Traditional handicraft sharply contrasted with the modern architecture of the nearby skyscrapers

Folk Flagship

 Polish supermodel Małgorzata Niemen during Cepeliada fashion show, 27.05.1979 in Warsaw. Photo: Andrzej Marzec ©East News

Polish supermodel Małgorzata Niemen during Cepeliada fashion show, 27.05.1979 in Warsaw. Photo: Andrzej Marzec ©East News

Cepelia, which is an acronym for The Central Office of the Folk and Art Industry, was a state institution founded in 1949 that promoted Polish folk design across the country and beyond.


The craze for folk culture in Poland can be traced back to the 1930s. Following Poland’s regained independence in 1918, the elite were fascinated by Polish folklore and sought to build a new sense of statehood based on what they felt was quintessentially Polish. After the Second World War, the folk culture trend continued with renewed vigour. During the Communist era, anything connected with workers or rural life — as opposed to the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy — was given prominence. The folklore craze was also connected with an attempt to rescue and give new life to ideals supplanted by mass production.


Cepelia opened a beautifully designed store on Place Rogier in Brussels, and a shop on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Cepelia products were also displayed in Victoria & Albert Museum.


Cepelia gave jobs to several hundred cooperatives and artisans, whose products were sold in boutiques across Poland. Cepelia’s flagship store was located in a glass-covered pavilion in the heart of Warsaw. Here, the traditional handicraft on sale sharply contrasted with the modern architecture of the nearby skyscrapers. Cepelia hired art historians, ethnographers, artists and designers to create new designs using folk elements. Occasionally, aristocrats — who found it difficult to get work in Communist Poland — were hired as sales assistants and at one time, the role of sales assistant at Cepelia was considered highly prestigious.


In 1958, Cepelia, which sold design, handicraft and clothing, opened a beautifully designed store on Place Rogier in central Brussels, and a shop on New York’s Fifth Avenue two years later. Cepelia products were displayed at the Polish Folk Art exhibition in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 1997.


Polish folk culture exploded onto the international fashion scene in the late 1960s and remained popular until the end of the 1970s. Cepelia’s designers took universal fashion designs and added Polish folk motifs to create striking new garments, such as evening gowns. They also took traditional folk costumes and reinvented them for the modern era. Sheepskin coats, rural shawls, embroidery, linen, highland motifs and hand-painted fabrics became fashion hits in the big cities. Dresses with rural shawls and men’s peasant-style shirts were perfectly in tune with the fashions of the hippie era, and even miniskirts with the colourful stripes of Polish country costumes were the considered must-have items.


Grażyna Hase worked with a group of ethnographers to design for Cepelia. Her garments were initially made by hand and later mass-produced for the market. Her early, handmade items are now considered a form of haute-couture.*


Source for the article: A publication “Folklore for sale’ by Piotra Korduba

Paulina Latham