It is a wintry Saturday with slush on the ground, a chill in the air but there are warm trams outside to speed you to a cozy afternoon at the museum of your choice. We went to the Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie (MNK or National Museum in Kraków) to see “Moda w PRL” (Fashionable in Communist Poland). Polish women’s pursuit of fashion in communist Poland was difficult but important. “The revolutionary New Look proposed by Dior in 1947 coincided with a Stalinist regime being installed in Poland” (from the brochure). Polish women were having none of the utilitarian, egalitarian clothing being promoted by the regime. “Fashion was sometimes a form of escapism from the drab reality of life.” A few top-notch Polish designers looked to the West for inspiration which did not make the regime very happy. Polish women embraced the new fashion trends current on the international market. They made use of the resources that were available to them and when they stepped out on the international scene, they were ever beautiful and trendy.
The exhibition covers the years right after WWII, 1947 to 1989, at the fall of communism. As the exhibit swept towards the era of the 60’s and 70’s, I was waxing nostalgic over pieces which could have been hanging in my American closet back in the day. There was a black and white number, full skirt, crinoline, v-cut back, of which I owned an exact replica in turquoise in the 8th grade. (Kaitlyn, that orange and red midi you procured, could have made it to this exhibit!) The shoes and the hats were a hoot – I loved the shoes best! A hat silhouette called a “piloty” was a cap fashion derived from an old WW1 pilot’s cap. (They reminded me of the cloches promoted on the model, Twiggy) The caps were displayed in the rich purple, green, and red tones so evocative of the 70’s. The exhibition halls were punctuated with vintage motor bikes and a darling red convertible Fiat.
Also punctuating the salle was music. I was smiling as I mused with the music of Czerwone Gitary (Red Guitars), a Polish rock group whose LP I wore out in the 1970’s. I remembered how the music used to make my aunt and uncle chuckle. They were funny as they would humour me and sing along.
Trash those impressions that you might have of drab grey and brown clothing worn behind the Iron Curtain. There were papery butterfly gowns with fluttery capes in mid tone pastels. And elegant, cinch waisted, polka-dotted, crinoline-skirted dresses worthy of a Doris Day movie. A row of unique wedding outfits made me wonder if some of these dresses might have given a Polish mother or two a nervous-breakdown when their cool daughters chose a mini with a hat or a hooded lace midi for the big day. They were ‘mod’ and ‘groovy’ and right up my alley.
There’s a lot more to see in the MNK. We stepped in to see some of the other grand exhibits. I’m going to have to return to study the rest of the building, because I was distracted by nostalgia for mini skirts, Pucci prints, platform shoes and 70’s music.
There are so many really fine museums in Kraków with a distinctive flavor and beauty unique to this European country with its artistic heritage. There is more to see in Poland than remembrances of WWII. I am looking forward to ticking each museum off my list this winter especially on the days when the cold makes walking outside formidable, the street cars are running and the lattes are steaming in the cafes.