Djurdja Bartlett, “FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism” and Paulina Olowska “Applied Fantastic.”

Paulina Olowska, Ela, 2010, Oil on canvas.

Update: Bartlett will speak at the Museum at FIT Friday the 4th at 6pm

An increased interest is being paid to fashion under the Eastern Block. Chiefly, Djurdja Bartlett’s “FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism” was recently published by MIT Press. The repository of over ten years of research by Bartlett—a research fellow at the London College of Fashion—this ground-breaking book is an in-depth and beautifully illustrated study of fashion’s relation to socialism throughout the twentieth century. By employing a vast array of sources, it traces the history of fashion under socialism in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia.

An interesting parallel to the book was a recent exhibition at Metro Pictures showcasing the recent work of Polish artist Paulina Olowska. Titled “Applied Fantastic,” the exhibition was comprised of paintings as well as actual sweaters based on home-knitted patterns from late communist Poland, which were in turn based on adaptation and re-interpretation of Western fashion, thus showing a protracted engagement with Western fashion in communist Poland.

The title of the show is a reference to Polish writer Leopold Tyrmand, who, “describing the localized re-creations of Western styles,” coined the term ‘Applied Fantastic’ in 1954. Thus, similarly to Bartlett’s book Olowska, in a strikingly different medium, explores the Eastern block’s fascination with Western fashion, or as described in Bartlett’s book fashion’s role as “the spectre that haunted socialism.”

Francesca Granata

Paulina Olowska, Sweater 3 (Ela), 2010