Hoffland was among the first lowcost avant-garde fashion labels The launch of the label ended in police intervention when the crowd shattered the store windows and damage in store.

Barbara Hoff—‘Fashion dictator’

 Hofand 1967 collection. Photo: Tadeusz Rolke ©Agencja Gazeta

Hofand 1967 collection. Photo: Tadeusz Rolke ©Agencja Gazeta

Hoffland was a wonder of socialist-era Warsaw. The brainchild of Barbara Hoff, the company opened in 1963 and was among the first lowcost avant-garde fashion labels in the world, focusing on mass-produced designer wear that was cheap, fast and on trend.

Already known as an art historian and wife of the famous writer Leopold Tyrmand, Barbara Hoff sold her clothing at Centrum, a chain of large retail stores located in the centre of Poland’s biggest cities, often in modern glass-covered buildings.


Barbara Hoff was perhaps the only fashion designer in the world to work simultaneously as a journalist. Her readership, numbering in the millions, was a testament to her popularity. Between 1954 and 2002, Hoff wrote a column for the intellectual and influential lifestyle magazine Przekrój, which sold nearly a million copies a week at the height of its popularity, with readers would often passing their copy on to others to read.

 

 I ruled with dictatorial zeal. I wrote in a style that was intolerant of dissenting opinion


“I love power and always wanted to become a politician. I wanted to rule. In those days, people who shared my political convictions were excluded from politics; but in fashion I ruled with dictatorial zeal. I wrote in a style that was intolerant of dissenting opinion. But more importantly, I came up with a ruthlessly effective way of promoting fashion. When I wanted the entire country to wear red dresses and frills, I began waging a carefully-crafted campaign a couple of months in advance — soon people were smashing the windows at Centrum stores to get them,” said Hoff in an interview for Wysokie Obcasy magazine. The launch of the Hoffland label, much hyped on the pages of Przekrój, ended in police intervention when the crowd, who had been queuing since five o’clock in the morning, reportedly shattered the store windows and damage in store.

  Actress Ma  ł  gorzata Braunek by Tadeusz Rolke. Dress and styling: Barbara Ho     /Ho     and,   1969   ©Agencja Gazeta

Actress Małgorzata Braunek by Tadeusz Rolke. Dress and styling: Barbara Ho /Ho and, 1969 ©Agencja Gazeta


Hoff used her column in Przekrój to announce what would be appearing in department stores: these were not advertisements, but independent articles. Hoff would also tell readers how to create a given Hoffland item at home, should the store not have it. For Hoff this had nothing to do with building an economic empire, but rather it was about shaping the style of men and women across Poland. Some believe this reason was why the company folded in 2007: Hoffland could not compete with the giants of the West.


Hoff did not design the Hoffland collections for money — in fact she wasn’t paid at all. Rather, she did it to prevent the total Sovietisation of the Polish people. Hoffland’s avant-garde designs could be seen on the streets of Poland’s largest cities and smallest villages, and their influence can be compared to that of the revolutionary Swinging Sixties in London. She was the first post-war designer to inspire young people in Poland, empowering them to dress flamboyantly.


She popularised a vast number of styles, including safari, asymmetry, the exaggerated forms of the 1980s, casual sports fashion, and men’s fleece duffle coats. Her style always combined cheap materials and refined forms. Hoffland clothing was also responsible for the first brand-name logo craze in Poland. 

Paulina Latham