They may not have the deep roots of some of Europe’s fashion capitals, but Prague’s designers are relishing the challenge of breaking new ground. The innovative spirit of a new wave of Czech designers is beginning to pay off as they make names for themselves on the international scene, with edgier, more adventurous designs designed to attract a younger market.
Muset, made up of husband-and-wife team Pavel and Radana Ivancic, is an excellent example. Both are students of Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, and Pavel Ivancic also went on to study at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London. Besides winning numerous awards in the Czech Republic, Muset has won and participated in award events in Italy and the UK.
According to the Ivancics, contemporary Czech fashion is defined by ‘a few strong individuals’ with the will to create. Unlike the more widely known national styles fashion lovers have come to accept from French, British or Italian designers, contemporary Czech fashion ‘is still waiting for someone who will be able to formulate our identity so it can be recognised internationally. But this is the exciting part for us. We have the opportunity to provide the world with the first vivid image of Czech fashion since the first Czechoslovak Republic.’
From satin elegance to quirky outfits made of felt, Muset has created a strong brand identity in its clothes as well as in its often dramatic presentations of them. The striking XXY project, for instance, consists of all black and white unisex outfits that the designers present in an eerie yet glamorous atmosphere.
Also gaining popularity is Sisters Conspiracy, a design team consisting of Alice Klouzková and Jana Jetelová, both graduates of Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. They opened their studio in 2005 and have focused primarily on menswear, attempting to offer an alternative to mass-produced products using high-quality materials supplied entirely by EU manufacturers. They have a showroom in Prague and their clothes are available in a number of other retailers.
Another designer whose reputation has spread well beyond national borders is Mimi Lan, who was born in Hanoi in Vietnam but settled in Prague 15 years ago. Lan’s La femme Mimi brand consists of stark, simple yet vividly colourful designs in which an Asian influence is blended into a modern, international look. Feeling half Czech and half Vietnamese, Lan thinks there may be Vietnamese aspects to her work she isn’t aware of because they come so naturally to her.
Lan has two shops in Prague as well as a shop in Amsterdam and her clothes are available in a number of other retailers throughout the Czech Republic. Besides everyday wear and accessories, Lan also has made a name for herself designing out-of-the-ordinary wedding gowns. Entering the wedding-dress business was an easy one, according to Lan. Rather than let women rent badly fitting wedding gowns for around CZK7,000 that make them look, the designer says, ‘like cheap dolls’, she prefers to offer an alternative of made-to-order dresses that range in price from CZK7,000 to CZK50,000.
In the jewellery world, Věra Nováková has made a name for herself by grafting traditional jewellery-making techniques on to modern design. For one series created from 2001 to 2009, for instance, she used the ancient skill of cuttlebone casting. The archaic methods aren’t exercises in obscurity but are, Nováková says, ‘an attempt to get back to the archetypal meaning of jewellery as an exceptional yet wearable object’. The combination of old-world elegance and quality with a modern image comes through in all her collections – even in her packaging, where her four-leaf clover earrings, for example, are bottled up like coloured pills. Yet beneath the exterior glitz, the object remains solid and compelling.
In our increasingly interconnected digital age, the international design scene is more tightly bound than ever, but the Ivancics are glad that the up-and-coming generation of designers is bringing something fresh and unique from a Czech perspective to add to the mix. ‘Of course we are influenced by a lot of what we see from abroad, but I think now we really have something to offer, too.’