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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 28, 2012
Warsaw Voice Life & Style Guide
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Polish Fashion in the Wings
September 28, 2012   
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The curtain rises. The orchestra strikes up and the stage comes alive with a theatrical extravaganza. Singers and dancers in exclusive and glittering costumes burst onto the stage to the opening strains of La Traviata. The costumes are the work of Polish designers, who make every operatic performance a fashion show. Gosia Baczyńska and Tomasz Ossoliński are two of the biggest names in Polish design and their elaborate outfits can be yours—if you are a fashionista. For now, Polish fashion still seems to be the preserve of the few.

“These things are one-offs, things that have an inimitable feel about them. Very feminine,” is how stage, screen and TV actress Małgorzata Kożuchowska describes Baczyńska’s designs. Kożuchowska has made red-carpet appearances in these creations for years.

Baczyńska might be a name that commands respect in the fashion world and in the media but, as a brand, it still seems to be out of reach. And this is not the fault of the price tags. The designer herself says, “These clothes are way cheaper than creations of comparable quality and conception from international fashion houses.”

The problem may be inaccessibility. Maybe they come with an invisible “Stars Only” tag. That’s why a less expensive line, available in boutiques, has just come out.

Baczyńska is not the only designer to have homed in to what the market wants. Maciej Zień, another major player in Polish fashion, is moving in the same direction. Although he is known as the “stars’ favorite designer” and has twice taken part in Paris Fashion Week, Zień is slowly starting to broaden his customer base as well. “My boutiques stock three basic lines. First up there’s Zień-a-Porter, a ready-to-wear range of tops, tunics and dresses. Prices start at zl.690 and top quality fabrics and finishings are used. The second line is Zień Atelier. Prices here start at zl.3,000. These are mainly evening dresses, often made from hard-to-get fabrics, usually fastened and sewn by hand, and adorned with beads or Swarovski crystals. There are usually only a couple made, and even then they are most often made to order. The Zień Mariage line is a wedding collection and it’s similarly priced,” says the designer. Like Baczyńska, Zień has designed costumes for the National Opera, including those for the ballets Kurt Weill and Tristan. “I don’t think there is a direct link between theater and everyday fashion, but all my designs combine the classical and the contemporary. That’s what the creations for the stage have in common with those in the shops,” he says. Polish fashion has its own specific “microclimate.” “Polish designers obviously don’t work on the same scale as international fashion houses. What they do have, however, is a loyal clientele who appreciate a more individual approach to creating an image. Polish clothing brands like Reserved and Simple have also achieved considerable success and are holding their own in Poland and abroad. I think that Polish fashion is doing well. And it’s getting better every season,” he adds.

Zień is probably right. According to Poland’s Central Statistical Office, sales by the country’s clothing and textile industry increased by an impressive 12.3 percent between 2010 and 2011. This amounted to zl.657 million at the end of 2011. According to the Fashion Industry Association, the Polish clothing industry is valued at more than zl.7 billion a year. A financial audit compiled by KPMG augurs well for Polish luxury brands. According to their report, entitled The Market for Luxury Goods in Poland, Polish consumers say they allocate 13 percent of their annual income to luxury goods. The report adds that this figure could increase by 50 percent over the next two or three years.

Despite all that, Polish fashion is still in its infancy and it predominantly caters to an elite. Polish firms are barely mentioned in the KPMG study. Jewelry companies Kruk and Apart are in there, as is the clothing company Simple, but Baczyńska and Zień are nowhere to be found.

Exclusive Polish fashion is not just conspicuously missing from business reports, but from places where businesswomen—potential customers—are likely to learn about it. “No Polish designer has ever approached me with an offer, or invited me to a show—closed or open—for businesswomen,” says Marzena Koczut, vice-chairwoman of the board of PKO BP Bankowy PTE S.A

“Nor do I hear any of this kind of information at exclusive Warsaw salons or, for example, at managerial or business conferences. There is simply a lack of traditional marketing and of good, old-fashioned, word-of-mouth marketing. A lot of things could change if somebody hit upon the idea of promoting Polish fashion by linking it with business,” Koczut adds.
Poland’s top designers number around 30 and most of them are pitching themselves at the international market. Teresa Rosati and Krzysztof Stróżyna (marketed as “Krystof Strozyna”), are the best examples of designers better known abroad than at home. Stróżyna might be only 30 but he certainly had industry insiders talking about him at the most recent London Fashion Week and his designs are already being worn by celebrities like Kate Perry and Cheryl Cole.

The more controversial Ewa Minge, who can claim socialite Ivana Trump as a repeat customer, is winning plaudits in the west, and the apparel of Dawid Woliński can be purchased from a trendy boutique in Los Angeles.

Independent Polish fashion labels are also fighting for a slice of the international action. English-language websites have made it possible for fashion and design labels to market and sell their wares to people anywhere in the world. As many as 300 Polish companies are using this tool to win customers from outside the country.

“There are still very few Polish designers selling their creations abroad but all that is going to change,” says Baczyńska. “They’re slowly picking up how things are done elsewhere and learning how to meet production requirements in terms of quantity. At the same time, more opportunities are turning up. I’m now seeing more and more interest in my designs,” she adds.

Polish luxury fashion still comes across as being out of reach and not expansive enough. But it can still find buyers. According to the KPMG report, Poland has become a considerably more affluent society in the last 10 years and the outlook for the market is positive. “Growth in Poland’s luxury goods market, especially in the clothing sector, is really going to take off,” says Sławomir Toni Podniesiński, marketing and sales manager at clothes company Interviking. Before it gets to that stage, though, Polish fashion is going to have to go back to the dressing room and take off that mask of aloofness.

Katarzyna Kaczmarek
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