From UMPRUM to the prestigious Institut Français de la Mode to the handbag department at Hermes to launching his eponymous fashion label, Jakub Polanka has more than earned his stripes as a fashion designer. Known for an impeccable eye and knack for designing both beautiful and statement-making pieces, Polanka creates clothing to enhance women’s beauty and boost their confidence. Today, he’s only a handful of Czech designers recognized internationally, with multiple design awards under his belt and two atelier studios in Paris and Prague. I caught up with Jakub to find out more about his early years in Paris, how he balances work and play and why he doesn’t like corsets.
On wanting to become a designer
I wanted to be a designer from day one. I was drawing a lot so when the time came to choose the specialty in high-school I chose sculpture. I remember the first year of high-school we had a fashion award, at that time I was only 14 or 15 years old. I did three outfits over summer and got selected. It was really exciting because I didn’t know much about the fashion shows, I remember I chose a beautiful, tall model but the dress turned out to be too short for her. (Laughs) I didn’t think it was a big deal then, I enjoyed the process.
On moving to Paris
When I was studying fashion design at UMPRUM, I met an art director of Institut Francais de la Mode and she asked me if i would be interested to go to Paris. I also spoke to Guillaume Henry, who is now a creative director of Nina Richi and he also suggested going to Paris. However, it took me sometime before I was ready to make a move. I applied to the university in Paris and got accepted. That was my starting point.
On years at the Institut Francais de la Mode
There were only 10 students that year, the school was located close to Avenue Montagne and was housed in an old brothel. We had a small collective, fourteen managers and ten designers so it was very family like. When I arrived I didn’t speak a word of French, I had no money and no place to stay but I got to know people who helped me get by in the beginning.
When I arrived in Paris I didn’t speak a word of French, I had no money and no place to stay.
On his first job
My first job was with Hermes, I worked in the menswear accessories department with handbags. It was an amazing experience. I must admit when I first came to Paris I thought Hermes was something that old ladies wore but then I learned about the company, the craftsmanship, attention to detail, personal touch and it opened my eyes in many ways on how I work today.
On the Internet’s fashion influence
When I started 12 years ago, there was not much Internet, no Facebook, no Instagram, no real communication over the internet. It was the time when we had designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Monsieur Valentino with their unique vision and not much PR. It changed drastically since then.
On the difference between runway collections and commercial projects
What I do on a runway is very different from what I do for private clientele. A dress can look very different on the hanger in a showroom than on the runway that’s 15 meters long. You see a dress on the runway from seven meters, photos are taken from ten meters but when you buy a dress you take it from a hanger that’s one meter away. There is a huge difference in finishing and details that you do.
On where he finds inspiration
Everywhere! It can come from having a coffee with a friend or watching people on the street. It’s all around me. However I love working with clients. I always grow personally and professionally working with real women rather when I’m on my own making a collection. It’s the communication that makes it exciting, you know; sometimes a few centimeters can make a huge difference and you only know it when you do fittings. I wish I had more interaction during fashion shows.
On fashion shows
Fashion show is a theater, it’s all about a story, and it’s a dream. We [ designers ] sell you a dream so in the end you can buy a shirt.
On Polanka’s ideal women
She is confident, self-aware. She is a warrior. I think if you have confidence you can wear anything and it would have a character.
I believe that you should never see a dress; you should see a woman wearing a dress.
On being perfectionist
I’m a perfectionist but in the things I chose to be a perfectionist in. The things that are important to me, I will not sleep, I will not eat until I’m happy with the result.
On corsets and skin-tight silhouettes
I’m not a big fan of corsets because I find those garments violate women’s freedom. Comfort is luxury.
On the secret to his success
I do what I love and have the freedom to do it.
On balancing work and play
Life is short. I love my job but I also love spending time with my family and friends. As I said I’m lazy, if I do a show once, I would then rather put my energy and do something else. I’m not doing big productions, usually it’s five pieces and I want to keep it that way.
On being lazy
I find it hard to do things that I don’t like – it has to be challenging for me. If I’m not fully into something it takes much more time and effort so ultimately it’s not worth it. I can make a gorgeous couture dress like Alexander McQueen that will look beautiful but I prefer to do something else, something more natural to me.
On his next collection for Prague Fashion Week
I want to have more fun this time and focus on things that excite me. I’d like to add more color and patterns as well as incorporate martial arts elements into the collection.
On where to find his collections
I arrange private sales for clients twice a year. You can also find my designs at La Gallery Novesta, Florentinum and Debut Gallery in Prague. In each store it’s something different, you won’t find two similar pieces because Prague is too small and you can’t afford to meet someone in the same outfit! (Laughs).
Photo: Courtesy of StyleMePrague / MBPFW