FASHION Three designers from Poland talk about what drives their labels and whether or not their clothes come with a Polish identity

Many nations have succeeded in branding their national design identity as a distinct school of thought — France, Italy, the Netherlands... (The U.K. is still trying to market “Cool Britain.”) Even Scandinavia has come out with a new lingo for the high street. Indian fashion design is separate too, on account of a very distinct design vocabulary that sets it apart from even its immediate neighbours. But not many outside Poland know of Polish designers and “Polish design”. As a first step, the Polish Fashion Institute, along with the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Polish Culture Institute, brought to New Delhi three important fashion designers from Poland — Bartek Michalec of Zuo Corp, Agniezska Maciejak, and Maciej Zien of Zien.

Grazyna Olbrych, head of the Polish Fashion Institute, who accompanied the designers here, says, “Of course, we are not known for fashion yet but we have very interesting designers and great talent. Fashion-wise we are a young country; it’s been just 20 years. . I think India and Poland are on the same level that way — people in India are also looking at new things, and they don’t have to be the big brands, because the big brands are everywhere in the world. Also, we strongly believe that fashion transcends cultures, that there is a common language of fashion. ”

Agnieszka Maciejak

With her jet-black hair cut in a severe fringed blunt, and wearing clothes from her own label, Agnieszka is her label’s best brand ambassador — even if fans of her label include the likes of Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson and Helena Christensen. A graphic design student from the Academy of Fine Art, Warsaw, Agnieszka has become popular for her signature leggings. Explaining her design philosophy, she says, “I am a woman, and I design for women. I cater to the needs of a woman who is active, wants to look good and, at the same time, be comfortable. I’m constantly looking for the answer to what women want; I’m the first one to try my clothes, so I know whether something’s good enough to be worn every day or not.”

A fan of contrast, the designer likes mixing hard and soft elements, like tulle and very heavy leather, or tulle and metal elements. “For me woman has a dual identity; sometimes you need something very comfortable, sometimes you need something really strong to define your personality.” Agnieszka, who loves Manish Arora among Indian designers, insists her work doesn’t come from local references or a national identity. “I’m not designing as a Polish designer. I don’t think there’s any typical Polish design. Right now I’m in talks with Harrods for a retail proposition. They see me as a designer who’s breaking some rules in fashion. They don’t think of my design as Polish design.” However, she says, wearability and a stress on creative thinking could emerge as the big values in Polish fashion.

Zien (by Maciej Zien)

One of Poland’s biggest names in fashion, Maciej Zien famously debuted at a show when he was 17. Founded in 2000, his label Zien is the go-to for those looking for classic glamour infused with elements of sportswear. He also designs costumes for Polish theatre, an interest stemming from a stint as a professional ballet dancer. This isn’t his first trip to India; he visited Mumbai last year to source material and embroidery.

“The sari is spectacular. It’s really inspiring for us, but what would be good is to take Indian embroidery and handwork and fuse it with Polish taste,” he ponders. Question him about this “Polish taste”, and Maciej says, “We (in Poland) don’t use many elements from our culture. What we have is from the countryside, which not many designers find chic. Nobody in the city wants to use that …Here you are very proud of your culture. You’re Indian and you’re proud, and it’s nice. It’s really different in Poland. We don’t have a cultural dress code.”

Zuo Corp (by Bartek Michalec)

Zuo Corp is just two years old. Here in the Capital, Zuo Corp’s Winter 2012-13 collection, ‘Jungle Gardenia’, was showcased. Bartek Michalec, who’s wearing a turtle-neck from the label’s diffusion line, says, “Why we decided to show the collection was we wanted to see the reaction of India to European traditional tailoring in new techniques, fabrics and colours. ” The thrust, he says, is discovering newer techniques, like gluing the fabrics on polyurethane foam, the way it’s done in surfing clothes — only in surfing clothes you have knitwear stuck on the foam. “That can give you structure, that can give you straight geometrical shapes,” Bartek explains. “We use fabrics like laser-cut fur on sleeves of jackets, new-generation jacquards made of polyester… The main fabric in this collection is silk, which is not woven but ironed by a big press and glued on the wool knitwear. It’s white and looks like snow,” he explains.On Poland’s fashion industry, he says, “We’ve had a lot of business because We’ve been a small European manufacturer doing production for big brands from Paris or London. We’re a new thing in the Polish fashion business because in our luxury line we produce and design red carpet garments — but they’re not silk dresses. We try to find new technology. It’s difficult for people to see that it’s sexy in the ‘normal’ way. But it’s sexy, with the colour, the techniques.”