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Design in Kraków

by Rafał Stanowski
Design in Kraków Design in Kraków
Fashion, design and architecture are in excellent company in Kraków. You can discover them again and again, getting to know beautiful objects, but above all fascinating personalities.

Krakow has been one of the fashionable cities of Poland and Europe for centuries – literally and metaphorically. Today, it is undoubtedly a place that shapes aesthetic sensibilities with its many fashion and design initiatives and remarkable architecture. It is also a centre for creative activities that fit in with global trends related to local production or sustainable development in the spirit of ecology.

For centuries, Krakow was the centre of state government and at the same time the economic centre of Poland. A reminder of this is the magnificent Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) building – a true pearl of architecture – attracting the eye in the central part of the Market Square. Its origins date back to the foundation of Krakow in 1257 and soon thereafter it served a role that today could be described as an important ‘commercial centre’ of the region. Merchants trading in cloth, which gave the building its name, as well as luxury goods, mainly fabrics such as silk, silk cotton and cloth of gold, had their stalls here.

It was from them that the luxurious clothes worn by royal officials and patricians, and later also by Kraków’s wealthy bourgeoisie, were often tailored. For centuries, the streets of Kraków ranked among the most fashionable in Poland, often surpassing other European capitals in this respect. Kraków’s Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) ranks among Kraków’s architectural treasures, which made the city one of the most beautiful in Europe.

The royal court attracted to the city what was considered fashionable in bygone eras. Thanks to Queen Bona Sforza, who descended from the eminent Italian family of Sforza, the Wawel Castle received a piece of bobbin lace in the 16th century – which is now included on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and has been recognised by UNESCO, confirming that it is one of Europe’s treasures. You can discover many similar items testifying to the city’s and region’s magnificent handicraft traditions in the rich collections of Kraków’s Ethnographic Museum.

For centuries, the interiors of splendid residences and palaces were filled with authentic pearls aspiring to the status of applied arts. The legend of the Kraków collection, found on the shelves of bourgeois wardrobes and cupboards, extended far beyond the city’s borders, laying the foundations for what is now known as ‘ fine design’. This oeuvre has become an inexhaustible source of inspiration for contemporary designers, drawing on the richness of the city, especially its history and identity. It can also be found among local antiques dealers and collectors, with special attention given to the Sosenko family’s collection, especially Katarzyna Sosenko’s salon, which is full of wonderful vintage design and artefacts that recall the splendour of bygone eras.

Arts and crafts

The meeting of arts and crafts is a phenomenon that, in the second decade of the 21st century, has become one of the hallmarks of Polish creative thought. Kraków occupies a prominent place on this map – the artistic atmosphere, highly-regarded art colleges and the inexhaustible energy of young artists have given rise to many fascinating initiatives. Their successes have resonated, as evidenced by the ‘success stories’ of innovative brands and their creators.

Particularly noteworthy are fashion-related brands such as MISBHV, Pat Guzik, Mapaya, Vanda Novak, Lobos or The Shoemaker, for which Michał Wojewodzic creates true works of footwear art. Design-related studios, such as those of Jadwiga Husarska, Olga Dąbrowska and Adam Groch or Wojciech Morsztyn, are operating dynamically in Kraków. It is here that fashion and design-related start-ups such as HEY DOG Co. (proprietary accessories for dogs) and Estimote (beacons, i.e., sensors communicating with smartphones used, for example, in shops) were established.

The local creative community often gathers in makerspaces, i.e., creative spaces with arts and crafts tools that have become veritable hubs of creative energy.

Some of the popular ones include the FabLab Krakow in the Osiedle Urocze, the FabLab Małopolska in Królewska Street or the Glass and Ceramics Centre in Lipowa Street. Here, you can take your first steps in an artistic or craft trade, develop your idea or find soul mates who also love what is referred to as ‘arts & crafts’.

A Thing for Art

The energy behind the world of design and fashion has been recognised by the city authorities. In 2018, A Thing for Art  (Sztuka do rzeczy) project was launched, which, by bringing together initiatives and events related to applied arts, refers to Kraków’s rich tradition.

Every year in the second half of November, thanks to the contribution of the Department of Culture and National Heritage, a series of events is held to show how important a role good design, understood as applied art, fashion or space planning, plays in contemporary society. In recent years, we have been able to take part in events such as the Element Urban Talks conference, Zaprojektowani (the Designed) – Krakow Design Meetings, the Design Forum Debut Zone, the Nówka Sztuka Fair, the Otwarte Mieszkania Festival or the Kogel Mogel Vintage and Retro Fair.

Creative vibes

Let’s take a look at the list of places related to fashion and design in Kraków. We can either visit the big brand boutiques in and around the Main Square, or plunge into the tangled streets of the fascinating Kazimierz district to discover local boutiques, vintage shops and artisan workshops.

Shrouded in legend is the workshop founded after the Second World War by Jozef Turbasa and continued by his son Jerzy. ‘The cut line must be beautiful,’ used to say the master tailor, who in the 1960s was offered the position of first tailor at a Parisian fashion house by Pierre Cardin himself. During the difficult communist times, Turbasa’s clothes gave the people of Krakow the feeling of being surrounded by craftsmanship of the finest quality, and at the same time made them forget about the depressing reality and emptiness of shop shelves. In the atelier of Turbasa, a true artist in his craft, eminent personalities such as Anna Polony, Andrzej Wajda, Czesław Miłosz, Stanisław Lem or Tomasz Stańko were often outfitted with their clothing. It was in a dinner jacket designed by Turbasa that the director of ‘Promised Land’ and ‘ Katyń’ received an Oscar statuette.

The story of the MISBHV brand, created today by Natalia Maczek and Tomasz Wirski, is an example of spectacular international success. The dynamically developing brand from Kraków has become recognisable in many countries thanks to its creative approach to design. It has presented its collections at such renowned events as New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week, and the clothes of the Kraków-based brand have been worn by celebrities such as Rihanna, Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner, which proves that Polish design can set global trends.

If you pay particular attention to ecology, you should get to know Pat Guzik, a graduate of the highly regarded School of Artistic Fashion Design SAPU from Kraków. She is one of Poland’s most creative designers, and in her work she combines a modern take on fashion with a pro-ecological approach known as sustainable fashion. The designer’s name resonates strongly not only in Poland. In 2017, she won the EcoChic Design (now: Redress Design Awards), a global sustainable fashion competition in Hong Kong. Pat exhibits her collections at London Fashion Week and Berlin Fashion Week, and her clothes – created in collaboration with illustrator Mateusz Kołek – can be purchased in concept stores in many countries.

Creative vibes

A small backyard on Rakowicka Street conceals the office of Vanda Novak, a brand adored by Polish celebrities that creates original footwear. Its designer and author Dominika Nowak studied in Paris at the famous Studio Bercot and later designed shoes for brands such as Trussardi and Jimmy Choo. For the past few years, she has been successfully developing Vanda Novak, which inherited its name from the designer’s grandmother and is a metaphor for concepts that are important to Dominika – a love of global trends, the art of creating beautiful objects and local craftsmanship.

It was in Krakow – at the SAPU School of Artistic Fashion Design and the Academy of Fine Arts – that the excellent illustrator Elena Ciuprina studied. Today living in Milan, she presents her work at the biggest fashion shows and collaborates with such famous brands as Fendi, Casadei, MaxMara and Bvlgari. Elena’s illustrations inspire admiration from the biggest names in the fashion world.

The Hey Dog Co. brand creates original handmade accessories for dogs. The local brand has proven to be an international success: collars and leashes from Krakow are worn by dogs, all over Europe, America, Asia and Australia – in short, all over the world. The unique design created by designer Anna Pirowska, a graduate of SAPU, has been a global success and has proven that the spirit of fashion can also be found in the dog world.

A tenement house at Floriańska Street houses the atelier of the Claudius brand, created by Klaudiusz Iciek. In a stylish interior resembling English clubs, we can try on jackets and suits, which are distinguished by high-quality materials with sophisticated designs. If you feel like a radical change of image, you can head upstairs to the Claudius Scissor hairdressing studio.

The magic of Krakow’s atmosphere inspires a new generation of young fashion and design artists operating here, among whom it is worth noting the esteemed shoe designer Anka Letycja Walicka, Monika and Patryk Łobos (Lobos handbags), Magdalena Tekieli, Waleria Tokarzewska-Karaszewicz, Anna Załucka-Kuczera, internationally award-winning designer Wojciech Morsztyn, Iga Węglińska, Kata Haraty, Piotr Popiołek, Michał Wójciak, Sandra Stachura, Anna Maria Zygmunt, Klaudia Klimas and Laura Filip, who runs her own atelier in Vienna.

The magic of artistic shopping

Are you looking for a place where you can buy original gifts? Józefa Street, located in the heart of the artistic district of Kazimierz, has become a unique spot on the map of fashionable Kraków. Its walls, marked by history, are a haven for many creative initiatives. In particular, the extremely charming Mapaya boutique created by Martina and Daz Wilde is definitely worth visiting to take an unexpected trip to the exotic corners of the Far East. Fascinated by the cultural richness there, the couple created a unique, original brand of clothing and accessories created in close collaboration with Asian artisans.

Just across the street you can find Anna Gregory, a designer in love with cool climates, bringing a breath of Scandinavian minimalist design to Kraków. A little further on, you can discover the niche perfumery Lulua, as well as boutiques with handmade jewellery Blazko, Alma Curiosa or Deccoria (also with clothes and ceramics). If you like a combination of arts and crafts, many intriguing items can be found at Coffee Garden, where you can buy macramé, ceramics and leather crafts next to live plants. I also suggest paying a visit to Slow Fashion Cafe on Kalwaryjska Street in the Podgórze district on the other bank of the Vistula, not only to enjoy a good cup of coffee, but above all to take one of the local sewing courses. And if you venture into the backstreet at the corner of Gazowa and Bocheńska streets, you will discover a modern boutique of streetwear brand The Hive.

From here, it is not far to the recently renovated Krakowska Street, where on the comfortable, wide pavement you will find local craftsmen’s workshops, often with a long tradition. A little further down, on Stradomska Street, the iconic IdeaFix boutique has made its home, offering fashion and design from young designers. It is one of the oldest places of its kind in Kraków and has been actively supporting local designers for many years.

If you like to meet new brands in a casual atmosphere, you should visit the Kiermash independent fashion fair, created by Izabela Chyłek and Mateusz Kaczan. In spaces scattered around the city (they change regularly, so we can explore both historic buildings and modern halls), several times a year, we usually meet around a hundred local fashion, jewellery and design creators. A trip to Kiermash is also a great opportunity to make some fascinating acquaintances.

Vintage fans should mark Sundays in their calendars – on this day, in the morning, Plac Nowy in Kazimierz district and the nearby bazaar at Hala Targowa turn into antique markets which have been frequented by the residents of Kraków for many years. At the stalls spread out on the pavement, you can find real gems, often with a rich history, without paying astronomical amounts of money.

Academic creativity

The Faculty of Industrial Design, which has been operating since 1964 within the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków – the oldest higher education institution of art in Poland – has educated many generations of outstanding Polish designers and interior designers. It draws on the rich tradition of the Warsztaty Krakowskie (Cracow Workshops) association, founded in 1913, which a century ago combined the paths of artists and craftsmen with international success, creating a new quality of Polish decorative art.

Andrzej Pawłowski, founder of the Faculty of Industrial Design, who was a member of the famous II Grupa Krakowska and the Association of Industrial Design, is sometimes referred to as a Polish precursor of organic art. In his work, he combined pure and applied arts, following the perfect forms created by nature. He designed many everyday objects, including furniture, telephones, factory and agricultural equipment, and even car seats for the Bielsko-Biała-based Fabryka Samochodów Małolitrażowych; he also worked for the National Museum in Kraków and the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. Meanwhile, in the Faculty’s historic building at 9 Smoleńsk Street, we can always admire intriguing works created by current ASP students.

The Faculty of Art at the Uniwersytet Pedagogiczny (Pedagogical University ) and Szkoła Wnętrz i Przestrzeni (School of Interiors and Spaces) are also active in the field of design-related artistic education, organising the annual Kraków Design Meetings in November, a festival attended by important design personalities such as Dorota Koziara, Tomek Rygalik and Marek Cecuła.

Academic creativity

In the field of fashion education, a revolution took place in the 1990s, when the private School of Artistic Fashion Design SAPU, part of the Kraków Art Schools, was established. The pioneering place of learning for future fashion, jewellery and footwear designers, founded by a married couple Joanna and Jerzy Gaweł, is one of the best schools in Poland, as confirmed by prestigious awards – the  Honorowa Złota Nitka (Honorary Golden Thread) and Habitus Baltija. SAPU is also a place where we can take part in creative workshops related to fashion design, design and interior design. It is worth visiting the Kraków Art Schools building at 52 Zamoyskiego Street to see the regularly organised exhibitions on fashion, interior design (School of Interiors and Spaces) or artistic photography (School of Creative Photography).

SAPU, in partnership with the city, has been organising Cracow Fashion Week for several years – the largest fashion event in Małopolska, focused on promoting new talents, local design and ecology. Every year in March, Krakow is visited by important guests from Poland and abroad to watch the graduation collections of the school and young designers from around the world, discuss contemporary trends and argue that fashion is part of cultural heritage. The collections we see during the spectacular shows demonstrate that making clothes breaks down language barriers and becomes a global tool for social communication.

A bright future

Design and fashion face an extremely interesting future. A new museum of design and architecture is to be established in the building of the former Cracovia Hotel, opposite the Main Building of the National Museum. Thanks to the initiative of Andrzej Szczerski, the director of the National Museum in Krakow, the city will gain a modern institution that will not only present the museum’s exhibits, but also inspire and create, and at the same time create a meeting space for the local design community.

A bright future

This atmosphere can already be felt in the Cracovia building, which today belongs to the National Museum, as the Forum of Design showroom, founded by Dina de Białynia Woycikiewicz, has been operating there for several years – we can buy here many products from Polish artists, designers and craftsmen. The showroom is also a centre for events such as workshops or meetings with design personalities.

An architectural journey through the centuries

Kraków is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, combining its rich architectural heritage with spectacular new realisations. The city will attract the attention of all those who fall head over heels in love with places where the past intersects with the present. From the Wawel Castle, St. Mary’s Church, the Cloth Hall, the Main Square, the urban layout of the Old Town, to the atmospheric backstreets of Kazimierz and Podgórze – almost every brick turns out to be a living example of flowing history. They also reflect the great talent of the architects who worked in Kraków, including such a famous Polish architects as: Bartolomeo Berrecci, Tadeusz Stryjeński, Karol Knaus, Teodor Talowski or Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz.

An outstanding playwright and poet, Stanisław Wyspiański was also active as a designer, architect or even urban planner: he designed furniture, interiors, buildings (the famous plan for the reconstruction of Wawel Hill, named Akropolis) or stunning stained-glass windows – the latter can be found, for example, in the modern Wyspiański Pavilion, which serves as the city’s art gallery.

An architectural journey through the centuries

The Nowa Huta district, a worker’s quarter created under communism and adjacent to the steelworks complex, features extremely interesting socialist realist architectural works: the buildings on Plac Centralny and Aleja Róż, the Świt cinema and the Światowid cinema (now housing the Nowa Huta Museum). In its oldest part, the district is a perfectly thought-out urban layout by Tadeusz Ptaszycki. It is also thanks to its aesthetic specificity that Nowa Huta enjoys its iconic status, largely due to its distinctive position contrasting with the historic city centre. It has also become the birthplace of many artistic activities with a distinct local and social dimension carried out by, among others, the Łaźnia Nowa Theatre, the Teatr Ludowy or the Nowa Huta Cultural Centre.

Modernist architecture occupies a special place on the city map. The numerous, often spectacular realisations are a reminder of the great value this trend brings to the city’s space, not only in the visual, but also in the social dimension.

In various parts of Kraków, you will find examples connected with the work of outstanding architects such as Witold Cęckiewicz, Janusz Ingarden or Romuald Loegler.

Amateurs of modern architecture will also feel at home in Kraków. They should pay attention to the buildings of the Manggha Museum (designed by the Japanese Arata Isozaki, Krzysztof Ingarden, Jacek Ewý and the JET Atelier office), the ICE Krakow Congress Centre (again a collaboration of the Ingarden & Ewý studio and Arata Isozaki), Cricoteka, inspired by the work of Tadeusz Kantor and designed by the IQ2 consortium (nsMoonStudio and Biuro Architektoniczne Wizja), TAURON Arena Kraków (Piotr Łabowicz-Sajkiewicz, Marcin Kulpa and Wojciech Ryżyński) and Małopolski Ogród Sztuki (Krzysztof Ingarden). Krakow is about to acquire another futuristic building, yet perfectly integrated into the urban fabric – the Planet Lem – The Centre for Literature and Language (the competition for the project was won by JEMS Architekci), referring to the work of the Polish writer of the hard science-fiction genre.

Fashion, design and architecture are in excellent company in Kraków. You can discover them – just like the charms of the city itself – again and again, getting to know beautiful objects, but above all fascinating personalities – both historical and contemporary. Kraków, being a city of exquisite style, has been inspiring in the fields of fashion, design and architecture for centuries.

Text: Rafał Stanowski

Article created for the Krakow Culture project.

Edited by the Kraków Heritage team

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