Not for the first time the suggestion of change clings to the Prague air, though in a way far removed from the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Named in tribute to Václav Havel’s admiration for the Velvet Underground’s music, the uprising led to the peaceful removal of communism, Havel becoming the first democratically elected president of the then Czechoslovakia and his resultant presidency of the reformed Czech Republic. All of which was beyond Lou Reed and John Cale’s dissolute expectations when forming the band decades earlier in New York, distanced not only by time but the Atlantic Ocean’s size an equal match of the divide in Central European politics prior to the movement, but influence weaves its way through the fabric of life like sand through a clenched fist.
Change, shown in a street performer’s desire to alter their fortunes by catching the eye of an influential passer-by to a prospective leader of the free world’s election pledge to be a better choice than their rival or current warmer of the hot seat, is considered a worthy achievement even when for its own sake, as in the smokescreen world of politics change and improvement all too rarely deserve to be mentioned under the same breath. Under the debut stewardship of Lukáš Loskot, CEO and Creative Director of Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend2014, the event aims to achieve both aspects, as this year’s watershed weekend marked a rethink in how regional fashion mobilised and presented itself to international press and buyers for the first time in its short history, throughout which even local media had resisted efforts to attend and support a scene on their own doorstep.
Such a counterproductive preoccupation with events elsewhere from those duty bound to back regional fashion contributed to the weekend being positioned differently. Now into its fifth year, this edition found Lukáš assuming blanket responsibility to counter the lack of progress made by the two previous weekends by adding polish to every aspect they lacked, such as having the final say in ticket design, seating and lighting arrangements and, second in importance only to the clothes, the show venue used. Held over four days at Charles University’s imposing Faculty of Law, the marble grandeur of its interior repaid his decision to break from the norm by not erecting a tent in preference for using an existing building in a city whose architecture jumps from the Baroque to the Gothic in no more than a single address, without ever falling below jaw-dropping quality. By looking inward at Prague’s rich heritage, Loskot’s vision simultaneously reaches outward in letting his slick project speak for itself.
Whose voice ultimately has to be spoken with most clarity by the selected designers, an area where the bulk of the vital work lies outside his presentational abilities. Again in a break with previous concepts this was Prague’s first weekend to show a season in advance, with all designers featuring their Spring/Summer 2015 collections. DASH wasn’t in town for the first day of shows but found Friday’s schedule to contain reasonable quality, withMartina Špetlová the clear standout. The local girl, now London-based, placed barely a foot wrong in a collection which lived up to the name and whose strength came from reminding us how many other so-called collections, regardless of tenuous concept applied by a designer overextending themselves, are nothing more than a confused assortment. Martina assuredly presented a fine balance of wearability and high craft, while her signature mastery of patchwork, colour experiments and interweaving of textiles by hand shone through in male or female garments.
Her show coincided with the arduously managed arrival in the front-row of Pandemonia, a self-styled artistic intervention into culture and society – a lofty claim a seven foot tall PVC outfit entirely concealing the wearer seems ill-equipped to satisfy. With the rush of photographers Prague appeared to have found its hero, yet what followed on the runway could hardly have been less shouty but succeeded in an artistic sense the inflatable doll-prop could never hope to rival. Backstage Martina explained her collection contained zero concept and was something of a work in progress, as she designs by intuition rather than with a target in mind, which makes one wonder how much of a unified collection she has inside should she set out to free it. Or rather this is her niche, making what feels right when she feels like it, instead of pandering to seasonal trends or industry expectations. By liberating herself, the clothes followed suit.
The audience’s most rousing response of the day, if not the entire programme, was saved for Petra Ptáčková. Still studying at Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and fresh from showing at FASHIONCLASH Maastricht, she began with a feminine Oriental influence before moving into multi-layered sports then eveningwear. An intentionally less focused show than Špetlová’s, Petra clearly enjoys applying her talent for imagining then realising a challenging silhouette in which even outlandish prints and colours are made to look at home, with more than a little help from classic 1990s Reebok and Nike trainers, rather than standing out as an afterthought interrupting her unusual lines. In sharp contrast to the hesitancy most designers demonstrate when taking a bow, never quicker in person to leave a stage their work is happier to remain on, Petra backflipped her way down the runway in a sure sign of personal satisfaction with her reaction and current direction.
With the exception of Ether and Chatty, the third day was marred by a sharp dip in cut and finish standards. At Ether, Eva Vontorová has manoeuvred well from designing sports and snowboarding gear to luxury leather accessories and an accompanying ready-to-wear collection hot on transparent sections and a neutral efficiency successfully drawing attention to her functional handbags, while her palatte contrasted subtle pastels pleasingly with no nonsense black. For Chatty, Anna Tušková and Radka Sirková put to use a good grasp of precise, tightly tailored clothing for a woman comfortable with her shape a Chatty piece tidily accentuates. This clean and efficient approach will always find a customer more interested in wearing refined womenswear rather than turn to an elaborate statement piece lacking the stylish urban fashion, ably supported by Markéta Dlouhá Márová’s jewellery brand Antipearle, this promising collection consisted of. Their diffusion line of bespoke denim jeans is a neat and valuable addition.
The final day’s morning managed right from the off to offset the largely disappointing Saturday, with Slovakia’s Pavel Berky embracing gypsy and Regency period motifs, while Jana Mikešová, a student at the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague (UMPRUM) and Czech representative at theInternational Fashion Showcase during London Fashion Week earlier this year, suggested that putting on shoes is a chore not worth tolerating if instead we follow her lead of sending every model out barefoot, save for ballet-like ribbon tied in bows around the feet or a single big-toe. Increasingly oversized peaks on caps by milliner Kateřina Čadová somehow managed to sit well with Jana’s handmade knitwear, from dresses to huge sweaters and scarves. Should any audience weariness have been present, Tereza Rosalie Kladošová forcibly shook it from the room. As much as fashion must sell to be viable, it must also forget restraint by stretching its legs and marching to its outer limits like every good art form occasionally should.
Tereza, also at UMPRUM, went out on a limb in a sign of the true maverick wielding the kind of expert abandonment this weekend dared to feature too little of, if even it was available. Without hesitancy her talent for the unabashed provided a delirious few minutes of vibrant multi-coloured, shaped and textured Merino wool panels not so much worn as strategically placed like armour plating over the torso, a cat fascination so acute their tongues spilled from the side of dresses their faces just about frontally filled, tapestries, objects and things, though with humour, panache and the wilful certainty of remaining on the correct side of farce. Her collection was a clear force of will and statement of intent, but mostly it was fun, accomplished and very much present. Backstage Tereza was just as committed to her audience, believing everyone could wear her creations. Though a long way from being accurate, her resolve matches her exaggerated clothes. While she wants to put the fun back into Czech fashion, her message is serious. Under communism and for reasons worth considering, people made any decorative item they cared for, so long as it was kitsch. Her work is a nod to this homemade art phenomenon of the 1980s-90s that cemented the area’s identity, as were the tapestry influences in respect of the manufacturing tradition of her home city.
Though plenty tried to follow her throughout the day’s remainder, Kladošová drew a line under proceedings that could not be crossed. Although she and Martina Špetlová occupy entirely different territory, both encapsulate the promise of Prague fashion as much as its limitations. While Martina studied at London’s Central Saint Martins, it is not difficult to imagine local talent having to leave the city to train elsewhere if they aim to establish their brand, as its lack of an attraction in its own right on a par with the London institution, a big enough draw for the major players to attend Graduate Fashion Week to see the next designer of repute from its intimidating roster, is a barrier to the weekend and the designers gaining traction. Without a comparable school, Prague can only grow by nurturing talent who choose to return there after study, if ever they leave – although Tereza fits this bill, should she be a one-off the Czech fashion industry remains isolated, though Lukáš is right to observe that he works with what he has and aims to have his event match that of Copenhagen, rather than the global fashion capitals, in the future.
In Rick Genest, better known as Zombie Boy, whether consciously or not the event chose a special guest whose change of fortune neatly tallies with the weekend’s hopes. Walking for Antonín Šimon, Jakub Polanka and Petra Ptáčková when not chatting to DASH in the VIP lounge about English grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, his arrival from an obscurity shared by Prague Fashion Weekend itself, though with no effort on his part to dodge the success laid on a plate before him, is a shared ambition the weekend will not find so easy to attain. As such that comparison ends right there, but Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Weekend, thanks to the top-drawer treatment and generous arrangements of Lukáš and his team, especially Ema Janáčková and Adela Mazankova, has learned very quickly how to welcome and host guests. Should they continue in the same vein and future designers all rise to the occasion, their ambition and dedication might just reap rewards.