Based in Paris and London, Italy and Spain, a handful of Czech designers abroad have begun to build a reputation for the country on the international fashion circuit. These environments outside of their home country inspire their work, open up new opportunities, and push their design to the next level. Taking themselves out of their comfort zone and beyond what many of them perceive as the limitations of a the Czech scene, their immersing themselves in broader competition and ultimately bringing their expanded perspectives back home.
London Calling: Martina Špetlová and Matěj Chabera
London-based fashion designer Martina Špetlová doesn’t consider herself to be a Czech designer living in London, but rather a Czech-born London designer. “I studied fashion in London and have always been working in London,” she says.
Špetlová studied fashion at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (CSM). Previously she had studied chemistry and biology in Prague, but after a few years of working odd jobs, she put together a portfolio with the help of a friend and was accepted to CSM. Shortly after completing her Master’s degree in 2010, she started her own label. “Just the fact that I graduated in London and had the opportunity to show my final MA collection at the prestigious CSM catwalk show [Špetlová’s collection was selected], which is an official part of London Fashion Week, that in itself was a strong platform for starting my career.”
Of London in general she notes, “London is such an exciting multicultural city with so many opportunities and many creative people working here. It is a very inspiring place for design.” With a number of awards under her belt along with her work being featured in magazines throughout the world, Špetlová is an authoritative voice on the benefits of working abroad for Czech fashion designers, “The Czech fashion scene is very small and limited. There are not many opportunities for designers to show their work to an international audience, which I believe is essential in creating a sustainable business. [Also] There is not much competition between designers, but competition is very healthy and can push one’s work further,” she says. “Showing work abroad or working for an international company might lead to something great.”
Working and studying abroad since 2005, furniture and functional objects designer Matěj Chabera has been based in London, where he is studying in the Design Products program at the prestigous Royal College of Art, since 2012, In addition to his course work, Chabera is the creative director of LUGI—a Czech furniture manufacturer—and is working for clients from the Czech Republic and abroad.
“The value of trying to succeed in different environments is that one learns to be clear about their own goals and beliefs and learns to push hard to make them a reality,” says Chabera. “The comfort of home has the ill effect of complacency and lack of challenge.” He continues, “[As a result of studying and working abroad] My design work is opening up more and I am able to consider it from more viewpoints, be more critical and make things that have more layers and are more precisely placed in the complex mesh of producers, shops, galleries, press, brands, customers, and so on.”
Spain via Camper: Eliška Kuchtová
Fashion and footwear designer Eliška Kuchtová, is an excellent example of a designer who has benefited from working abroad. About to embark upon her final year at Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, Kuchtová has spent the last six months in Spain working as a junior designer for the famous footwear brand, Camper. Last year after sending her portfolio to the company, Kuchtová was invited to take part in an annual eight-day workshop for design students and recent graduates. On the last day of the workshop after her final presentation, Kuchtová was offered the junior designer opportunity.
Now nearing the completion of her apprenticeship, the young designer was recently offered yet another opportunity. “They asked me to work as a freelance designer for them for the next year,” says Kuchtová. “I am very happy I will be able to work for Camper during my graduation year at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design.” Her thoughts on the importance of Czech designers working abroad: “It is definitely a very important experience for everyone who is working in fashion and footwear. Unfortunately, there are not many companies or brands in the Czech Republic who are on the same level as brands abroad.”
Electric in Italy: Jan Čtvrtník
Designing interior accessories, appliances, furniture and jewelry, Jan Čtvrtník has been living abroad since 2004. A graduate of Prague’s Academy of Art, Architecture and Design—during which time he studied in Peru and Finland—Čtvrtník first left the Czech Republic after being awarded a two-year scholarship in 2004 to study at the Ingvar Kamprad Design Center (IKDC) at Lund University in Sweden (Ingvar Kamprad is the founder of IKEA). “I wanted to get the experience of living and working outside of the Czech Republic for a couple of years,” Čtvrtník told Expats.cz.
After those two years were over, Čtvrtník then spent one year in the UK. Since 2007 he has resided in northern Italy, near the town of Pordenone, where he works as a Senior industrial designer for the world-renowned appliance brand, Electrolux. “[The main change as a result of working abroad] is that I am working with a team of professionals, who respect my profession and my skills.” Čtvrtník, who has been recognized with numerous awards, also continues to work for companies in the Czech Republic as a freelance design consultant.
Grand Design goes to Paris: Lucie Koldová
Paris-based product and furniture designer Lucie Koldová was the 2012 Czech Grand Designer of the Year. Her work has been recognized around the world. After graduating from Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in 2009—during which time she spent a year studying in Sweden—Koldová spent her first year in Paris working with world-renowned designer Arik Levy. It was there that she met Israeli designer Dan Yeffet who she collaborated with on several projects while continuing to produce works on her own. Today she works under her own studio.
“I think that living and working abroad is very essential for creative people. It’s inspiring to absorb all the new influences and closely notice the various manners of the people around you. It gives you another point of view, makes you more open-minded and tolerant,” Koldová says. “Life abroad enriches your spirit and boosts you with new powerful energy that you can project into your work. Mixing cultures, people, and styles makes you alive and more up to date in the business. You collect important contacts. And on the top of that, I motivate people around me by living abroad; I believe I can help make people proud to be Czech.”
Another Czech designer working abroad is Paris-based fashion designer Jakub Polanka. Do you know of any others? Let us know!