Rare fashion designs are preserved in prestigious institutions all over the world, but it sometimes happens to find a private collection put together with passion and enthusiasm that features quite a few exquisite pieces. The Muzealne Mody in Poland is one of such rare gems.
Put together by fashion historian Piotr Szaradowski, the collection is Poland's best kept fashion secret. Szaradowski has indeed put together a selected series of fashion designs from the late 1800s on. The core of the collection is represented by French fashion and in particular by Parisian houses, and there are quite a few pieces from the second half of the 20th century.
Fashionistas and historians will be able to discover blouses and sport ensembles from the late 1800s; stripy dresses that evoke Art Deco trends; an evening dress with glass and Bakelite beads that you can easily imagine donned by a young and carefree woman to go dancing in a club; a thick woolen jacket with pale blue lapels by Schiaparelli; surprising pieces by Paquin, Jean Patou, Dior, Chanel, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent.
The Space Age is represented by a geometrically pure red sleeveless dress by Cardin and by simple yet timeless designs by André Courrèges. Hanae Mori's '70s long floral gown for Harrods points towards a more relaxed decade, while a rainbow coloured jacket designed by Mugler in the 1990s evokes cartoon fantasylands à la Adventure Time and an Alaïa ensemble instantly conjures up visions of amazons with perfectly sculpted bodies walking down the runway.
The collection is not closed, but continues to grow with new purchases and gifts (its website only features a fraction of the collection). Szaradowski's main aim is to educate people to Haute Couture and fashion, reminding them that those lavishly embroidered and rigorously cut garments, austere lines, sculpted jackets and intricate details aren't about frivolity, but point towards an art form.
Can you tell us a bit more about the origins of your collection? When did you start working on it and why did you focus mainly on French couture?
Piotr Szaradowski: I started a few years ago. I have been running open lectures about the history of fashion at the Maison de la Bretagne in Poznań for a few years now (I will start my sixth season there later on this month). The role of this institution is that of popularising French and Brittany culture, so my lectures revolve around French art, culture and fashion, the key words behind my collection. While teaching I started thinking about buying some pieces and it was quite natural to look for something I was familiar with - French designers. A collection usually works in two ways: you must have a solid knowledge in a specific field to collect something and, in return, you will learn a lot from what you collect. At the time, while I had seen quite a few fashion exhibitions, I still didn't know much about clothes as in Poland there are no proper fashion museums, but there are a few pieces such as two Worth gowns from the 19th century, one Chanel skirtsuit from 1960s and some prêt-a-porter pieces from Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, and so on, but they aren't on display in permanent exhibitions. This problem is typical of Communist countries behind "the iron curtain", as highlighted also in Lou Taylor's book Establishing Dress History.
Which was the first piece you acquired? And the rarest?
Piotr Szaradowski: Well, at first I was cautious as I'm not a millionaire and I needed to look carefully into my finances. It also took me a while to find proper vintage garments, but I eventually did so and bought my very first piece, a numbered gown by Jean-Philippe Worth (picture 1 in this post). It came at a resonable prize and I couldn't believe starting the collection with such a dress, it must have been typical beginner's luck! In the months that followed I bought more pieces, but I still wasn't ready to call them "a collection". Besides, I needed to learn so many things - how to storage them, keep them clean and repair them if in need. As time passed, I added a few more gems: an early couture jacket form Jacques Fath with fabulous Bakelite buttons (picture 2 in ths post) and an amazingly cut couture day dress by Jean Dessès (picture 3 in this post). Among the rarest pieces there are the designs from couture shows. I have three of such ensembles: Christain Lacroix for Jean Patou's Spring/Summer 1986 Haute Couture collection (picture 4 in this post), Marc Bohan for Christian Dior's Autumn/Winter 1985 Collection (picture 5 in this post) and Julien Fournié for Torrente's Autumn/Winter 2004 Collection (picture 6 in this post). This one is really spectacular as it's decorated with 38 crystal Lalique butterflies.
Which aspects of Haute Couture fascinates you the most - the exquisite details, refined fabrics, elaborate embroideries or silhouettes and patterns?
Piotr Szaradowski: I'm fascinated by the detals you can't see on the runaway or in exhibitions. For me the most interesting question is "how was it done?" I'm really into the cut, seams, and all the finishes - elements that you can only notice when you turn a garment upside down.
Who is your favourite French Haute Couture designer and why?
Piotr Szaradowski: I like a lot Jean Paul Gaultier, as a man and as a designer. He shows his passion, has got a great sense of humor and he's very "Parisan" in his designs. I also adore what Stéphane Rolland is doing - sophisticated, but in some ways simple, architectural dresses. I also admire Japanese designers. They are so different, but in a quirky way. I also like Balenciaga, who was a master tailor, just like Madeleine Vionnet, their designs are quite contemporary. And there is a special place in my heart for Yves Saint Laurent as he was the first designer I "met". I must have been 12 or 13 years old when I first saw his works, and I still love his Russian collection, and his tributes to Picasso, Braque, and Mondrian.
Is there a designer you'd like to have in your collection but you still haven't managed to get?
Piotr Szaradowski: There are many designs I'd like to add, as at the moment I'm focusing more on contemporary fashion created after the year 2000.I know that this may be a bit of a difficult task, considering that at the moment couture is created for a few wealthy clients, so there are a few exclusive pieces for a few women, but miracles do happen. For example, I managed to get that Torrente wedding gown and a fantastic rainbow jacket (picture 7 in this post) by Mugler. I would be very happy to add further contemporary pieces by Giambattista Valli, Alexis Mabille, Bouchra Jarrar, Alexandre Vauthier, Victor & Rolf and, of course, Julien Fournié...and that's just a few names!
Did you ever investigate about who were the owners of the pieces in your collections? Did you discover anything interesting about the women who originally wore them?
Piotr Szaradowski: No, I don't know anything about the original owners of the designs in my collection with two exceptions. Sometimes dresses come a long way from the first owner to last one, and sometimes sellers just don't know or don't want to tell you who wore a specific dress. The easiest way to know who wore a piece is to receive it as a gift, but this aspect - knowing who owned a garment - is not my priority.
Do you accept donations?
Piotr Szaradowski: Yes, I do. That's how I got a few pieces in my collection, they belonged to two Polish women, and maybe these donations will inspire me to open a new chapter in my collection that could focus on Polish fashion. At the moment I'm not accepting large donations as I don't have enough space to take everything and I'm also the only person managing the collection. I do hope that in the future I will find a more suitable place for a larger collection or an investor who may offer financial support and storage space.
What is the main aim of the collection: getting more people in Poland to discover the art behind French Haute Couture? Inspiring young fashion designers?
Piotr Szaradowski: The main goal is educating, and, first and foremost, educate myself! As I said, I'm a fashion history lecturer and I also teach fashion history from the 20th century at the School of Form. I'm currently working on a blog as well - Muzealne Mody - that, for the time being, is only in the Polish language. You can educate other people by teaching and organising exhibitions as well, these are good enough reasons to own a collection.
You have organized a few exhibitions in Poland with your collection - what was the feedback you got from visitors?
Piotr Szaradowski: I organised two exhibitions so far - one in my hometown, Poznań, and one in Łódź. They were quite traditional for what regards the displays and the main narrative behind them, but I liked them, even though I must admit I'm still learning about putting together such events. Visitors liked them as well and I'm thinking about coming up with further events for next year. I think this is a fantastic time for showing fashion, and I do hope my future exhibitions will be even more popular.
You teach fashion history: what's the fashion scene in Poland at the moment?
Piotr Szaradowski: I'm more focused on fashion history, but Polish designer Gosia Baczyńska recently showed her third collection in Paris during ready-to-wear week and it was a big success.
Do you lend your pieces for exhibitions in other countries?
Piotr Szaradowski: I haven't done it so far, but I'm still at the beginning of my collector's career. Anything can happen, so wish me good luck!
Image credits for this post
All images Courtesy and Property Piotr Szaradowski / Muzealne Mody
1. Jean-Philippe Worth, Ball gown, 1909-10; silk satin, organza, chiffon, hand-made lace
2. Jacques Fath, Jacket, 1940s; wool, Bakelite buttons
3. Jean Dessés, Dress, 1950s; wool
4. Chiristian Lacroix for Jean Patou, Ensemble (blouse, skirt), 1986; printed silk
5. Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Ensemble (blouse, pants) 1985; silk and lurex
6. Julien Fournié for Torrente, Wedding gown, 2004; silk, decorated with Lalique butterflies and cord with big tassels on the back
7. Thierry Mugler, Jacket, 1990; wool
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