Opened at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries, Herse Fashion House, located at 140 Marszalkowska Street in Warsaw, occupied four floors of the Art Nouveau building. It housed a boutique, a fitting room, an area for collection and presentation, a tailor’s studio and living space for the owners. The building had four towers, lifts, its own power plant, and central heating, which was the epitome of luxury at the time.
Fashion house opened at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was located at 140 Marszalkowska Street in Warsaw.
The Herse Fashion House was designed by Józef Huss, known as the creator of the Kamienica pod Gryfami (Tenement under the Griffins) in Warsaw’s Plac Trzech Krzyży (Three Crosses Square) and it attracted the attention of pedestrians with its imaginative window displays. On the side facing Szkolna Street, the ground floor was occupied by a fur shop that imported fur coats from Paris and Amsterdam.
Herse Fashion House moved to a different location when its original space at 10 Senatorska Street turned out to be too small. After the Greater Poland Uprising in 1868, the Herse family had successively and steadily built their brand into an empire incomparable to any other, then or now, in the Polish fashion market.
The fashion house was established by three brothers, Adam (1850-1915), Bogusław (1839-1880) and Ferdynand (1845-1905). They moved to Warsaw from Poznań in the first half of the nineteenth century. After the death of Bogusław, management of the company was taken over by Adam Herse, a great social activist who regularly donated substantial amounts of money to charities and philanthropic organisations.
The brochures of Herse Fashion House are probably the first attempt, in the context of Polish culture, to define the profession of designer/stylist and his place of work - the atelier:
[fashion designer] is a term that, although it may sound pretentious, is absolutely accurate in denoting a specialist who creates new types of garments that do not imitate existing patterns, and are not copied from journals. To be able to do that, one needs unlimited powers of invention, a lot of taste, experience, particular aptitudes and skills enabling imaginative combinations of textiles and forms. Composing a beautiful costume is not the same as composing a work of art, but without a sense of aesthetics with regards to lines and colours, beautiful harmony, an original idea of using a variety of materials and employing essential fashion’s motifs, it is impossible to successfully execute such a task.
Stefania Grodzieńska called Boguslaw Herse "a great tailor, the Polish Dior, speaking today's language". She worked with him as a model, along with other girls, mostly dancers, who were able to move well enough to present the collections. Boguslaw Herse emphasised that his fashion house could successfully compete with the Parisian fashion houses, which he was inspired by, but did not aspire to follow.
On the four floors of the building at Marszałkowska Street an elegant lady and a gentleman could find everything needed to dress fashionably: modest casual dresses and costumes for walking, traveling, and sports; evening gowns, decked dresses, ball and court gowns; blouses made of batiste, muslin, wool, silk, lace, and knitted; fur coats, fur collars, muffs; fabrics - wool, silk, linen; lingerie: soft petticoats, skirts made of batiste, vests, suits, underwear, and corsets. For men: suits, tuxedos, overcoats, vests, shirts, peaked caps, jackets, neckties: silk, velvet and English ones that can be washed; ruffles, collars: embroidered, plain, and with frills; clothes for children, feather boas, curtains, linen, oriental carpets; accessories: umbrellas, mittens, veils, bags made of scale and silk; fans made of laces and feathers.
When announcing an upcoming collection, Bogusław Herse always produced an appropriate booklet, which today we would call a catalogue. The title page reads:
Herse is pleased to announce that he has received new models of furs, coats, suits, dresses, hats, etc., as well as the newest items in all departments and he would be delighted to have his clients visit his department store/magazine (from the French “magasin” - shop. French was the official language of fashion, and some models of dresses, costumes, and hats had French names).
At the last pages of the seasonal catalogue (spring/summer, autumn/winter) Herse regularly published a commercial note: “a careful review of our brochure will convince quite a few ladies that dressing up at Herse means choosing good, durable textiles and a chic look that can be afforded even by a modest fashionista.”
However, it was exclusively the privileged class that could afford clothes from Herse, who eventually dressed up all of Warsaw’s socialites: actors, singers, aristocrats. One of its regular customers was a starlet of pre-war Warsaw - Hanka Ordonówna. Herse Fashion House became even more iconic after its building was used as a set for the film His Excellency the Salesman in 1933. The film tells the story of the work of one of Herse’s clerks, played by a public idol of the day, Eugeniusz Bodo.
Although synonymous with luxury, good taste and the "à la polonaise" look, in 1933, even this popular film didn't have enough impact to save the brand from being unprofitable and eventually going bunkrupt. The Herse House of Fashion was severely affected by two conflagrations - the economic crisis and workers' strikes. In 1936, Bogdan Władyslaw Herse, son of the founder, closed the fashion house and sold the tenement. What remained are its legend and its heirs, who are now seeking to renew the brand.
Author: Karolina Sulej, May 2014, trans.GS, 16.06.2014