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Chrysalis: ‘the process of development,
the transformational journey from the cocoon state of a caterpillar to that of a beautiful butterfly’

Tymek Borowski  Untitled, 2016, acrylic and indian ink on canvas, 150 x 190 cm

Tymek Borowski  Untitled, 2016, acrylic and indian ink on canvas, 150 x 190 cm


Designed by one of Poland’s most exciting artists, Tymek Borowski, Chrysalis is an avant-garde book and a work of art in its own right. It is made up of a collection of cards chronicling Poland’s most exciting fashion designers and the country’s most groundbreaking fashion trends from the post-war period to the present day.

Our knowledge and understanding of the history of Polish fashion is in a constant state of ux. e intriguing fashions of communist-era Poland are experiencing something of a renaissance and as such undergoing a captivating re- interpretation. New generations of Poles are beginning to discover these jewels of Polish fashion and now Chrysalis offers people in Britain (and beyond!) the same opportunity.

This experimental publication’s pages are made up of beautifully designed individual cards, the graphic layout of which is a unique work of art, each an enigmatic image open to interpretation and alluding to the text in the reverse.

While working on this book we asked ourselves “what is Polish fashion?” The vignettes you’re about to read show how fashion in this country is varied and broad, but with common themes to be found across the Polish fashion industry. Many established fashion labels, designers and artists were born in a time of radical social, political and economic change and because of this, their approach and ethos is o en unconventional and anarchic with a definite air of rebellion and defiance of the established norms. The current generation of designers are now enjoying access to new markets, and the otherness that was once considered a barrier is now becoming a valued commodity on the international scene.

However that air of rebellion is still very much present amongst Poland’s new generation of designers, who are battling wayward preconceptions in a way that mirrors the political rebellion of those before them. We now see emerging Polish designers producing modern and refreshing styles finally enjoying a growing global appeal, allowing them to represent Poland on the international stage.


The early chapters of Chrysalis recount the story of Polish fashion from 1945 to 1989. Like art and industrial design, fashion in Poland blossomed in spite of, and as part of, the prevailing communist regime. This part of the story introduces a number of inspirational figures, such as Lola Prusac, who began her career at the Hermès fashion house in Paris between the two world wars. Inspired by Polish folk art, Lola’s designs bolstered the might of the French fashion house, and paved the way for a successful solo career following the World War II. Other in infuential figures from the post-war period include Zyga Pianko, a Polish Jew who designed for the prestigious Pierre D’Alby fashion house in the 1960s, and Warsaw-born designer Barbara Hulanicki, who created London’s iconic Biba fashion house.

The most significant aspect of the period were the events taking place in communist Poland. Behind the Iron Curtain, the Polish fashion industry played an important role in helping to create and shape global fashion trends―all the more remarkable in the face of an oppressive political regime, widespread censorship and the lack of raw materials. Polish graphic designer Roman Cieślewicz became artistic director of French Elle in the 1970s, and Grażyna Hase created a collection inspired by Russian culture, ten years be- fore Yves Saint Laurent’s famous 1976 Russian-inspired Collection A/W 76.

For reasons of brevity, the book gives a mere overview of Polish fashion during the long and complex communist era, preferring to focus on designers who created and promoted original designs based on global trends. In the case of the communism period we discuss a wider historical context in which the fashion was created, by including leading fashion photographers, artists directors, graphic designers or fashion magazines of the time. These major figures, brands and titles had a big in ifluence on fashion in the country during this era, with a great deal of emphasis on typically Polish trends, such as urban folk design.

During the communist period, Warsaw was regarded as one of the Eastern Bloc’s most stylish cities. The press reports and fashion shows of the time attest to this, talking about lavish shows hosted by Polish brands as well as international labels such as Christian Dior and Brioni. Russian celebrities and the wives of communist leaders would flock to the capital to buy clothing, and the women of Warsaw clamoured to get their hands on apparel created by Polish designers. When they failed to do so, as was often the case, they would make it themselves, or employ a local tailor to make it for them. Diy fashion and handicraft blossomed in Socialist Poland. Polish women also shopped for clothes at outdoor markets and the black market for fashionable clothing flourished.

Fashion was an important weapon in the fight against the Sovietisation of Poland. By creating and wearing Western-style clothing, Poles somehow felt like they remained part of that free world in the West. They could forget about the frustration which stemmed from their political impotence and material privation, they could express their objection to the prevailing totalitarian regime.

Like other industries, fashion was centrally controlled during the communist era, and thus at the mercy of policy makers many of whom had a hostile attitude to fashion in general and saw it as a bourgeois representation of the pre-war capitalist world.

While fashion offered a semblance of freedom, it was also used as a tool by the Communist government, creating the illusion of a successful industry to conceal its own political ineptitude. For the ruling Polish United Worker’s Party, fashion was perfect propaganda material to use against the West as well as to deceive the populace into believing that Poland was an affluent, free and modern nation.

The history of Communist Poland was not homogenous, of course. After the World War II, everything changed from the territorial boundaries to the economic and political systems. Ravaged by the atrocities of the Holocaust, Poland was no longer a multi-ethnic country. Now, Poland had Socialist Realism and Stalinism, the later of which pervaded all aspects of everyday life. Terror and indoctrination was rife, and the worker, the farmer and the housewife were relentlessly promoted as the new national heroes. In his book Out of the Ordinary, David Crowley (Professor and Head of Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art) described the Stalinist era as “the worst period for Polish design in the twentieth century”. However, the post-war period also saw the heroic (and ultimately successful) national struggle to raise the country from the rubble.

The cultural thaw finally came in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death. This period was a gold- en era for Polish design and fashion. Communism had reduced the economic disparities, which had plagued pre-war Poland and many citizens, attracted by industrialisation and the facilitated access to education, moved from small villages to the cities. The living standards of the country’s poorest citizens began to rise and this social advance gave birth to a new group of design and fashion consumers.

Youth fashion flourished in the 1960s. The mini-skirt-clad girls and long-haired boys of the era listened to jazz, big beat and the Beatles. The crowning moment during this era of ostensible freedom for Polish youth was a concert by the Rolling Stones, which took place in Warsaw in 1967. Young people managed to enjoy the 1960s, despite the severe lack of freedom and scarcity of goods.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw an increasing number of student protests, workers’ strikes, military interventions in Czechoslovakia, and anti-Semitic witch-hunts, orchestrated by the ruling party, which led to many Poles being forced to leave the country.

The first half of the 1970s also saw a rise in American-style consumerism. “1970s Poland was a strange country, in which the surreal phenomenon of ‘Socialist consumerism’ thrived,” writes David Crowley (Out of the Ordinary). Dynamic economic development, a partial opening up of the market, and frivolous borrowing in Poland provided a brief period of prosperity, and fashion was an important part of this. 

In 1976, in response to burgeoning food prices, protests broke out across Poland, signaling the death knell for the consumerist paradise in the country. The government issued ration cards for sugar and gradually began regulating food, leading to the imposition of Martial Law and the fall of communism.


During the 1990s, Poland began to privatise its state assets and entered a new era of neoliberalism. The once state-owned fashion houses (which operated according to outdated principals) failed to find investors who would be willing to continue the traditions of old. Poles were besotted with Western goods, and Polish fashion houses were supplanted by large global enterprises. Polish investors heeded this economic reality and began to establish clothing companies with English, French or Italian-sounding names. Yet again, Polish fashion had to start from scratch. Independent designers began to appear in this uncertain market―a notable figure from this period is Joanna Klimas.

Filip Pągowski  graphics on the Comme des Garçons Play clothes

Filip Pągowski graphics on the Comme des Garçons Play clothes

An impressive fashion scene has been developing in Poland over the past twenty-six years, and the stories of some of the most influential figures of this period are told in the second part of Chrysalis. Again, our selection covers but a fraction of the events, which took place in Poland from 1989 to 2015. Chrysalis focuses on those designers and artists who have had a significant influence at home, and those who have sold their collections internationally, at places like London’s Selfridges and Harrods, and shown their work at London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. Ths group of phenomenal Polish designers are making their mark on the international fashion scene: graphic artist Filip Pągowski, founder of the Comme des Garçons play label, supermodel Anja Rubik, chief editor of 25 Magazine, Katarzyna Szczotarska close associate of Martin Margiela whose designs grace the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

While fashion has undoubtedly become one of the most dynamic areas in Poland's creative industries, it still lacks comprehensive literature and resources in English, for those who wish to explore it and discover its heritage, tradition or function. We are extremely proud to be able to hand over to you this book as the very first English-language title devoted exclusively to the modern history of Polish fashion, its trends and contexts.

Chrysalis does not aim to be an anthology or an encyclopedic compendium of any sort, documenting the history of fashion in Poland. Neither does it wish to provide the reader with tools or skills needed to start or further a career in the fashion industry.

Most importantly, it does not pretend to be a complete story of Polish fashion in a box. What this book does want to be, though, is the starting point to a journey of discovery into new stories currently being written and re-written by the Polish designers and fashion labels of the present and of the future. You will find those new stories on the website that constitutes a continuation of the book you are now holding. We encourage you to visit regularly, as it will be constantly updated and enriched with new articles, analyses, reviews, resources, workshops and masterclasses etc. We want the stories on Polish fashion to live on and to inspire you, whether you are a fashion adept, an industry professional or simply some- one interested in exploring the new Polish fashion brands and trends. We hope you enjoy your journey with this book and we hope to sharpen your appetite for you to come for more on the Polish Fashion Stories website. 

― Marcin Rożyc, Paulina Latham