Design, fashion, architecture '
Rafał Stanowski
Reading time: approx. 15 minutes

City of beautiful forms

For centuries, Kraków has been one of the most fashionable cities in Poland and Europe – literally and figuratively. Today, its myriad fashion, design and architecture initiatives shape aesthetic sensitivities of locals and visitors alike. It is also a hub of creative activities following global trends such as local production and sustainable, environmentally-friendly development.

Kraków was the administrative and economic capital of Poland for centuries. We are reminded of it every day by the imposing Cloth Hall building dominating the centre of the Main Market Square. It dates back to Kraków being granted city rights in 1257, and it soon became what we might now call a shopping mall. The majority of traders were cloth merchants (hence the name of the building), and other traders buying and selling fabrics such as linen, silk and velvet.

Local tailors bought the fabrics to make clothes for royal courtiers and patricians, and later for wealthy Cracovians. For many centuries, Kraków’s streets were among the most fashionable in Poland, frequently on par with other European metropolises. The Cloth Hall is one of the jewels of Kraków’s architecture, making the city one of the most beautiful in Europe.

 

The royal court drew all that was fashionable. In the 16th century, the Italian wife of King Sigismund I, Queen Bona Sforza, introduced Kraków to bobbin lace – and it is now included on Poland’s list of intangible cultural heritage and has been praised by UNESCO, confirming its status as a treasure on a European scale. Many similar items and phenomena revealing the glorious traditions of arts and crafts in the city and the region can be found in the extensive collections of Kraków’s Ethnographic Museum.

 

Interiors of beautiful apartments and palaces have long been filled with jewels of applied art. The legendary Cracovian collections found on the shelves of cupboards and dressers in smart apartments extended far beyond the city, creating the foundations of what we now call “good design”. This legacy has become an inexhaustible source of inspiration for contemporary designers reaching for the city’s history and identity. It can also be found at local antique dealers and collectors, with the Sosenko family worthy of particular notice; Katarzyna Sosenko’s salon is filled with beautiful vintage designs and precious memorabilia of past eras.

Art and craft

The intertwining of arts and craft is a phenomenon which is fast coming to the forefront of Poland’s creative thought during the 2020s. Kraków takes an important place on this map: the city’s creative atmosphere, highly regarded art schools and boundless energy of young artists have already brought forth many fascinating initiatives. In turn, they have given rise to many success stories of innovative brands and their creators.

 

Some of the most notable brands in fashion include MISBHV, Pat Guzik, Mapaya, Vanda Novak, Lobos and The Shoemaker led by Michał Wojewodzic. Kraków is also home to design studios led by creative directors such as Jadwiga Husarska, Olga Dąbrowska and Adam Groch, and Wojciech Morsztyn, as well as design studios and factories of fashion and shoe brands such as Vistula, House, Mohito, Medicine, 4F, Wólczanka and DeeZee. It is also home to fashion and design start-ups such as HEY DOG Co. (fashionable dog accessories) and Estimote (location and proximity solutions).

The local creative community comes together at makerspaces – creative spaces providing design, art and craft tools which have become thriving hubs of creative energy.

Some of the most popular ones include FabLab Kraków at the Urocze estate, FabLab Kraków at Królewska Street and the Glass and Ceramics Centre at Lipowa Street. They are perfect venues for up-and-coming artists and designers seeking to hone their craft, develop their ideas and find colleagues who also love everything that is arts and crafts.

A thing for art

The great potential of the world of fashion and design has been noted by the city authorities. Launched in 2018, the project A Thing for Art brings together creative initiatives and events and recalls Kraków’s extensive traditions in the sphere.

 

Every year in mid-November, the city’s Department of Culture and National Heritage hosts a cycle of events showcasing the importance of good design, applied art, fashion and spatial design in the contemporary world. Participants can join the Element Urban Talks conference, Kraków Meetings with Design, the Debut Zone of the Design Forum, the Nówka Sztuka Fair, the Open Apartment Festival, and the vintage and retro Kogel Mogel Fair.

Creative vibrations

Let’s take a look at fashion and design locations in Kraków. Shops selling major brands line the Main Market Square and streets of the Old Town, while the tangle of streets and squares in Kazimierz is filled with myriad local boutiques, vintage and antique stores and artists’ workshops.

 

The legendary studio founded after the Second World War by master tailor Józef Turbasa is continued by his son Jerzy. Józef’s motto was “The line of cut must be beautiful”, and in the 1960s he was even approached by Pierre Cardin who offered him a position at his Parisian atelier. During the dark days of communism, wearing Turbasa’s designs made Cracovians feel like they had access to top quality attire, and allowed them to forget – even briefly – about the grim reality and empty shelves. Over the years, some of Turbasa’s clients have included Anna Polony, Czesław Miłosz, Stanisław Lem, Tomasz Stańko and Andrzej Wajda. The latter even picked up his Honorary Oscar wearing one of Turbasa’s suits.

 

The story of the brand MISBHV, run by Natalia Maczek and Tomasz Wirski, is an example of a spectacular international success. Thanks to their creative approach, the rapidly-developing Cracovian brand soon became recognisable at home and abroad. Their collections have been shown at prestige events including the New York Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week, and their designs have been worn by stars such as Rihanna, Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner, showing that Polish design can set global trends!

 

Pat Guzik, graduate from Kraków’s acclaimed School of Art and Fashion Design, is one of Poland’s most creative designers, bringing a fresh look to sustainable fashion. She is rapidly gaining acclaim at home and abroad: in 2017 she was the winner of the EcoChic Design (now Redress Design) Award for sustainable fashion. Pat presents her collections at the London Fashion Week and the Berlin Fashion Week, and her outfits – designed in collaboration with the illustrator Mateusz Kołek – can be found at concept stores all over the globe.

 

The modest courtyard at Rakowicka Street hides the Vanda Novak studio, designing shoes beloved by celebrities at home and abroad. The founder Dominika Nowak studied at the acclaimed Studio Bercot in Paris, and has designed shoes for brands such as Trussardi and Jimmy Choo. She has been running Vanda Novak for a few years; naming it after her grandmother symbolises her love of global trends, the art of creating beautiful objects and local handicraft.

 

Elena Ciuprina, the acclaimed fashion illustrator based in Milan and working with brands such as Fendi, Casadei, Max Mara and Bvlgari, also studied at the School of Art and Fashion Design in Kraków. Her illustrations are admired by some of the greatest fashion designers around the globe.

 

Hey Dog Co. design hand-made accessories for our four-legged friends. The local brand has grown to become a major international success, and Cracovian leads and collars are worn by fashionable pooches all over the globe. The designs created by Anna Pirowska, graduate from the School of Art and Fashion Design, are another great local success story.

 

Klaudiusz Iciek’s brand Claudius is based at a tenement house at Floriańska Street. The stylish interiors, modelled on English private members’ clubs, are the perfect setting for trying on jackets and blazers made of the finest fabrics. And if you fancy more of an image change, head upstairs to the Claudius Scissor for a beard trim or fashionable haircut.

 

Kraków’s magical atmosphere continues to inspire new generations of fashion designers, including the acclaimed shoe designer Anka Letycja Walicka, Monika and Patryk Łobos (Lobos handbags), Magdalena Tekiela, Waleria Tokarzewska-Karaszewicz, Anna Załucka-Kuczera, the award-winning designer Wojciech Morsztyn, Iga Węglińska, Kata Haratym, Piotr Popiołek, Michał Wójciak, Sandra Stachura, Anna Maria Zygmunt, Klaudia Klimas and Laura Filip who runs an atelier in Vienna. If hats are your things, head to the Le Szapo boutique at Stradomska Street, steeped in a Polish and French atmosphere. Another graduate from the School of Art and Fashion Design is the costume designer Karolina Luisoni; based in Lausanne, she won the costume competition for Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”.

The magic of artistic shopping

Looking for unusual gifts? Head to Józefa Street in the heart of the beautiful Kazimierz district! Its historic streets and squares hide many artistic and creative initiatives. Step into the charming Mapaya boutique founded and run by Martyna and Daz Wilde – you’ll be taken on an unexpected journey to the Far East. Fascinated by the culture, the couple have created a unique brand of clothes and accessories by working closely with Asian artisans.

 

On the other side of the road, Anna Gregory whisks us away to minimalist Scandinavian designs. Nearby you’ll also find the exclusive perfumery Lulua and handmade jewellery, clothes and ceramics boutiques Blazko, Alma Curiosa and Deccoria. If you enjoy arts and crafts, head to the Coffee Garden to find a selection of plants, macrame, ceramics and leather goods. The Slow Fashion Café at Bożego Ciała Street serves delicious coffee and hosts regular sewing courses. The Hive Store, selling contemporary streetwear, is tucked away at the corner of Gazowa and Bocheńska streets.

From here it’s just a short stroll to the recently renovated Krakowska Street, where the wide pavements are lined with artificers’ workshops, many with long local histories. A little further away, at Stradomska Street, you’ll find the cult IdeaFix boutique selling fashions by young designers. It’s one of the longest-running such initiatives in Kraków, having been supporting local artists for over a decade.

 

If you enjoy finding new brands in a relaxed atmosphere, don’t miss the Kiermash independent fashion fair founded by Izabela Chyłek and Mateusz Kaczan. Held several times each year at different locations throughout the city, at venues from historic buildings to contemporary galleries, it brings together around a hundred local designers. A trip to Kiermash is also a great opportunity to make new friends and colleagues.

 

Fans of bric-a-brac and vintage fashion and design should head to the Nowy Square in Kazimierz and the nearby Hala Targowa, which hold popular flea markets on Sunday mornings. Take a look through the jumble and you’re bound to find some real gems with fascinating histories!

Academic creativity

The Faculty of Industrial Design, founded in 1964 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (Poland’s oldest art school), has taught several generations of Polish designers and interiors designers. It recalls the traditions of the Kraków Workshops association, founded in 1913 to bring together artists and craftspeople to create a new quality of Polish decorative art.

 

Andrzej Pawłowski, founder of the Faculty of Industrial Design and known as the precursor of Polish organic art, was previously a member of the Second Kraków Group and the Association of Industrial Designers. His work combined pure and applied art striving to follow perfect forms found in nature. He designed many everyday objects such as furniture, telephones, agricultural and industrial equipment and car seats for the FSM factory in Bielsko-Biała; he also worked at the National Museum in Krakow and the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. The historic building of the faculty at 9 Smoleńsk Street presents fascinating works by current students at the Academy of Fine Arts.

 

Design is also taught at the Faculty of Art at the Pedagogical University and the School of Interior Design and Space; the latter organises the Kraków Meetings with Design every November, attended by acclaimed designers such as Dorota Koziara, Tomek Rygalik and Marek Cecuła.

The foundation of the private Cracow School of Art and Fashion Design in the 1990s revolutionised education in fashion design. Founded by Joanna and Jerzy Gaweł, the pioneering school for future designers of fashion, jewellery and footwear is one of the finest of its kind in Poland and awards prestigious prizes: the Honorary Golden Thread and the Habitus Baltija. The School of Art and Fashion Design also hosts creative workshops on fashion, design and interior architecture. Visit the school’s building at 52 Zamoyskiego Street to admire the regular fashion, interior design (School of Interiors and Space) and art photography (School of Creative Photography) exhibitions.

 

The school also organisers the annual Cracow Fashion Week – the most important fashion event in Małopolska focusing on discovering and promoting new talents, local design and ecology. The event is attended by visitors from home and abroad to admire diploma collections by students from the school and all over the globe, discuss the latest trends and explain that fashion forms an important element of cultural heritage. Collections presented at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre reveal how fashion design breaks through language barriers and becomes a global tool of social communication.

Lustrous future

Fashion and design have a bright future ahead. The former Cracovia Hotel, opposite the Main Building of the National Museum, is being converted into a brand-new museum of design and architecture. Thanks to the initiative of Andrzej Szczerski, director of the National Museum in Krakow, it will become a new institution presenting museum exhibits, inspiring the public and creating a space for the local creative community.

The atmosphere has been present at Cracovia, now owned by the National Museum, since Dina de Białynia Woycikiewicz founded the Design Forum there a few years ago, showcasing products made by Polish artists, designers and artisans. As well as serving as a marketplace, the showroom also hosts events such as workshops and meetings with acclaimed designers.

Architectural journey through the ages

Kraków is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, intertwining architectural heritage with spectacular contemporary developments. The city captivates all visitors who fall in love with places where the past meets the present. Wawel Royal Castle, the Basilica of St. Mary, the Cloth Hall, the Main Market Square and the Old Town, and the charming streets and squares of the Kazimierz and Podgórze districts – it seems as though every brick and pavement slab has been witness to history. Some of the finest architects who have made their mark on Kraków include Bartolomeo Berrecci, Tadeusz Stryjeński, Karol Knaus, Teodor Talowski and Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz.

 

Kraków’s multi-talented dramatist and poet Stanisław Wyspiański was also a designer, architect and urbanist; he designed furniture, interiors, buildings (his acclaimed plan to rebuild Wawel Hill was known as the Acropolis) and dazzling stained-glass windows; the latter can be found at the contemporary Wyspiański Pavilion art gallery.

 

 

Nowa Huta – originally a separate city built after the Second World War around the steelworks plant and now a district of Kraków – is home to fascinating examples of socialist realist architecture, such as the buildings at Centralny Square and Róż Avenue and the Świt and Światowid cinemas (the latter has since been converted into the Museum of Nowa Huta). The oldest part of the district follow the urbanist design created by Tadeusz Ptaszycki. Its distinctive layout has earned Nowa Huta a cult status, especially when juxtaposed with the historic centre of Kraków. It is also the cradle of many artistic activities with local and social aspects ran by the Łaźnia Nowa and Ludowy theatres and the Nowa Huta Cultural Centre.

Modernist architecture takes a special place on the city’s map. The numerous, frequently spectacular buildings are a reminder of the visual and social importance of this trend in the municipal space.

Different parts of Kraków are home to buildings designed by architects such as Witold Cęckiewicz, Janusz Ingarden and Romuald Loegler.

 

Fans of modern buildings will also find themselves at home in Kraków. Some of the most notable examples are the Manggha Museum (designed by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki with Krzysztof Ingarden, Jacek Ewý and JET Atelier), the ICE Kraków Congress Centre (again, designed in collaboration by Ingarden & Ewý and Arata Isozaki), Cricoteka (inspired by the work of Tadeusz Kantor and designed by the IQ2 consortium of nsMoon Studio and Biuro Architektoniczne Wizja), TAURON Arena Kraków (designed by Piotr Łabowicz-Sajkiewicz, Marcin Kulpa and Wojciech Ryżyński) and the Małopolska Garden of Arts (designed by Krzysztof Ingarden). And Kraków is soon to gain the Planet Lem Centre for Literature and Language – a futuristic building designed by JEMS Architects to celebrate the Polish master of science fiction and fantasy.

 

Fashion, design and architecture all thrive in Kraków. Just like other aspects of the city, you can continue to discover them anew by finding beautiful objects and encountering fascinating personalities from the past and the present. As a city of beautiful forms, Kraków has been an inspiration for fashion, design and architecture for centuries.

 

Rafał Stanowski

Publicist, creative director of fashion and design events such as the Cracow Fashion Week and the Kraków Meetings with Design, and deputy editor of “Lounge” magazine. Strategic promotional consultant for Kraków 2016–2022, lecturer at Cracow Schools of Art and Fashion Design and graduate from the Jagiellonian University.

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