Hana Podolská, a legend of Czech women’s fashion

Exhibition at Arts and Crafts Museum of Prague runs till January 20, 2019

In between the two World Wars, the infant Czechoslovakia was experiencing its golden years known as the First Republic. In the glow of this hopeful era, a young seamstress rose to dress the most prominent women of its society.

The work and life of Hana Podolská, the star of Czech fashion during the First Republic and beyond, are on display in a swank exhibit at the Arts and Crafts Museum of Prague until January 20, 2019.

Hana Podolská, born Johanna Vošahlíková in 1880 in Merzhausen, was known for her refined taste, charming personality and absolute expertise. Every well-to-do fashionable lady of the time dressed in her salon. Her many exemplary clients included the president’s wife Hana Benešová, and the automobile racer Eliška Junkova.

Her designs were elegant, chic and catered to the female form in a timeless manner. Although Podolská did not actually design or sketch any of her patterns, she had a work ethic that drove her to begin her day at 5 am and be present for every fitting.

Shown are flowing evening dresses made of the finest fabrics on par with Paris fashions, which earned Podolská the moniker, the Czech Coco Chanel. The First Republic rendition of accessories, shoes, capes and coats all evoke the finery of women of the Czechoslovak crème de la crème, which today may be comparable to such fashion houses as Prada or Ives Saint Laurent.

Playful and refined, the evening attires of Czech actresses, family members and Podolská herself have an enduring quality. Then to titillate the senses, a special gallery of dresses, blouses and accessories is also available to touch and examine.

Despite her success and obvious joy for living, Podolská’s life was not all smooth sailing. On display are not only the workings of her fashion house, but also the fascinating rise and fall of the Podolsky family and its enterprise. Photos and kismet of individual members of the family as well as the Hana Podolská Fashion House employees are presented through the First Republic to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during the Nazi occupation of WWII when the young Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, and to its lackluster conclusion under Communism.

The couture house was nationalized during the Communist era after 1948 and then lost touch with global fashion centres such as Paris. A lack of quality fabrics contributed to the decline of the essence of Podolská’s visionary fashions. Podolská herself was allowed to work in her store, but only as a saleswoman with a small salary and no authority. The sad end of the Podolská Fashion House in the hands of the Communist government makes this exhibit even more poignant and relevant.

Included in the exhibit are archival films featuring models, which Podolská was the first in the Republic to utilize and society ladies demonstrating the languid elegance of Podolská’s designs round off the display of working patterns and conceptions. One gripping clip is an interview during the Communist era with the elderly Podolská and her views on the latest fashion fads. Till her end, Podolská remained charming and chic in spite of her decline. She died in 1972 at the age of 91.

Today, Hana Podolská is remembered as a fashion legend and a persona revered for her talents and successes. For more information see the Umprum website www.upm.cz

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