Polish Fashion Stories: Jerzy Antkowiak
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Jerzy Antkowiak, Card from the 'Polish Fashion Stories' publication, courtesy of the Polish Cultural Institute in London, photo: Culture.pl, center, _dsc0348.jpg
Jerzy Antkowiak’s first big break in the fashion world involved gatecrashing the backstage of a Moda Polska show, an encounter with the great Jadwiga Grabowska and a coffee set.
Jerzy Antkowiak, who eventually went on to become Artistic Director at Moda Polska in 1979, studied architectural painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. His deep passion for fashion saw him force his way backstage at a Moda Polska show, where he was able to speak to the head of the label herself, Jadwiga Grabowska. Antkowiak recalled:
I told her that I loved fashion, that it meant everything to me, and that I wanted to work with her. She asked: 'And what do you do, son?' Ceramic painting, I replied. 'What a godsend – we need a coffee set', she said. And that’s how it all began...
He began working for Moda Polska in 1961, as an assistant to Grabowska, and, shortly after his boss and mentor retired in 1968, Antkowiak’s first solo collection was shown.
Polish Fashion Stories: Jadwiga Grabowska
The event featured a model with exposed breasts and was met with disapproval in some quarters. An account of the show was given by Teresa Kuczyńska on the pages of influential fashion magazine Ty i Ja:
With her head held high and with a fearless expression on her face, Miss S slowly passed through the packed room to the strains of Beethoven’s Ninth. Wearing nothing but a pair of dress trousers and a chiffon cloak draped across her shoulders, the model allowed onlookers to admire her flawless figure.
The collection caused a scandal. Politicians from the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party censored the show. Antkowiak explained what happened in an interview for TVP Info:
Playing with Censorship: How Polish Artists Dealt with the Communist Regime
Unfortunately, that naked bosom under the chiffon cloak really shocked the Party Secretary, and I was forced to explain myself to those morons. They refused to let us take that cloak to the show in Moscow. Lucyna went there clad in grey. But we bravely smuggled photographs of the original show into Russia.
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Jerzy Antkowiak, dress with train, velour and taffeta, from the Romantic Collection, produced by Moda Polska, 1988, from the collection of the designer, photo: Michał Korta
Jerzy Antkowiak, dress with train, velour and taffeta, from the Romantic Collection, produced by Moda Polska, 1988, collection of the designer, photo: Michał Korta
The collection also met criticism for its use of dark colours and female models wearing dinner jackets and trousers, which was revolutionary at the time. Antkowiak was also the first Polish designer to put unclothed male models on the catwalk.
Though his first men’s collection for Moda Polska in 1977 was fairly conventional; over time, Antkowiak began to show sexy, rugged male models in exciting, colourful clothing. Theatricality was a key part of these modern shows, coinciding as it did with the development of the New Romantic scene in the early 1980s. In 1984, Antkowiak designed a collection inspired by Miloš Forman’s celebrated costume drama Amadeus, offering oversize coats, colourful floral suits, and oriental motifs.
Fashion Lessons from Communist Poland
When asked how such impressive collections could possibly have emerged during that incredibly difficult period, Antkowiak said:
Grace Under Pressure – Fashion in the People's Republic of Poland
Tough times can be very inspiring. When there’s nothing else, that’s when your emotions begin to emerge. You start combining intense lemon fabric with a beetroot red lining, and buttons in various shades of blue. You start creating fashion.
In those days, we were really just acting. If Givenchy, Dior or Yves Saint Laurent had experienced the same problems that plagued us, they would never have designed even half the dresses they did, whereas we rather liked our sense of ‘rhis is all we’ve got’ and things turned out well as a result.
When Moda Polska folded in 1998, the new proprietor of the bankrupted company offered Antkowiak a job as a storeman in the warehouse. The designer turned him down.
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This article from Polish Fashion Stories has been re-published on Culture.pl courtesy of the Polish Cultural Institute in London. You can find the original version here.