Knowledge Exchanges

Global North/Poland

Krystyna Spark

Dissertation Title

Barbara Hoff’s Fashion Column: Examining the Connection Between Fashion in Communist Poland and the West

Throughout my time on the History of Design MA course my research focused, first, on the study of a mid-eighteenth century silk case with removable mirror, held in the V&A Museum collections. What drew me to this object was its unknown purpose and, in my object essay, I attempted to decipher its possible uses. Studying an object held within the museum’s Furniture, Textiles and Fashion department put me on the path towards the exploration of these fields of design. My subsequent essay about the changing perceptions of the economy car was an unexpected deviation from these subjects. Writing it reaffirmed within me my interest in fashion history, and it is this that I decided to focus on for my final dissertation.

In the 1960s London was undeniably setting the tone for what was culturally deemed as cool. In 1962 fashion designer Mary Quant signed a contract with leading American department store chain, J.C. Penney. Less than five years later The Rolling Stones played a concert in Communist-ruled Poland. The influence of England’s capital was felt across the globe, yet behind the Iron Curtain admitting this was problematic. Through my chosen lens of fashion I attempt to portray how information about current trends in dress was transmitted between Poland and the West throughout the 1960s. Using contemporary printed magazines as main primary sources and Polish designer’s, Barbara Hoff’s, fashion column written for “Przekrój” magazine as a kind of case study, I hope to illustrate the way in which public desire for Western fashion trends was swayed and manipulated by the Communist government.

My research also draws attention to similarities between the clothing designed in Poland and that outside of the confines of a centrally steered economy. Noticing these connections raises the question of design innovation and brings to the forefront Polish designers whose work was not previously placed on an equal level to those from the West. My research looks at the limitations of the surroundings in which fashion designers working in Poland during the 1960s operated not as factors necessarily hindering their creative output, but rather, as circumstances which allowed for a different kind of creativity. My dissertation research has led me to discover not only the connective qualities of fashion, but also, revealed to me the power and importance of print media and how relevant its past designs are still today. I hope to carry forward this approach of questioning the labels given to objects perceived as less valuable, which I myself was called to notice while being on this course. These are tools that I am extremely grateful for and make use of every day.

Material History /Virtual World

The V&A/RCA History of Design MA is offered jointly by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. It encourages interdisciplinary, innovative and critical approaches to the history of design across a range of mediums, places and times. Students work closely with the collections and curators at the V&A, as well as participating in the creative community at the RCA.