*This is a guest post, written by Suzanne Frank, Cultural Activist, Founder & Editor at kosmopolsk.dk
Vogue Polska October issue
Daria Gora and I have at least one thing in common. We are both very, very tired of the boxed-in stereotypes and prejudice often associated with Poland. From opposite sides of the Atlantic, when her night is my day, we both do what we can to contribute to a much needed image shift for Poland. Neither of us live there, but we have our roots and relatives there.
Earlier this year, I asked for Daria’s fashion perspective and recommendations for Kosmopolsk, and she kindly agreed. The result was this interview. This morning, when Daria replied to an Instagram post about Polish Vogue’s cover, she inspired me, because that cover contains more than is possible to discuss in a few Instagram comments.
When Vogue Polska released its first issue in February, the cover drew a sharp line between positive and negative response from readers who had waited for the much-anticipated publication. The cover depicted Malgosia Bela and Anja Rubik in front of Warsaw’s monumental Palac Kultury (which in itself is a construction that sparks debate). The cover photo was shot in a slightly off-kilter angle from a frogs perspective, elongating the boringly dressed (Daria might say minimalist?) models’ long slender legs, and provoked Instagrammers to comment on the drab greyness of the shot. The smoggy hopelessness and sense of resignation that confirms an impression of Warsaw many foreigners already have. A black Volga automobile adds to the social realism circa 1960. Obviously, considering the enormous expense associated with print publications, this was intentional. But why take the very first issue in that direction? Why not claim editorial responsibility and kick-start a new, fresh movement?
I have studied the February cover too many times now, to have an unfiltered opinion of it. However, I do remember my first immediate impression. I was disappointed. Why add to the image of grey, dull and wet, when that image is so far from the truth. After all, it also rains in Paris and London, and the sun does shine over Warsaw! Let’s get that image-shift started! That is why I started Kosmpolsk.dk, where our mission is to present cool and contemporary design coming out of Poland. Warsaw has so much to offer, as does the rest of Poland (don’t get me started on Cracow).
In just a few words, Poland is colorful, ambitious, cosmopolitan, quirky and has an impressive ability to move forward, stronger than ever. This is not a post about Poland’s incredible growth rate or explosive increase of dollar millionaires, but about Poland’s massive potential, urban, cosmopolitan and very cool designers, talents and destinations, many of which are indeed cover material. The fact that Poland has a heartbreaking history of Nazi and communist influences, is part of the package. And probably what draws many tourists to Poland. This is where you get it all; history, culture, big city life, rural landscapes and innovative gastronomy, but you cannot and should not reject your historical background. Have a look for example at Risk Made In Warsaw’s video. The fashion brand presents its designs using a long-lost Warsaw as a backdrop. A Warsaw that no longer exists, so the famous buildings were created in miniature and then digitally put into play. Architects, city planners and citizens still discuss the actual appearance of the buildings and their surroundings, as both the objects and their documentation have been destroyed. To me, that video is perfection. A contemporary brand in an olden day setting.
And that is why I like Vogue Polska’s October cover. It depicts a group of smiling young Polish women wearing regional dresses, and in between them is Monika Jagaciak wearing the design of a contemporary brand. The background is the Chicago skyline. Again, traditional meets contemporary and cosmopolitan, and the cover depicts proud, young women. It is cheerful and colorful. Daria Gora doesn’t like it. In an Instagram post on Kosmopolsk, she commented that it plays on the usual stereotypes and the only cover Vogue Polska is missing is the one of a Polish construction worker and a Polish cleaning lady. Daria is of course completely right. Putting smiling, happy-go-lucky girls in folky dresses on the cover, is light entertainment for the masses and does not shift anything. Daria is tired of Poland being portrayed in that way over and over again, and while I feel the same, I think the October cover has a very strong point: be proud! Wear your regional accents and show your heritage with pride. Regardless of your ethnicity or nationality – own it! Yes, the cover borders on trivial, and grouping smiling, happy, pretty girls is playing it safe and without character, but I appreciate the intention. Stylistically, I think it could have been so much more interesting (personally, I dislike the color choice for Vogue’s font, I find it flat, but I haven’t seen a print edition yet. And how much more confirming would it have been to see a busy CEO wearing a regional outfit by her expensive designer desk?), but I don’t see the stereotypical portrayal that Daria sees.
My biggest issue with the October cover is the blatant attempt to capitalize on US-based readers. Vogue Polska in Chicago, really? I’ll tell you why. Because the Polish diaspora is vast and global. 20 million Poles or Polish descendants live outside of Poland (that is half the number of inhabitants in the motherland), and Chicago is one of the largest Polish cities in the world. 1,5 million Poles live in Chicago’s metropolitan area, and millions more in other parts of the continent. A nice little market to tap into. Fair enough, Vogue is not running a charity. Personally I just wish they had done it more elegantly. If you’re positively inclined towards the cover, you might argue, that the cover is simply a warm gesture towards Polish descendants abroad. Perhaps that is the case, and perhaps even more important, when you are living far from your roots: stand proud.
Finally, I do wholeheartedly agree with Daria on one point: Vogue Polska has chosen to take on a responsibility, and its editors should be living up to it. Let’s see more of what contemporary Poland has to offer. Surely, that must be the very raison d’etre of Vogue Polska.
Founder & Editor