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New exhibition : From princess dresses to New Look. Women’s apparel from the collection of Adam Leja

Event date: 2021-12-03 - 2022-04-03

Apparel and fashion accessories from one of Europe’s largest collections belonging to Adam Leja will be showcased in the District Museum in Bydgoszcz starting 3 December. Day and evening womenswear will be presented, in addition to wedding dresses and various works of art and craftsmanship, which come together to create an illusion of the reality of the period 1890-1950. “From princess dresses to New Look. Women’s apparel from the collection of Adam Leja” tells the story of women’s fashion in a range of contexts related to the position and role of women in society in various time periods. It starts from being constricted by conventions and corsets, gradual and years-long emancipation, acquiring voting rights and emergence in the public sphere, and ends with the establishment of women’s military units during Poland’s struggle for independence and the life of women after World War II. Attention is also paid to the development of technology and design, which have also had their impact on fashion, as demonstrated by various pieces of clothing and accessories on display.

A journey across history

The exhibition presents outfits which best represent their periods in history, and which were often designed by famous fashion houses, including such revered creators as the haute couture precursor Charles Frederick Worth – a dress of his design dating from 1912-1916 will be showcased, and only several designs created in his famous fashion house can be found in Poland today. Another noteworthy exhibit is a sortie de bal cape designed by Emile Pingat, one of Worth’s competitors. For the first time in Poland, we will present a unique robe de style by the French designer Jeanne Lanvin from 1925, another version of which is stored in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The exhibition space will also feature less well-known designers and tailors, whose works are characterised by painstaking attention to detail and knowledge of trends. The creativity of the craftspeople will be evident in the variety of additions and accessories.

A myriad of outfits, fabrics and accessories in combinations representative of particular historical periods will be presented. The story of women’s fashion starts with corsets and underwear, before moving on to cycling clothing, the atmosphere of art nouveau interiors and the style of women of the period, ranging from a fin de si�cle ballroom, to bathing in the sea and travelling by car. Particular attention is paid to the period of profound changes in fashion which started with the revolutionary metamorphosis of women’s underwear, as well as daywear, which is displayed in an art deco-style room. We will trace the revolution in styles using examples of beachwear and tennis apparel from the interwar period. We will visit dance parties from the 1920s and 30s to examine the evening dresses in which the Charleston, jazz and waltz were danced. Among them is a dress similar to the one worn by Tola Mańkiewiczówna in the film Miss Minister Dances (Pani minister tańczy). We will also present examples of daywear from the 20s and 30s, before moving on to Christian Dior’s New Look style as the symbol of classic, post-war elegance. The exhibition also includes outfits which indicate economic crises and the ruination of war, including a shirt sewn from an English military spy map or the clothes worn by a female participant of the Warsaw Uprising. Bydgoszcz-related themes will also make an appearance, including an autograph of the actress Pola Negri, who would often visit her mother in a tenement building she had bought specially for her.

Fashion in the Gallery ... of Modern Art

We will present more than 300 pieces of women’s clothing from the collection of Adam Leja, an art historian, including such unique articles as a Chanel dress from the 1930s, gloves from the private collection of Elsa Schiaparelli, as well as hats from such designers as Madame Agnes, Rose Descat and Suzanne Talbot, shoes from the French workshop of François Pinet and a purse designed by Sonia Delaunay. To expand the historical context and enrich the exhibition, furniture, works of artistic craftsmanship and graphic design, paintings, posters, advertisements and photos from selected decades from the collections of the District Museum in Bydgoszcz will be used. Selected pieces of furniture and craftsmanship will be displayed courtesy of the Museum of Warsaw, the Gdynia City Museum and the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Fashion has been steadily making inroads into Polish museums, transforming them into spaces for social dialogue and understanding between people. The exhibition is part of the Bydgoszcz museum’s series of presentations on primarily Polish, but also international design.

“From princess dresses to New Look. Women’s apparel from the collection of Adam Leja”

Leon Wyczółkowski District Museum in Bydgoszcz

Modern Art Gallery, 8 Mennica St., Mill Island


the exhibition is open from 3 December 2021 to 3 April 2022

exhibition curators: Dr Monika Kosteczko-Grajek, Anna Nadolska

exhibit selection and arrangement: Adam Leja

graphic design: Ewa Widacka-Matoszko

exhibition producer: Łukasz Maklakiewicz


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Designed: Jimpenny / Programmed: FreshData