Fashion Forward

Fast Lane

A new group effort aims at putting Czech designers on the map

Quick! Name a Czech fashion designer! Stumped? You aren’t alone. While names like Versace, Hugo Boss and Vera Wang spring into mind, Czech fashion hasn’t quite made it to the ranks of Milan, Paris or New York. But a small, dedicated group of eight designers is hoping to change that.

“I want to tell the world “we are here,” says Martina Nevarilova, owner of Navarila-Design. “We are the center of Czech design.”

Nevarilova, along with seven other fashion shops, has come together to promote the Czech Fashion Centre, a grouping of boutiques located near the Jewish Quarter in Prague 1.

“It wasn’t planned to have these designers all in one place,” says Barbora Zindelova, who is assisting in the promotion of the Czech Fashion Centre. “But it’s inspirational for the designers.”

Designer Ivana Follova, owner of if…Art & Fashion Gallery, was the first to move in, because “it was a tourist district and it had a good atmosphere.” The number grew to four boutiques, people were visiting, and other designers followed.

“It’s a good idea to connect forces and promote this district as a group,” says Zindelova. “It’s an opportunity to know and visit eight interesting addresses and spend a nice afternoon looking at the newest collections.”

Ivana Safrankova who together with fellow designer Alexandra Pavalova runs Timoure Et Group says promotion is the main reason they wanted to join the group.

“We want to join together in advertising, but also for the cooperation with other designers,” says Safrankova. “We need to spread the word about Czech fashion, especially to Czech people.”

Pavalova agrees, believing there are only a small percentage of people familiar with locally designed brands.

“Czech fashion is recognizable to people who are interested in fashion and design; those who aren’t, don’t care,” she believes. “There’s a bigger difference in between those two groups here, than in most other European cities.”

Follova agrees.

“In the Czech population, there’s only a small group of upper middle class, which is our goal group,” she says. “Production for Czechs isn’t as large, but it’s interesting for them because they know it’s a small collection and you can’t buy it anywhere else.

Follova says about 50% of her clients are Czech, while at Timoure Et Group it’s more like 75%. However, at Navarila-Design, Nevarilova says about 80% of her customers are tourists.

“The Czech customer isn’t hungry for original designs,” she says. “They don’t feel it’s important to have Czech labels.”

Pavalova sees a difference in shopping styles.

“Czech women are more conservative,” she believes. “They aren’t as interested in new trends, and get with them about six months later (after they’ve come out.)”

Besides trying to change the perception of shoppers, the group is also fighting against pricey imported brands and the hypermarkets.

“We look at it as a battle with foreign chains,” says Pavalova. “Our collection is smaller, but we put more effort into our clothes and have better customer relationships.”

“Here you get quality, plus special and original designs,” adds Safrankova.

“We are original, exclusive and not that expensive, when you look at the worldwide brands on Parizska,” says Nevarilova. “This is also an opportunity for tourists to find Czech labels and know it’s not just foreign brands in Prague.”

Fashion districts are well-known in other European cities, and the group hopes to popularize on that with tourists familiar with the concept. Zindelova says much of the promotion is focused on hotels, restaurants, salons and other tourist places. But for such small businesses, isn’t there a chance the cooperation could be bad for the individual shops?

“In Czech fashion you don’t see the rivalry you might see in other businesses,” says Zindelova. “Each brand has a specific style and specialization, each designer is different, so it’s not direct competition.”

Follova specializes in hand-printed silks, while Nevarilova favors wash-and-wear knits, so there is truly something for all tastes.

The group designed a website, www.czechfashion.cz that went online in May and in July started distributing map cards that include a brief description of each shop. They’ll combine funds to purchase advertising. They held their first event in September, a cocktail open house, and may do other events together in the future.

“It’s too new to know any results yet (of the cooperation,)” says Zindelova. “But people seem interested and save the cards.”

Pavalova is hopeful as well.

“The perception is slowly changing, but we haven’t been doing the cooperation long enough to see any major changes,” she says.

Follova sums up the importance of what the group is doing.

“It’s important to promote the brands and the location,” she says. “Prague should have a fashion district; it’s good for the city.”