Portret rodzinny Jana III,  Henri Gascar, 2 poł. XVII w. ,  Kraków, Państwowe Zbiory Sztuki na Wawelu
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Ubiór kobiecy w angielskim portrecie XVII wieku
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Wilanow for Young Talents – Fashion at the Court of King Jan III Sobieski exhibition
Dominique de Merteuil
I feel incredibly privileged to have been invited to the opening of this new exhibition at Warsaw’s beautiful Wilanow Palace and for me to say this, you can be sure that it truly was something spectacular. Not just to have been given the opportunity to see talented young designers conjure up their most incredibly well-crafted creations, encapsulating the couture court dress of 17th Century Polish King Jan III Sobieski but I was also humbled to have been taken under the wing of Elzbieta Litwiniak, an archaeologist, reconstructor of historic clothing and one of the jurors for this year’s competition.
Elzbieta introduced me to the curator of Wilanow Palace and of the exhibition, Maria Zielinska, as well as art historian/costume designer Ewa Orlinska-Mianowska and Monika Janisz from The National Museum in Warsaw, along with the incredibly talented goldsmith Karolina Kaya Tolysz. Costume designer Ewa Cyngot (Godun) was another in this talented group, so deeply involved in the reconstruction of historic garments, who kept me entertained with her humour and anecdotes about the salon’s past and present, which was both educating and amusing. Meeting them all, I was left feeling as though I’d spent too few hours in the company of such kindred spirits, whose prodigious knowledge on the topic of history and reconstruction of garments, made me yearn for more.
In our conversations, I was told that all the finalists had to show a tremendous amount of imagination and creativity, as there are practically no surviving women’s clothes from the Polish court of that period of time. As such, they had to rely heavily on paintings, archival documents, lectures and workshops organised by the museum in Wilanow, as well as The National Museum in Warsaw. Though this may sound platitudinous, the devil really is in the detail and having seen all the garments first-hand, I was amazed that such young people (the youngest contestant being 17) were able to recreate so faithfully and sew with their own hands clothes, that would cause the jaws of several well-known couture designers to surely drop had they seen them. Without the meticulous attention to the tiniest element, like the button on a dress or a justaucorps (a long knee-length coat worn by men in the second half of the 17th Century and throughout 18th Century) it would have been impossible to achieve reproduction of historical garment so close to the original.
This, the third edition of the contest (you can read about the previous one here), was held in two categories; reconstructions and inspirations. In the reconstructions category the contestants’ task was to recreate, based on portraits and available antiques, the fashion at the Court of King Jan III Sobieski. In the Inspiration category the young talent had to face the challenge of designing and sewing a contemporary garment inspired by 17th Century fashion.
Without further ado and my further reminiscence of what I consider one of the most interesting events I’ve attended this year, I would like to present you with the winners of the Wilanow for Young Talents – The fashion at the Court of King Jan III Sobieski exhibition.
Reconstruction of historic garments
Wilanow for Young Talents – Reconstructions:
1st place Justyna Helena Lasota who reconstructed a 17th Century garment based on the painting of Prince Jakub Ludwik Sobieski, Silesian painter 1691 Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanow.
The designer spent four months reconstructing the garment with impeccable attention to details. It took two months to make the justaucorps of which 4 weeks alone were spent on the embroidery and buttons. If you take a close look at the images below you will see why! It should be added that everything was hand made according to the rules of the 17th Century tailoring.
2nd place Marek Zietek reconstructed a manteu velvet dress based on the painting of Teresa Woroniecka, unknown Polish painter, The National Museum in Warsaw.
I can’t stop studying this incredible piece of art, especially the corset which consists of two layers, the outer one made of silk shantung, identical to the outer skirt and the inner layer made of denim. I’m not surprised that it was the most time consuming part of the dress, considering that each of the many panels in the corset had a 3mm diameter rattan stick inserted inside it.
3rd place Olga Chrobak with a reconstruction of a dress based on the painting of Konstancja Krystyna Komorowska Wielkopolska, painter unknown ca.1670 The National Museum in Kielce.
Breathtaking hand made silk, dark brown with a hint of gold dress, blue raw silk shawl and shirt made of white batiste.
Honorable mention
Rafal Zielinski reconstructed a 17th Century garment based on the painting of Konstanty Wladyslaw Sobieski, by an unknown French painter, 1696, The Wilanow Palace Museum. The beautiful, handmade and dyed-velvet, mauve justaucorps, could be studied for days! Everything about this vision of perfection screams my name and had it not been for the very tight security the garment would be now happily hanging in my closet. Joking aside, I’m astonished that everything including the embroidery on the cuffs as well as front and back of the justaucorps was handmade and so were the shoes, which the designer made himself. Have I mentioned that he chiseled the heels himself!
Wilanow for Young Talents – Inspirations
1st place Alona Zozula who was inspired by the painting of Abraham Casteleyn and his wife Margarieta van Bancken, Jan de Bray, 1663, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and in particular the big white collar. Contrasting black and white colours were very popular in the Dutch fashion of 17th century and Alona’s design consists of a black, hand-embroided dress and a multifunctional, reversible collar that can be worn showing either white or black colour depending on a personal preference.
2nd place Marta Studzinska who was inspired by the (very popular in 17th and 18th Century) Mantua dress, made of one large piece of fabric. For those intrested in the history of Mantua, I would suggest that you take a look at an article I found on one of my favoruite blogs  thisisversaillesmadame. The designer has cleverly used the idea of the Mantua dress but instead of making a garment worn over skirt she used it as an inspiration for a coat that perfectly goes with a pair of trousers. I call her design “mantua with a modern twist.”
3rd place Dominika Wasilewska, who was inspired by the breathtaking blue and gold colours which dominated many of the paintings of the Polish Royals in the 17th Century. Noble simplicity was the designer’s maxim and I think she’s done a wonderful job acomplishing exactly that. The idea for big collar came from paintings of Queen Elizabeth I of England and is my favourite part of Dominika’s design.
A few examples of gown reconstructions created outside the competition.
Elzbieta Litwiniak, inspired by a painting of Queen Maria Kazimiera, showed superb dressmaking skills by creating a beautiful blue silk taffeta dress. If you look closely you’ll see that the costume designer used several shades of blue, the bodice being darker than the skirt and the elbow-lengh sleeves. Gold lace has also been used and a decorative brooch added. The pattern for each and every part of the garment was created through extensive studies and reference to 17th Century designs. I simply adore the see-through silk blouse and can see myself wearing it in modern times.
Another example of the costume designer’s extraordinary talent in fashion reconstruction. A red taffeta dress with white silk lining and thin, see-though fabric pinned up with pearls, showing off shoulders.The skirt, slighly longer at the back, has been tightly gathered around the waistline. Let’s not forget about the tighly fitted bodice, that creates a beautiful shape. Which reminds me, it’s time to start corset training again!
A real gem in this year’s exhibition. An exact copy of a Jan III Sobieski’s kaftan by Elzbieta Litwiniak. The original one is in the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. The print on the silk fabric has been hand-painted by Anna Gnieciecka who is the best example that absolutely everything is possible, so long as you have the required skill, talent and a lot of patience. Attention must be paid to the incredible buttons made by the goldsmith extraordinaire, Karolina Kaya Tolysz who specialises in reconstructing jewelry from different periods of time.
Ewa Cyngot, inspired by the painting of Queen Maria Kazimiera and Teresa Kunegunda surounded by ladies in waiting, reconstructed a truly magnificent dress in green and brown silk decorated with a blue satin bow. I love the linen blouse finished with matching linen lace and can’t believe that it took the designer only six weeks to create such a masterpiece. It’s a shame that the corset and the underskirt are not displayed sepretaly as they are as impressive as the outer gown.
Julia Ksiazek was inspired by the painting of Teresa Kunegunda Sobieski and constructed a dress made of a cotton-velvet fabric in the most pleasant pistachio colour. What’s truelly remarcable is that all the gold paterns have been hand-painted by the designer. The corset has been build into the bodice rather than being a separate garment.
I have no intention of spoiling the exhibition for you therefore I won’t show all the garments but  I do hope that my article will leave you wanting more and that if you do happen to be in Warsaw  you will visit my beloved Wilanow Palace! Long live historic fashion and the amazing people who are capable of reconstructing them!
© Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie 2015. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone.
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