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Citizeness fashion model. Luxury in the times of socialism

These clothes create history — or rather, they bring it back. All were designed by Grażyna Hase — a Jill of all trades. Hugely popular, she was among the most vibrant personalities of communist Poland, bringing colour and verve to bohemian circles. Hase epitomized fashion in a variety of ways. Now her professional activities and her personal life are the subject of the exhibition entitled “Always in Fashion”.

“I’m exhausted,” Grażyna, tells me as I interview her. “I don’t want to repeat for the 100th time that my career as a fashion designer began with modeling.”

Typical. She hasn’t changed. Still the same slightly hoarse voice, that same drive and persistence about inventing something new, all conveyed with that same reserve and cultivated air.

Celebrities “Made in PRL”

Given the theme of the exhibition, the venue is rather unusual. It is taking place in the Museum of Warsaw, known up until 2014 as the Historical Museum of Warsaw. The location (the Old Town Square) being good guarantees a good attendance. The museum consists of a series of inter-connected old tenement houses, their small, cramped rooms spread over several floors. Not surprisingly, the museum is primarily known for its collection that mainly features items of Varsaviana (documents, manuscripts and prints dealing with the Polish capital’s past).

To unexpectedly come across a display of clothes in this setting invites speculation as to how an exhibition so esoteric ended up gracing this Warsaw institution. Yet there is no disputing the designer’s links to the establishment. Grażyna Hase lives close by the museum, making it much easier for her to supervise setting up the show. And this exhibition has been mounted in a very carefull and accurate way – as befits fashion shows organized by top designers anywhere.

Trust me, I know what I am saying. I have known Grażyna for many years, a friendship first initiated for reasons other than fashion.

In 1980, Hase launched a private art gallery at 6 Marszałkowska Street, near Unii Lubelskiej Square. Running it along highly informal lines, she managed to keep it functioning even during the controversial martial law era that was imposed by the Military Council of National Salvation (13 December 1981 to 22 July 1983) in its efforts to counter political opposition, especially that of the Solidarity movement. So adept was she, that the gallery remained one of the places where artists opposed to the then communist government of Poland were able to gather.

I was a frequent visitor to this unique haven, where art, rather than being brought to heel by the authorities of the day, was able to function on the basis of coexistence, a delicate balance achieved thanks to Hase’s ability to navigate the political and artistic sensitivities of the time.

True, Grażyna was able to create an easy-going, laid back atmosphere but it was not without a slight whiff of snobbery. The “Warszawka” (that closed social and opinion-forming circle composed of the educated and variously privileged residents of Warsaw) has always had its code of unbreakable rules: not everyone could belong to it, and acceptance in the circle reperesented, and still does, a kind of ennoblement. While nowadays being a celebrity has its firm financial aspects, in the unglittery reality of communist Poland, it was not what one had that mattered. Rather, one’s aspirational fantasy, sense of originality and intellectual credentials were what counted most. Vulgarity was out of the question.

In those days, visitors to the Grażyna Hase Gallery had to have class, something she and the great love of her life (fashion aside), Wowo Bielicki, her husband, possessed.

Back in the past

Of the exhibitions I have attended abroad, many have been devoted to the work of great tailors and so-called famous icons of style. Invariably, the shows were stunning, high budget shrines to the work on display, ensuring their great popularity. Small wonder such events were so popular since they brought the spotlight to shine on the private lives of those who inspired them. A recurring challenge when mounting such shows concerns revitalizing and re-animating the clothes — how to make the fashions on display vibrant, relevant, and alive as though new again. People do not necessarily allow for the fact that costumes draped on mannequins can be inert and static. So displayed, a large part of their charm and meaning can be lost, deadening the effect of the designer’s creative intention. In terms of clothing and design, fashion is maybe an exotic creature but it needs to pulsate on a living, breathing, human form.

In that sense, fashion works best when it is in motion, whether posing or posturing in varying situations and positions. Fashion shows are a form of theater. They represent the culmination of the creative efforts of dozens of specialists, ranging from designers, dressmakers and models, to set makers, lighting specialists, choreographers and composers. Behind the seemingly effortless end presentation lie hours upon hours of relentlessly exacting work.

To understand the multidisciplinary nature of the seemingly uniform and hermetic fashion industry, it is enough to recall (or view for the first time) films such as Altman’s “Prêt-à-porter”, or the provocative biography of Alexander McQueen, or even the by now somewhat old-fashioned “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn in the role of a model.

Click here to read the full article.

By Monika Małkowska

Translated by Agnieszka Rakoczy

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