From the more classic, feminine style to edgy and untamed hair and moustaches – they reigned and tamed communist Poland and demonstrated a keen eye for fashion.
Kora Jackowska painting Madonnas, photo: Jacek Poręba / source: www.kora.org.pl
Ferocious but always dignified, Jackowska (no, not a Polish member of the Jackson Five) became recognizable in the late 1960’s when she earned the unofficial title of "Queen of Kraków’s hippies". The singer and song-writer (born 1951) is remembered as the lead singer for Maanam. Her trademark haircuts and make-up (imitated by many back then) would be a gimmick if it weren't for her social activism (supporting the legalisation of marijuana and the liberalisation of abortion law and criticising the Catholic Church for its paedophilia issues).
Daniel Olbrychski, photo: Jerzy Troszczyński / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl
Hiding behind the boyish features and natural charm is a mysterious man who revealed his inner strength playing wild, ruthless characters in cinematic adaptations of literary classics: Pan Wołodyjowski, With Fire and Sword. He showed how masculinity can go hand in hand with romantic sacrifice - "sometimes he's super-sensitive, sometimes he's cruel" (quote by critic Tadeusz Sobolewski). Olbrychski's foreign productions include the 2010 American spy thriller Salt, directed by Phillip Noyce, written by Kurt Wimmer and starring Angelina Jolie.
Violetta Villas, Kraków, 2005, licence from CC-BY-SA
The ‘the voice of the atomic age’ as American critics referred to her, the 1938-born singer had a vocal range covering four octaves and a visual persona modelled on 60’s Hollywood starlets. On stage, Villas wore striking ball gowns and when performing the notorious song Oczy czarne / Black Eyes, she would throw her red shoes into the audience. She would wear mink coats and fur hats in summer. Many rumours surrounded her trademark hair. The long, flowing, blonde locks stayed fabulous thanks to a hair lotion made of oil and egg yolks. Adored and admired in Poland, the diva made an international career giving concerts throughout the Soviet Union, in Australia and Brazil. She sang opera arias and operettas in nine languages at the Casino de Paris in Las Vegas. She sang side by side with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour and accompanied Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Bob Hope on the screen. From a candidate to world fame, she quickly became symbolic as a caricature of an artist, wasting away her great talent on songs that did not match her vocal abilities. She passed away in seclusion from the world in 2011.
Maryla Rodowicz, photo: Marcin Tyszka / source: www.marylarodowicz.pl
Her first well-known song was Love Doesn't Grow On Trees from 1969. Since then the singer's body of work comprises over 600 recorded songs, with over 20 Polish albums as well as albums in English, Czech, German and Russian: Niech żyje bal / Long live the ball, To już było / Done that, Wielka Woda / Great water, Bossanova do poduszki / Bedside bossa nova. Rodowicz is a Polish celebrity who continues to appear on stage and on TV shows, even now, at the age of 69. You can't not know her and like her - she is an icon remembered by today's 30 year olds and 80 year olds.
Kalina Jędrusik, 1965, Warsaw, Photo: Tadeusz Rolke / Agencja Gazeta
This cute little seductress, actress and singer (born in 1931) had society split into her admirers and her adversaries. Jędrusik exposed her charms and the mysteries of femininity in a way ahead of the times for 1960s Poland. She highlighted the shape of her eyes and lips with bold make-up. Her silhouette was emphasised by the cut of her dress and a low neckline. She knew how to suggestively use both her body and her captivating voice, blurring the line between artist and sex symbol. Some paid attention to the lyricism and subtlety of her performance, others found her vulgar and obscene. In the cabaret Kabaret Starszych Panów / Elderly Gentlemen Cabaret she began by appearing as a long-haired blonde, but then cut her hair short and dyed the naturally blond locks a chestnut colour - one she would remain faithful to forever. She passed away in 1991.
The indisputable classic style of the film actress (born in 1938) earned her several grandiose titles: 'First Lady of Polish Cinema', 'The Eastern Catherine Deneuve', 'Angel of the People's Republic', and 'The Tsarina of Slavic Cinema'. Tyszkiewicz worked with directors Andrzej Wajda (her former husband), Tadeusz Konwicki, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Andre Delvaux, László Mészáros, Claude Lelouch, and Costa-Gavras. The embodiment of mature womanhood: beautiful and proud, yet warm, lyrical with just a pinch of the erotic, she was cast to bring female characters from literary classics of long-gone eras back to life.
Tomasz Stańko, photo: Andrzej Tyszko
The jazz trumpeter and composer (born in 1942) is eccentric and provocative. Stanko's long and open free structures that depend on spontaneous, electrifying improvisations built into a well-designed, consistent whole, have placed him amongst Europe's best. His distinctive tone goes along with a distinctive style - he wears a lot of hats.
Lech Wałęsa, 1980, Photo: Chris Niedenthal / Forum
The charismatic Solidarność leader, first President of post-communist Poland and Nobel Peace Prize winner (born in 1943) earns points not only for his straightforward manner of communicating but his iconic moustache. Ageing with dignity from black to a noble silver (see the evolution in Wajda's newest film Man of Hope), he had many followers. Elderly Polish men without a moustache just don't look that Polish.
Krzysztof Kieślowski, photo: Studio Filmowe "Tor" / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl
When he wasn't busy taking apart a watch and putting it back together or searching for spare parts to an engine he was repairing, Kieślowski was off dating. He did well with women. Changing "girlfriends" like gloves, he was the subject of envy of his high school friends. Everything changed at university when he went on a double date. He ended up falling madly in love with his friend's date and proposed to Maria Cautillo two weeks later. Maria Kieślowska was his wife until death did them part. A hopeless romantic, whose intellect shone through his rarely smiling face, you could just as rarely catch him without a cigarette. Born in 1941, he died in 1996.
Czesław Niemen, IXth National Polish Song Festivan in Opole, 1971, photo: Andrzej Wiernicki / FORUM
His unforgettable voice went hand in hand with his trademark style and effortless flair. The 1939 born vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and lyricist sang Dziwny jest ten świat / Strange is This World and became one of the most popular,most original, influential artists in Polish pop music of the 20th century. Niemen passed away exactly 10 years ago on the 17th of January 2004.
Ewa Demarczyk, photo: Marek Karewicz/East News
The Dark Angel (born in 1941), who sang poetry, is likened to Juliette Greco and Edith Piaf. She gave Polish audiences something they had never seen before: artistic independence, direct emotion, ascetic economy of gesture. Her expression was underline by her black clothes and motionlessness look. Like a mask from ancient theatre, she had an unmoving yet piercing stare – blind, or perhaps the opposite – capable of seeing everything, the entire complexity of the world that she sings about. Demarczyk's songs Karuzela z Madonnami and Czarne Anioły are Polish classics.
Author: Mai Jones Jeromski 20.01.2014