Tracking down the trendsetters

In creative industries, trends come and go; a trendsetter, however, comes, stays, and pushes their industry to the next level. A trendsetter is also sometimes hard to spot – a fact The Prague Tribune learned in researching this story.

ONE SURPRISING FIND was the scepticism that surrounded the question of whether a real trendsetter can exist in the Czech Republic. A reason for this may lie in the fact that creative output wasn’t supported before 1989. As a result, copying international trends became a norm. However, that itself is a trend that’s starting to change. “People can recognize copying,” says Jan Králíček, editor-in-chief at Dolce Vita magazine. “To be called ‘a copier’ is a hard [image] to change.”
Still, internationals modes and fashions can be helpful. In fact, many of the people profiled in the following story have just returned home to give a breath of fresh air to the local scene after years of experience abroad. That’s another important point: while these trendsetters are still young, they all have extensive experience. In many stories, it has taken years of hard work and disappointment for these trendsetters to reach the lead in their respective areas.
Above all, though, a trendsetter is someone who isn’t afraid to be a bit unconventional – and proper marketing helps. “In the Czech Republic there are many original and creative people,” Králíček states, “but their work is not as visible.” So the next several pages will hopefully give some exposure to people who may herald the future of their industry. Some have overwhelming approval; others have their critics. But what they all share is a desire to push their given fields forward to that next level.

Building a reputation

Stanislav Fiala
Photo: archiv
Daniela Polubědovová
Photo: archiv

Number of professionals from the field of architecture have agreed that studio D3A can be considered a trend-setter for its admirable success and rich history, which goes back to the years before the Velvet Revolution.

As individual as creativity and art can be, the key to the success of the studio – consisting of three partners and thirteen architects – is teamwork. From their Prague-based studio the team offers a wide range of services – from planning homes, public spaces, interiors, and office buildings, to small design projects. “Our main interest is architecture, but sometimes, we enjoy doing designs,” says Stanislav Fiala (42), one of the firm’s partners, who joined the studio in 1989.
Among the studio’s greatest achievements is the Muzo Center in Prague 10 which received the Construction of the Year 2000 Award, the Lord Mayor of Prague’s Prize for Quality Design 2000 and a year later made it into the finals of the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award, a European Union prize for contemporary architecture. Another landmark of D3A’s success is the fact that three of its buildings – the above mentioned Muzo Center, a private villa, and Nový Smíchov, one of the largest and most popular shopping malls in Prague – were chosen to be included in the Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture, which showcases the best buildings of new architecture all over the world.
D3A’s designs focus mainly on Prague, since, as Fiala says, it’s better to oversee the process. “It’s difficult to make sure all is going well with distance,” agrees Daniela Polubědovová (35), who joined the D3A team in 1997 as an apprentice and now closely works with Fiala on numerous projects, for instance on the interior of the Bristol Myers Squibb headquarters. Even though most of their projects are Prague-based, the studio is currently working on two distant projects – a family house and offices in Serbia, as well as a summer residence in the Caribbean.

“Studio D3A obviously thinks, creates, puts their designs into question, evaluates them and looks at problems from a different perspective.”
>> Josef Pleskot, architect, AP studio
“They continuously evolve and innovate their approach and working methods. Their buildings, interiors and designs are distinct and possess a strong concept.”
>> Jan Králíček, deputy editor-in-chief, Dolce Vita magazine


Kristína Havasová

Fashion as a statement

Denisa Nová
Photo: Davis Holas

“She demonstrates an outstanding feeling for material.” “She’s not afraid to experiment with new textile materials and technologies.” “She combines the seemingly uncombinable.”

ThIS IS SOME of the praise Denisa Nová, a successful 31-year-old Czech fashion designer, has received from prominent Czech artists, professors, and journalists, who point her out as a trendsetter. “To me, fashion is not merely a superficial craft, it’s a view on the world,” claims Denisa Nová. “Freedom is paramount to fashion, and so it suits me well.”
After graduating from the Faculty of Textile Design in Liberec five years ago, Nová established her own fashion design studio and clothing brand, DNB, in the city of her childhood, Brno. Last year, she expanded her brand to include a new studio in Prague, which now employs fifteen people. She has received various awards, including “Designer of the Season” for her trendy 2000 collection. But according to Nová, the biggest achievement was representing Czech Republic at London’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a project organized by the British Embassy and Council, this year in May. The project, namely “Crossroads For Ideas”, was held to celebrate the entry of seven countries in to the EU. Inspired by two young British fashion designers, Victor & Rolf, Nová feels that London is her city of fashion: “I like its creativity, and honoring innovation which the Czech Republic lacks.”
Admirers of her work can gaze at the catwalk, which will present about 50 of her designs, on November 12 in Prague (venue to be determined) and which will be the final part of the “Crossroads For Ideas” project. Nová admits that her designs, uniquely for women, are not for all. “I prefer clearly contemporary design with wit,” she concludes.

“Her collections have always been excellent – opinionated, exquisite and unique. I like the fact that she is able to keep her style and doesn’t necessarily follow the fickle trends.”
>> Liběna Rochová, fashion designer
“Denisa Nová is a progressive fashion designer mainly because she combines artificial materials with natural ones, doing it very sensitively and stylishly. She flirts with the so-called ‘luxurious street fashion’, and her designs can be worn at techno events as well as at sumptuous parties.”
>> Lucie Blagojevič, fashion reporter at the Harper’s Bazaar


Kristína Havasová

Bringing the sea to Prague

Jiří Štift
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

Betting a restaurant’s reputation on seafood can be a risky venture in a land-locked country. But that’s what the Radisson SAS Alcron restaurant does – and excels at. The menu is centered around everything from the sea, and it is this – along with unbelievable consistency – that sets executive chef Jiří Štift (29) apart.

To come to his creations, Štift combines his many experiences cooking around the globe, although his beginning wasn’t so worldy. After training for five years at a local culinary school, then working at various Czech tourist restaurants, Štift knew he needed a change if he was going to develop. He got this opportunity in 1996 at Prague’s Intercontinental Hotel, where he also took part in competitions and really started playing with food. This experience landed him a six-month opportunity aboard the Queen Elisabeth 2 in 1998, which broadened his mind and taste buds. “It was great to meet so many different nationalities and cuisines,” he says, adding that at every stop on this world voyage he would spend his free time in local restaurants. Štift has also had many stints in Radisson kitchens around Europe, including Le Sie`cle in Vienna and Brussels’ two-star Michelin restaurant, Sea Grill, an experience he calls the best in his life. “Everything I know today, I learned at work,” he says, discounting his early schooling.
Sea scallops with Cordonetti pasta is one of Štift’s subtle signature dishes. Using a trick he picked up in Italy, Štift mixes ground porcini mushrooms in with the flour used to make the pasta. Then, in a unique but suitable pairing, he combines the pasta with sea scallops and porcini mushrooms.
With his restaurant already a holder of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences’ coveted five-star Diamond Award – the first in Prague – Štift still has a lot work in his native city. In the future, he plans to travel for more inspiration, as well as to write a cookbook – to go along with his cooking courses – and he would like to have a television program. What about his own venue? “The restaurant will come after all that,” he smiles.

“Jiří Štift shows how to do great combinations, but the taste is always balanced. He doesn’t experiment at all costs.”
>> Pavel Maurer, Grand Restaurant Guide
“If I really want well-prepared fish or seafood, I go to him. He has above all a huge respect for the ingredients which will be paired to the main dish.”
>> Ladislav Vostárek, lawyer & gourmand


Jason Hovet

Cutting her way to the top

Petra Měchurová
Photo: archiv

Hairstylist Petra Měchurová is, at the age of 28, enjoying the peak of her career. Hundreds of her hairstyles have been published in numerous hair and fashion magazines, and recently she was chosen to compete in the annual international contest organised by AIPP, an association of world media publishers from the hairstyling field.

As one of the 43 best hair-dressers in the world she will be the sole representative of her country at Paris’ Mondial Coiffure Beauté hairdressing festival in October this year. The contest consists of five categories, and Měchurová will compete against seven other nominees in the Best Avant-Garde Collection category. The Czech stylist impressed the judges with her new “de luxe” collection, which was conceived for the autumn-winter 2004-5 season.
After having various internships abroad, Měchurová opened a studio, bearing her name, in 2001. Despite her success in this venture, she has decided not to open any more. “It’s better to have one that’s excellent than three that are average,” she explains. The fact that she only opened up her studio three years ago is also reflected in the prices, which she concedes are very low for the quality of her cuts. “We’re not the most expensive in Prague,” she says, adding that the reason for her underpricing is the relative youth of her studio.
Her clientele consists mostly of middle to upper class women between 25 to 55, but also some men, usually their husbands. With every hairstyle comes a new idea and when the customer returns, she tries to do a new hairstyle so that they’re not bored. This explains her famous clientele, which includes Karel Gott. Měchurová also co-operates with modelling agencies, which she enjoys because she has more leeway in creativity. “It’s like fashion design. You never wear what you see in magazines or catwalks.” Because she likes to, in her words, “play games” with hair, this type of work suits her perfectly.
As Měchurová used to excel at school, people around her discouraged her from going into this field, for monetary reasons. Still, she decided to pursue a career in hairdressing and has been doing it for the past ten years with much success, now co-operating with prestigious brands like L’Oréal.

“Her hair style collections have always something new, different and yet very unique, with a distinct signature. She works very purposefully on her image, which is rare among hair-dressers.”
>> Stanislava Stiborová, editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Hair&Beauty
“Petra Měchurová is very skilful and ambitious. She is not afraid to experiment; she uses fantasy and has her own style.”
>> Jana Zajíčková, owner of Toni & Guy salon (CR and SR)

Kristína Havasová

Musical ecstasy

Jan P. Muchow
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

He’s a well-respected composer of alternative music that pop music lovers can enjoy, too. He’s one of the few Czechs who stays in touch with the current scene abroad. And what does Jan P. Muchow (33), a musician, composer of film and theatrical sound tracks, producer, actor, and beginning director say of himself? “I never studied music, I just listened to a lot of it.”

UNTIL AGE seventeen he lived mainly for football, which he played for the famed Slavia Praha club. But when he arrived at the technical college on Betlémská Street to study engineering he discovered the Slavia café, and everything changed. “I didn’t want to go from the comfort of drinking tea to the sweaty pitch,” he explains. In 1991, Muchow established the still active band Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, which is one of the few Czech groups to see success abroad as well. The album EP Fluidtrance Centauri, released in Great Britain (1993), rose to sixth on the hit parade, and in the US it led in import sales. In 1996 he starred in the film Whisper, for which he wrote the sound track. Other films followed, such as the famed Samotáři (Loners) and the latest, this year’s Non plus ultras. He won a Czech Lion 2004 for the music for the film One Hand Doesn’t Clap.
With time many Czech performers began to cooperate with this talented musician, so he helped create albums by Anna K. and the group Kryštof. “Unless it’s a job where I must meet some requirements, my only criterion is that I have to like it. I never worry about what people will say or if the music suits average tastes,” Muchow explains.
He says he’s no different from other musicians. “Instead, I know what I have in common with them. I enjoy soccer, I can’t read music, and I’m completely impractical in practical life,” he recounts with exaggeration.

“Honza Muchow was one of the first to bring European standards to the stagnant Czech music scene.”
>> Pierre Beneš, editor-in-chief of the music magazine Ultramix

Anita Lišková

In with the new

Vít Komrzý
Photo: David Holas

By keeping the human touch in an industry dominated by technology, Universal Production Partners, run by the Komrzý brothers, has helped bring the Czech film industry into the 21st century.

In 1989, Vít Komrzý couldn’t say no when his father-in-law asked for some help at work. “He needed assistance combining the classic art of animation with modern technology,” says Vít of his father-in-law – animator Radek Pilař of Večerníček fame. The cooperation lasted until Pilař’s death in 1993. Unsure what to do next, Vít, along with a friend – Vít’s brother, Petr, later joined as head of production – started the post-production company Universal Production Partners (UPP) in 1994.
After a few years of working on commercials – and saving to upgrade its equipment – UPP got its first visual effects project on a feature film, Nesmrtelná teta. Later, the company’s efforts to crack Hollywood paid off while working on visual effects for Jan Svěrák’s Tmavomodrý svět. When shooting stalled amid refinancing, the film’s London SFX supervisor referred UPP to Anthony Mignella, who needed about 80 shots created for his upcoming The Talented Mr Ripley. After successfully completing both films, Vít says, “Finally, we had references.”
Now UPP can compete with just about anybody on the international level. What sets UPP apart is the success it’s had combining the classic art of Czech filmmaking along with the latest technology. “Our team has great experience working with classical film,” Vít says. UPP became the first Czech firm to work with Digital Intermediate three years ago. In this technology, the filmmaker’s 35mm negative is scanned onto a hard disk and then changes and visual effects are worked digitally. Speed is one advantage. “Flexibility is also much better,” Vít says, showing that certain aspects of a scene can be changed as opposed to the whole scene. He says, “You have unlimited creative potential. I think Digital Intermediate will have a big influence [on the future of the Czech film industry].”

“One in six shots on Tmavomodrý svět were computerized. [The size of this project] was really the first of its kind in the Czech Republic.”
>> Jan Svěrák, film director
“Digital Intermediate is the future of feature film post-production, and UPP is at the forefront. The industry moves fast, though, and the next big developments are already happening, so it will be interesting to see if they keep pace. It is an expensive world to stay in.”
>> David Minkowski, producer, Stillking Films

Jason Hovet

Material beauty

Radim Babák
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

The young designer Radim Babák (32) gained public awareness back in his third year of studies at the Institute of Applied Arts (VŠUP). With schoolmate Jan Tuček he created lamps with shades made of PUR foam, and Ingo Maurer chose them for the prestigious publication Design Yearbook 1999/2000.

“Every material has its own characteristics and hidden beauty. You just need to discover it and have the courage to combine them. When I succeed it makes me happy, and I don’t care if I use expensive or cheap materials,” says Babák. A lover of the color orange, he creates functionally designed furniture that at first glance looks austere. Babák claims he’d never start working on an order that failed to catch his interest. “My dream is to work with people who respect me and can listen and perceive the idea I want to bring to the project,” he says.
In 2000 Babák graduated from VŠUP’s architecture and design studio, where he studied under Professor Jiří Pelcl, and is now the assistant there. The designer became famous for using unusual materials such as foam and plastic, and while still a student presented his work at prestigious fairs and exhibitions in Milan and New York. Last year he, along with schoolmate Ondřej Tobola, established the hippos studio, which will be officially introduced this autumn at Designblok 2004, in Prague. They focus on industrial furniture design, but also plan to work in architecture in the future.
Among designers, he particularly likes the Dutch association, Droog design. “Their projects involve more than just interesting, trendy effects or colors,” Babák says. He sees the differences between approaches to design in this country and abroad mainly in the availability of new technologies. “Using high-tech materials is taken for granted by foreign designers, who learn about them in school,” notes Babák. “On the other hand, there’s a great potential of ideas here. Just look at the works by design and architecture students.”

“Radim Babák is very good at analyzing a task, and he can test solutions to problems from several angles. His thinking isn’t stereotyped, and he enjoys experimentation,”
>> Jiří Pelcl, rector of VŠUP in Prague, head of the department Architecture and design

Anita Lišková

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