Not far from the National Theatre, tucked away on Bartolomějská street, the small flagship store of the label Leeda boasts some of the most original, colorful and hip clothing in the Czech capital. Run by two young designers, Lucie Kutálková and Lucie Trnková, Leeda has been putting out its limited edition collections for nearly seven years. The two designers both studied at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. Lucie Kutálková explains how the two were given a unique opportunity to establish their own label and retail space.
“It was a relatively quick and easy process. A long time ago, I used to work for the original company Leeda, they produced outdoor clothes, sleeping bags, winter jackets, clothes for mountain climbers, etc.
“But even though they produced all of their stuff here in the Czech Republic, and it was of good quality and they had their regular customers, it was hard for them to compete with new companies, who produced their stuff in much greater volumes and often had it made abroad. So they didn’t want to give up the company completely, so they offered me to take it over, with the same name and the same space, here in Bartolomějská street.”
Leeda produces all of its clothes in the Czech Republic, from high-quality materials like silk, cotton and jersey. The pieces range from simple yet elegant t-shirts to more intricate dresses and unique, nicely tailored pants. It goes without saying that hand-made clothes from quality materials will cost more than what your average chain-store has on offer. Are Czechs ready to spend a bit extra for special pieces? I put the question to Lucie Kutálková.
“It’s getting better, but people still do not consider fashion design real work, or real design even. For them, it’s still just clothes, and of course, the things we make are a bit more expensive. But they are slowly learning to appreciate quality. We also do tailor-made, custom clothes for people, and they have to get used to the fact that if you get something tailor-made, or if you buy a piece from a limited edition made from silk, that it is simply going to cost a bit more.
“I don’t think Leeda is so expensive – we have some shirts that retail from 1200 crowns, but also some that start at 400 crowns. But if you are going to buy a silk dress, of which there are maybe two or three and that’s it, then that is a whole different dimension. I think people are starting to see that it is hard work, that it is hand-made and that it is in a different league than clothes bought at a chain store.”
The gray era of communism, which practically wiped out any original fashion design in the country for many decades, certainly has left its mark on the Czech couture scene. I asked Lucie Trnková to describe the current status quo.
“Well, more or less anything that had to do with design was interrupted by the communist regime, so it wasn’t until after the revolution that it started coming back. I think that it’s getting better, that there are plenty of fashion designers who have work to show off. But what we are lacking is the funding, and then there is another big difference. Abroad, young designers have the opportunity to learn from big fashion houses, do traineeships in big studios.
“Here, because the Prague, and the Czech, fashion world is so small, designers are more or less on their own, so it is difficult for them. The only Czech company that cooperates with young designers is Pietro Fillipi.”
Leeda has managed to establish itself on a small and difficult market and has been operating successfully for seven years. While some of the clothes may not be for everyone’s figure, the majority of their creations are very wearable. So what is important when it comes to creating great clothes? Lucie Trnková again.
“Of course, it is important that it is wearable, I ask myself whether I would wear it. Even though you can’t just create with yourself and your own proportions in mind. Someone might have nicer legs than me, for example, so you can make a shorter skirt for that kind of customer. Another important element is that we want it to be simple and functional but have a detail that makes it interesting.”
Most of the Leeda designs are for women, but their newest collection,
under the motto I Love Your Boyfriend, incorporates men’s fashion into
Lucie Kutálková says so many men would come inside the store with their girlfriends and be disappointed that Leeda did not have anything for them. After being repeatedly asked why they do not offer any men’s clothes, the two designers went ahead and ventured into new territory. The collection was initially based on designs that were sent in by male fashion enthusiasts.
“We asked some 40 men to collaborate. Men are more aware of what they like to wear and what is missing on the market here. So we asked them to come up with some designs for us, and we chose from those and produced them. And from that men’s collection, we came up with a few designs inspired by it for women, and also some unisex clothes.”
“We used to do two collections a year, but now we’ve kind of limited that. We still do two collections a year, but one transitions into the other, so it’s not a completely new theme. We figured that it is better to continue a theme and develop it further, and use some of the ideas for the fall and winter collection.”
An important element of Leeda is the collaboration with professionals from other artistic fields – be it photographers, graphic designers, architects or film makers. The list of collaborators is eclectic, to say the least, and includes names of artists such as rapper Vladimír 518, composer and musician Jan P. Muchow and graphic designer Olga Benešová.
Leeda also regularly works together with architect Mirko Neckář, who designs the changing interiors of the store and is behind the production design of the label’s fashion shows. Among the more famous collaborators of the company was the late architect Jan Kaplický. Lucie Kutálková describes the collections her and Lucie Trnková worked on with him.
“Those were the collections Leeda Deja-vu and Leeda Kaplicky. The collaboration grew out of the fact that we were making the wedding dress for his wife-to-be, and then he asked us if we didn’t want to work together with him, and he had plenty of ideas. So out of that, the first two collections were born, with some of his and some of our designs, and we discussed those together a lot
“And then we started working on another collection with some of his ideas, but unfortunately he died before it was completed. We decided to still go ahead and finish the project, because we considered it important.”
Leeda’s designers continue to come up with original ways of promoting their label – for example through short films which feature the company’s clothes. One such project was shot in true guerilla mode in Berlin 2006 – the two designers travelled there with their photographers, crew and actors and filmed at several locations throughout the city without obtaining the proper permits. But it is this playful approach that sets Leeda apart from other brands. So what are the designer team’s plans for the future?
“We are hoping to photograph all the different made-to-order pieces that we have done, because there have been so many, and we kind of lost track of them. We have done wedding dresses, company outfits, a whole lot of really interesting custom clothes, so that’s something we really want to compile pictures of. And then of course our internet store, because we get a lot of tourists who come in and ask us about it. Sometimes we send pieces to customers abroad, but it’s not the same as if they could just look us up online.”
For now, interested fashion enthusiasts will have to go to the brick-and-mortar store at Bartolomějská 1 in Prague, or check out Leeda’s facebook page, which features a lot of photographs of the interesting creations by the trendy label.
The episode featured today was first broadcast on May 27, 2011.
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