How did Poland, a nation that had just regained its independence after more than a century of partitions, live out the famous Roaring Twenties?
The fresh spirit of liberation inspired a creative impulse that reverberated through the nation – along with the modern thrill of consumerism. Department stores opened up in all of Poland’s major cities, where artists and intellectuals were keen to shop for one-of-a-kind goods. Quality craftsmanship and bespoke tailoring drew in not just the local set, but visitors from abroad were also tempted by the competitive prices offered by Polish craftsman. Shopping was no longer a tedious chore. By the early 20th century, it had become a popular form of entertainment.
Warsaw and the other big cities looked to Paris for its style cues. After all, this was where the flapper was born, with her short bob and calf-lenght shifts.
These independent women pushed the boundaries of freedom with their nonchalant elegance, their calves exposed and the trail of cigarette smoke wafting behind them. A decade later, the relatively simple, cylindrical shape of the flapper dress (sewn, nonetheless, out of the most intricate fabrics) was cinched in at the waist, while the bust (ideally small and round) was accentuated as fashion turned back to a more feminine approach to fashion. Hair was grown out longer and blonder. This was no small revolution.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 was a terrible blow for Poland. The war made it all but impossible to follow the latest Parisian trends. And yet…
Herse Fashion House
Established in 1868 as Lace and White Goods Trading by Bogusław Maciej Herse, it was the most luxurious shopping destination in all of Warsaw. A few years later, his brothers, Adam Szczepan Herse and Ferdynand Robert Herse, joined the venture. Much like the Parisian department stores of the time, it was truly a family business. The Herses also modeled their offer on what was popular in Paris. Shoppers could indulge in: hats, veils, lingerie, corsets, gloves, childrens clothes, mens clothing and even carpets. Purchases could be gift-wrapped and shipping was also arranged. The shop’s specialty? Dresses and coats made to measure, catering to the most exacting tastes rivalling the styles created by the greatest Parisian couturiers, the likes of Charles Worth, Jacques Doucet, Jeanne Paquin, Jean Pateau and Coco Chanel.
The Herse Fashion House was first located in the Sandbag building located at 10 Senatorska Street, but by 1899 it had outgrown that space and the shop moved to a four-storey townhouse built in the Louis XVI-style at the very central intersection of Marszałkowska and Kredytowa Streets at Dąbrowskiego Square (designed by the brilliant Polish architect Józef Huss). Its sublime interiors served as the set for Michał Waszyński’s 1933 film His Excellency the Salesman, a blockbuster film of the age, starring the heartthrob Eugeniusz Bodo.
Today, it’s common for designers to team up with celebrities but, at the time, Bogusław Herse was a pioneer in promotional strategies, dressing the most glittering cabaret, theatre and film stars of the age. He also collaborated with artists, such as graphic designer, illustrator and poster artist Tadeusz Gronowski
In 2010, Adam Herse’s great-grandson Jan Górski, together with his wife Anna, reactivated the Herse Fashion House brand.
Jabłkowski Brothers Department Store
It all began in 1884 with Aniela Jabłkowska’s smallish shop selling colonial goods. As the daughter of magnate Józef Jabłkowski, her one-person enterprise soon expanded into a company that came under the management of Józef Jabłkowski Jr. Her assortment swelled considerably, so much so, that after three decades, it was a full-fledged department store in the heart of Warsaw, taking up the entire five-storey building located at 25 Bracka Street – designed by Karol Jankowski and Franciszek Lilpop based on the architecture of the Wertheim House in Berlin. Customers were drawn in not only by the building’s unique design, which featured the first glass elevator in the capital, but by the diverse array of goods for sale – ranging from women’s clothing and leather goods to white goods, tablecloths and curtains. The quality to price ratio was quite favorable thanks to the fact that there were no pesky middlemen to drive up prices. Here the fashions also followed Parisian moods, so its employees often travelled to the French capital for ‘inspiration’. The store also offered delivery services, which made up about half of the company’s earnings. Over time, the Jabłkowski Brothers came to own the neighboring buildings at 19 and 21 Chmielna Street.
The store’s success was marred, however, by the onset of World War II, although it continued to function throughout the Nazi German occupation. During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, it lent its support to the rebels of the uprising, providing them with clothing, footwear and food. The site also served as a munitions production facility.
What’s most interesting about the Jabłkowski Brothers Department Store is the fact that it survived the heavy bombardment which fell upon Warsaw and the original building is still around today. The company, after being taken over by the authorities under the communist regime and ultimately shut down, was reactivated when the family regained ownership of the property after the fall of communism. After a considerable renovation, the buildings today provide retail and showroom space for young Polish designers and other businesses.
Jan Kielman Shoesmakers
Founded in 1883, this shoemaker’s shop was one of the most famous of its kind in the city (out of at least 400 others). And the name is still legendary today. It owes its fame in part to the French general Charles de Gaulle who, in 1921, just before completing his mission in the Warsaw suburb of Rembertów, came into the shop to order a new pair of jackboots. The order inspired management to include a pair of these boots in the company’s catalogue, along with a few models for horseback riding. It received an even bigger boost six years later when the ladies of the court accompanying the Afghan king Amanullah requested 200 pairs of shoes to be manufactured for them. It is said that they couldn’t find a more suitable pair anywhere else. The firm’s most illustrious clients included Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, General Władysław Sikorski, journalist Stefan Wiechecki, reporter and essayist Marian Brandys, along with actors and singers Jan Kiepura, Adolf Dymsza, Mieczysława Ćwiklińska, and the young Hanka Bielicka, who would later say that she would never wear any other brand of footwear.
In the 1930s, the shop at 1\3 Chmielna Street drew customers in with its impressive window displays. Inside, there were couches and armchairs to make them comfortable. In the corner stood a Swiss guard in uniform, inspiring comparisons with the most exclusive European boutiques. Once an order was prepared, it was hand-delivered – with a one-grosz coin in the box for luck. The company not only survived the war, but the turbulent times of communism as well. Today, Jan Kielman’s shop is still operating at its location at 6 Chmielna Street in Warsaw. In 2000, it was included in the British almanac Europe’s Elite 100. Millennium Issue, a list of a thousand of the most exclusive destinations in Europe.
Zaremba Tailor’s Shop
In 1894, Edward Zaremba opened a rather small tailor’s shop in the Royal Opera building in Warsaw on the bustling Theatre Square. It wasn’t just the location that worked in its favor, but also the deft handiwork of Edward himself, which he passed on to his nephews Adolf and Tadeusz. Tadeusz inherited the „Zaremba eye”, a skill that allowed him to tailor a fit to even the most non-standard body types and unusual requests. Legend has it that a certain officer of the Russian tsar who was particularly fond of duels, had his uniform refitted here so that he could seamlessly conceal a weapon.
In 1922, the shop was moved to another fashionable address at 6 Hoża Street and then again five years later to the nearby 36 Wspólna Street. The 1920s were a golden age for the garment industry. The capital was booming. New restaurants, cafes and clubs were popping up everywhere. There was no lack of embassy balls, banquets and premieres in a city that was itching to kick up its heels. The orders for suits, tuxedos and smoking jackets streamed in, while recreational weekend activities drove the demand for bloomers and britches. To keep up, Zaremba hired 15 apprentices, two cutters, a bookkeeper (known as a buchalter at the time), and a courier. Due to Adolf and Tadeusz’s hard work, the shop came to be known as „Zaremba Brothers”.
In 1933, Tadeusz decided to open his own shop at 52 Koszykowa Street and soon became a celebrity in his own right among the city’s elites, admired not only for his tailoring talents, but his charisma as well. He made clothes for stars of the screen and stage, as well as diplomats, professors, artists and businessmen. He was considered an authority on men’s fashion and was often quoted in the press. The workshop soon required a larger space and Tadeusz moved down the street to 40 Koszykowa Street right at the intersection with Warsaw’s main thoroughfare, Marszałkowska Street.
The Zaremba brothers’ businesses flourished up until the outbreak of World War II. In 1940, Adolf Zaremba was arrested and sent to the infamous Pawiak prison. Thanks to his family’s efforts, he was eventually set free but, in the meantime, the Gestapo had taken over his business. By the end of the war, the shop had been set on fire and burned down, along with all of its equipment. The war didn’t spare Tadeusz either. He was plagued by random searches and seizures. The workshop was eventually destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Tadeusz returned to his work in July 1945, re-establishing his business at a new central address 17 Jerozolimskie Street, picking up where he left off creating perfectly tailored clothing for Warsaw’s high society and diplomats. All the while, he always maintained the utmost discretion regarding his clientele, mentioning only the famous names he hadn’t ended up working with. The singer Jan Kiepura, for example, had needed a suit last-minute regrettably, Zaremba had no choice but to refuse the commission which would have been impossible to fulfill in just 24 hours.
His former employees, however, were more than happy to boast of their experience working for the master tailor, often spelling out their credentials on their own shop windows. The Zaremba brand became synonymous with impeccable tailoring \u2013 a reputation that thrives to this day.