Prague's New Guard
Prague's Fashion Week has come a long way. Ever since Lukáš Loskot, CEO of the event, and his team took over three seasons ago, they turned the Mercedes-Benz labeled event upside down by narrowing down the selection of designers, and coming up with a bi-annual runway show concept that puts the fashion – not the show – at the core of the event. "We basically rebuilt the event from scratch; slipping away from presenting local designers and commercial brands with the current in-store collections to a fashion week in a proper meaning of this term," explained Loskot while helping Martina Spetlova, a London-based Czech fashion designer, with the rehearsals of her runway show at Prague's skatepark.
“In one year we proved that Prague should be taken seriously in the world of contemporary fashion."
And it was not an easy task, if you consider the results of a recent market study published by Fashionreport.cz, a fact-finding project of the Czech online fashion store ZOOT, in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week and the agency Perfect Crowd. The latest study maps the fashion taste of Czech and Slovak people, their monthly expenses on clothing, and their willingness to shop during the year. In fact, the results of the report go beyond revealing buying trends, as it also gives insights into the mindset of the local fashion consumer – and those insights might just be a young designer's nightmare. According to the study, the majority of Czech fashion aficionados would rather spend their money on international fashion brands – most women referred to Chanel, while men opted for Hugo Boss – instead of Czech ones. In addition, many also think that Czech-made authorial fashion costs more money than they are actually willing to spend, which is why they only buy it sporadically, if at all. However, the study also gives some hope to young creatives that yearn for a broader local audience, as it states that the participating respondents have declared that they choose pieces from authorial fashion when they have a relationship to or can identify with the fashion designer – which is why Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week's concept dedicated to the promotion of local, independent designers could actually have a positive impact on the Czech fashion consumption pattern, if carried out on a long-term basis.
"We are trying to make the event more attractive for both local and international media, buyers, and clients. In one year, we proved that Prague should be taken seriously in the world of contemporary fashion," concluded Lukáš Loskot. And yes, Czech fashion has every reason for optimism and confidence in the future of its creative potential. One could only marvel at the ability of Prague's young fashion design students of the Academy of Arts to not only produce and stage coherent collections from A to Z, but to actually pay attention to quality and craftsmanship, and to put know-how on the same level as creativity. Such a balance between outstanding creativeness and accurate realization is a rare phenomenon amongst the world's top fashion schools and institutions, as it is well to known that fashion design courses tend to focus on supporting creative concepts, rather than helping students acquire a sense of the reality of the business. Even though the fashion industry doesn't lack in creative minds, it could definitely benefit from more go-getters, from more doers than thinkers – in other words, the story (or in this case, the fable) has it that we could rather use more ants than grasshoppers.
"We're a small community of designers – we help each other, we party with each other; there is no feeling of greed or competition."
Hana Frisonsova, for her part, definitely belongs to the aforementioned go-getter type. She didn't sing and play all summer, but focused on getting her collection ready to hit the runway. In fact, during the entire interview, Frisonsova couldn't help it and had to fiddle around, keeping herself busy with sewing tasks. When asked to focus on the interview, her eyebrows instantly raised and were accompanied by a "Can I at least keep ironing?" Of course you can; you obviously can't stop a person that is so hands-on. Did she at least try to work with an assistant for the preparation of her eclectic and urban flavored men's and women's wear Spring/Summer 2016 collection? No, she didn't. "I like to do it myself, because I simply do it best," smiled the designer while keeping her hands busy. "But don't get me wrong, I'm not a control freak or whatever, I just like to do things properly, and to learn along the way." Her eagerness to learn and willingness to take risks on her own is also reflected in her various technical attempts: as she was unable to source the right fabrics in the colors that she'd wished for locally, she decided to opt for a hand-made tie-dye technique, which is so subtle that it could be mistaken for piece-dyed clothing. And whenever she's overwhelmed by a technical challenge, there is always a fellow designer or artist at hand to help by exchanging skills and tricks – or providing a hand-painted futuristic-flavored print motif for her collection. "We're a small community of designers – we help each other, we party with each other; there is no feeling of greed or competition whatsoever," added Frisonsova. What is there left to say? Restrictions force you to become supportive, resourceful, and truly inventive.
Unlike his fellow designers, including Hana Frisonsova and Petra Ptáčková, that count on local stores and e-commerce only to sell their collections, Vladimír Staněk has found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: in fact, he was tapped by Pietro Filipi – a Czech formal tailoring brand with an Italian sounding name, that is sold in more than 45 stores in 8 European countries – as the brand's new Head Designer for menswear soon after he completed his studies roughly four years ago. Consequently, Stanek didn't need to worry in terms of finding the right budget and manufacturers for his own sportswear-flavored and edgy menswear line named “Stinak Vladimir Stanek.” His multifaceted education, including stints at Prague's Academy of Arts and London's University of Arts, among other institutions, taught him not only fashion design, but also interior architecture and industrial design, and allowed him to get a sense for what it takes to finalize a product and meet the customers’ needs. He did, however, wonder if there's an actual audience in Eastern Europe for his rather conceptual menswear. "The fashion scene in Prague is quite small. We all know each other; there are just not so much potential customers that we don't know already," noted Stanek. Indeed, you can't build a business on selling to friends of friends and extended family members only. "But I can consider myself very lucky. I keep on receiving e-mail requests from around the world, including Japan and the United States, of people that want to buy my pieces, and the sales go well locally...now I just need to finish my new online store!"
"I just want to be free to express whatever I want to and to experiment with my work."
Back at Prague's skatepark where the majority of the fashion shows took place, Martina Spetlova worked just as hard as Vladimír Staněk did, not only to draw attention to her work, but also to become a true master of her trade. In fact, the London-based designer made a name for herself in Big Ben, before being a part of Prague's fashion scene, with her unique take on women's ready-to-wear crafted from ingeniously laser-cut leathers. As a former chemistry major and Central Saint Martins graduate, Spetlova's scientific background naturally echoes in the systematic geometric aesthetics of her patterns, and perfectly mingles with her sophisticated take on womenswear. “I'm glad to be sold in iconic stores, such as Dover Street Market. I definitely found the right audience in London, and the brand is expanding naturally,” explained the designer. “But it's also important for me to come back to Prague, to participate in this event, and to evolve with this positive energy,” she added.
Petra Ptáčková, for her part, handles the challenges of being a young independent fashion designer quite well. Seeking independence above all, Ptáčková acts for television films and ads in order to finance her seasonal collection. And aside from her money-making job on television, she also combines her passion for sports and inline skating with her interest for urban fashion – a mix which is clearly visible in the deconstructed shapes and functional fits of her men's and women's wear pieces. "I just want to be free to express whatever I want to and to experiment with my work," she added, while emphasizing that local manufacturers would sadly not even "give it a try" whenever she'd arrive with an unusual pattern to produce, or something that they have no prior experience working with. "It seems as if they don't take us seriously," concluded Ptáčková. "Of course, I only produce on a small scale, so it's not even financially worth it for them, as they are used to massive orders from commercial brands, but I strongly believe that this mindset will change one day. This does not only mean that we have to stand up for our own creativity, it also means that we have to communicate on fashion in a way that it becomes part of our general culture – it's all possible, but it will take a lot of time."