty, fashion and photography, one cannot avoid noticing the emergence of the paparazzo character over the last few years. In case of this particular figure of a photographer - exposer and, at the same time, the participant of the fashion system we are dealing with a game within the system of capitalistic production and distribution of images. On the one hand, paparazzo acts as removing glitter and lie of the media creating a show. On the other hand, the production of quasi-reporting forms from the lives of celebrities has seemingly critical characteristics, not to say propelling the selling rates of the same illustrated titles. If the tabloids have their full-time paparazzi, then the Polish fashion world is caught on the beat by Mikołaj Komar, the founder and the senior editor of the cult magazines, from Fluid and A4 to K-Mag, currently made by him. The photographs from the Through The Eye Of Komar series are, on the one hand, a chronicle of evanescent events, parties and shows attended by the Polish celebrities but on the other hand, there is something more to those photographs. This something is probably the evanescent beauty, of which Baudelaire wrote, talking about fashion. And, in this matter, not much has changed since Baudelaire’s times up until Komar’s times.

Adam Mazur

1 M. Trzeciak, When fashion is art and art is fashion, Obieg, http://www.obieg.pl/text/07040401.php ; june 2007