This past September, Tyler and I spent a week in Scotland. One evening, I found myself sitting at a pub in Edinburgh listening to live Scottish music. If you’ve known me for .2 seconds, this isn’t surprising. If you’ve known me for .4 seconds it’s also not surprising that when an older, chic woman walked into the pub with a gorgeous bag on her shoulder I made a beeline to inquire about it. She told me the bag was by a line called Chylak. I took a photo of it, telling myself I must investigate it further. Also, not surprising, that investigation never happened.
But then, the purse gods intervened and one month later, the Founder and Designer, Zofia Chylak, popped into my inbox by a course of fortuitous events. I leaped at the opportunity to photograph the woman behind these bags. And the luck continued when we found out that Chylak shares a retail space in Warsaw with Zuzanna Kuczynska, the Founder and Designer of the lingerie line, Le Petit Trou. Their boutique is now on my international to-do list…one day…but, in the meantime..behold these beauties!
Can you describe what you’re wearing and how it reflects your personal style?
Zofia: I’m wearing a Cecilie Bahnsen dress, which looks very similar to my wedding dress and there’s a special place in my heart for it because of that. Usually, I wear black everyday but there are some days when I really need a change and that’s when I choose this kind of more eye-catching clothes.
Zuzanna: I am wearing clothes that really reflect my sense of style. I like feminine dresses, but don’t usually wear these with high heels, I wear them in my own way. The thing I love the most about the Ganni dress I am wearing right now, is the print and a collar covering the neck. The cowboy boots are kind of my signature piece, I feel wonderful in these ones I’m wearing from Isabel Marant and they work well with most things in my wardrobe. They make the dress less delicate and more masculine / tom-boyish, they are extra comfortable at the same time. The finishing touch are my beloved Celine earrings and a bow, which I actually saw on one of my friends and bought a similar one in Stradivarius, a store in Warsaw.
What are your must have wardrobe items?
Zofia: Well-tailored black jacket, pleated black dress and antique gold jewelry (which makes every outfit look special).
Zuzanna: I obviously start with the right lingerie from Le Petit Trou, but for winters in Warsaw, I can’t imagine my wardrobe without a classic cashmere sweater, high-waisted jeans, feminine vintage dresses and jewelry. All finished with my favourite cowboy boots and Chylak bag.
What’s your definition of style versus fashion? Do you have a style or fashion trick you swear by?
Zofia: For me style, will always be so much more significant than fashion. Naturally, it’s important to know what the latest trends are, especially in my profession. However, style transcends time – when you have it in you, you can just stick with it, and hopefully one day you’ll be just as stylish as those beautiful elderly ladies in small Italian villages, wearing all black and looking so elegant and fabulous.
Zuzanna: I love fashion and I always keep track of the new trends, but I don’t follow them blindly; I choose what works best for me. I don’t like things that are too much in style or trend-led. I adore clothes that seem to have always been in my wardrobe; I prefer to mix my classic pieces in with my vintage style. My go-to trick when I have no idea what to wear, is a simple outfit and golden shoes, which always make a statement.
How does Warsaw impact your style?
Zofia: For me Warsaw is my family and friends, but also years of difficult history. I think about it a lot and that’s probably why I’m so connected to this city, and why it’s hard for me to leave. Whenever I look at my old family photos from then, Poland was behind the iron curtain, and shops were empty, I see that women in my family were always elegant. I don’t know how they did it, but it’s always been a huge inspiration.
Zuzanna: I like Warsaw and I’m happy to see how dynamically it is evolving. I do feel sorry to know that a lot of beautiful places did not survive the war, but I am reminded every day of its remarkable history. Every place we live in is also a way of life, which defines who we are. Warsaw gave me opportunities and lots of inspiration, for which I am very thankful.
You are friends who share a retail space for your two respective brands, Chylak and Le Petit Trou. How does the other influence your style?
Zofia: Our brands are different, but they go together well. I always wear Zuzanna’s lingerie and I see her wearing my bags all the time. I learn a lot from her.
My style is much more conservative I would say – a black dress and an old pearl necklace, while Zuzanna, after working for years as a stylist, is much more fashion-forward, mixing colors and patterns. After years of our friendship and working next to her almost everyday, I’ve recently found myself experimenting more with clothes.
And when it comes to my work as a designer, she’s usually one of the very first to see new designs. Her tips are often taken into consideration.
Zuzanna: Even though me and Zosia are very close friends, we had never thought of opening a store together; however, when an opportunity arose, we decided to go for it and it turned out to be the best decision we could have made. Our brands complement each other perfectly, as do our styles. We love the same things and I always reach out for advice when designing the new collection. We also love to see that our clients have a similar taste, because they often try on our lingerie while buying the bag and the other way around. Zofia has influenced my style in such a way that I can’t imagine wearing any other bag but hers.
What was the inspiration for starting your brand?
Zofia: After I graduated from the University I went straight to New York and was an intern at Proenza Schouler. My husband (boyfriend at that time) was already working for one of the NY agencies, and I was also offered to stay. I knew that there were only two options–I either stay and work for a big brand, or go back to Poland and start something on my own. At that time – six years ago – there were really no brands that I wanted to work for in Poland.
We decided to go back. Almost everyone I knew was surprised, but now I know it was a good decision. Poland proved to be a great country to start my business.
Zuzanna: I was a stylist for many years, mainly working in the Polish edition of Elle and dressing celebrities. Overall, I was doing a lot for others, rather than for myself. During one of the photo shoots, I came up with the idea of launching a brand that couldn’t be found in Poland. It was the time when there were a lot of new brands designing cotton clothing, most of which didn’t have any clear idea of their identity; it was hard to distinguish them from each other.
When I was a stylist working on photo shoots, I was always making up a story of the main character. Whereas this time, I was designing for a muse I had in mind; my friends and my needs were the inspirations. It was going to be for a woman, a woman like me and my friends; thinking about what they wanted from intimate lingerie, rather than from a man’s perspective. The inspiration for Le Petit Trou, was from the signature cut-out on most of our briefs, it became a trademark of the brand. It is a fun brand, the collection is meant to be enjoyed; our muse does not take herself too seriously.
What experiences in your career led you to this moment?
Zofia: I was lucky to be able to start my own company very early in life, before getting a comfortable job working for someone else. Initially had almost no money to invest so I started with made-to-measure clothes for private clients, which provided to be a great move, as I didn’t have to worry about the money – all the designs I made were already bought.
After two years I saved enough money to start my dream project. It took me a year to find Italian and Polish manufacturers, and to work on the prototypes.
This year has been especially monumental for us as a brand, and there is even more to come in 2019. One of the things that makes me so happy is seeing my bags being worn; I remember on one of our trips to New York, I stepped outside the apartment, turned a corner and saw someone wearing a Chylak bag. We have had some really incredible muses wearing our bags, but it is still as exciting as it always was. And, for me, that is why I am so happy to be doing this.
Zuzanna: I’ve always thought this was meant to be and my hard work led me to this moment. It’s a mix of: experience I gained while working as a stylist, immense support, the help of my fiance, with whom I work, and a belief in my own dreams.
I’ve always had a really strong visual identity for the brand from the beginning, and I’ve always stuck to that, refining it with each new season.
I always listen to my intuition, but I am also open on my friends’ advice and love hearing their feedback when they wear the collection. I feel very grateful that I do this for a living.