The enduring stereotype of an arrogant Central Saint Martins’ MA fashion designer has no traction when you meet Ondrej Adamek. Ondrej, 27, is from Vsetin, a small scenic town about three hours’ drive from Czech Republic’s capital, Prague. He is easily recognizable in his trademark denim jacket, worn daily, without fail.
I was introduced to Ondrej by Teruhiro Hasegawa, a Japanese designer on the same course, who knew Ondrej from them having studied BA Fashion together. “Louise hates my work. I’m seriously thinking of dropping out from the course,” Teruhiro said when I approached him. Teruhiro’s comment can no doubt be considered misguided now, as his MA collection was awarded the LVMH graduate prize, and he is now working for Givenchy in Paris. Nonetheless, he said, “you should meet my friend Ondrej- he’s the one to watch. He just had his line-up with Louise and she loves him.”
Ondrej finished high school in his hometown, and moved to London in 2008 to study BA Fashion Design in Womenswear at CSM. While on the BA, he had a brief stint interning at Ashish and Alexander McQueen. “It was only a few months,” he said. “I got the opportunity at Ashish because of my tutor Esme, who is a pattern-cutter there. She’s taken such good care of me; she’s like my grandma.” Then towards the end of his final year, he showed at Prague Fashion Week.
After Ondrej graduated in 2011, he went straight on to apply for MA Fashion. He recalls the first time he met course director Louise Wilson. “It was raining badly on my interview day,” he said. “When I went to see Louise, she was feverishly trying to dry off her coat with a hairdryer. The first thing she said to me was, ‘it’s fucking wet outside, isn’t it?’” He smirked. “But nothing else really happened. The interview was quick and I was accepted onto the course.”
But the rest of his journey wasn’t quite as smooth. After a year, Ondrej didn’t feel entirely confident in his collection and felt that he might not have enough money to complete the course. So, he explained his concerns to Louise and opted to take a break, thus deferring a year where he would leave London and return home to Vsetin. In 2013, he won the Samsung Fashion & Design Fund (SFDF) scholarship, awarded each year to one MA Fashion student. Having found peace in knowing that his tuition fees would be fully covered, he moved back to London to complete his final year.
Ondrej had a love/hate relationship with Louise, one that most of his fellow design students would be familiar with. One evening we were watching TV and much to our surprise, Louise appeared on screen. His eyes bulged, and he started screaming “no, no, no!” while fumbling for the remote to change channels as quickly as possible. “I’m seeing her tomorrow, and that’s more than enough,” he said. “I don’t need to see her face now!”
While Ondrej began designing separates, Louise advised that he work on making more dresses or one-pieces. This wasn’t the only change that Louise proposed. “She had really positive feedback for me one week, but then not the next week,” he said. “She made me turn my design upside down- literally!”
Ondrej has a distinct aesthetic, and likes to mismatch fabrics. He blends cheap polyester that comes from China, at £2.95 per metre, with luxurious double-sided duchess silk satin from an Italian company called Taroni s.p.a,- considerably more expensive at £130 for the same length. “I’m mixing it up with the rich and the poor,” he said.
Having claimed that Marc Jacobs is one of his favourite designers, it’s easy to see where Ondrej got this idea from. In 1992, when Jacobs was the head of classic sportswear label Perry Ellis, the American designer dared to elevate the counterculture movement to the runway by staging his infamous grunge show. One of the designs was a plaid flannel shirt Jacobs had bought on St. Marks Place, in New York City for $2, which he then turned into an evening gown, retailing at $2,000. “I started with the idea of mixing high and low,” said Jacobs in a conversation with architect Peter Marino last December at London’s Tate Modern. “I liked the idea of elevating things that were everyday, in the now and were low-impact.”
Another designer who has heavily influenced Ondrej’s work is Italian couturier Roberto Capucci, who he discovered while going through old copies of L’Officiel, and Vogue Italia. Capucci was known for creating unusual sculpted dresses, using only the finest Italian silks. His unexpected colour combinations would leap vividly off his rich fabric-canvas. Some of his dresses feature thousands of tiny pleats moulded into outrageous shapes. Only a year after his Paris debut, in 1961, having received much praise and enthusiasm from French critics, he opened his first Paris atelier on No4 mme Rue Cambon. Proving himself as a master of form and colour, he was considered the best designer of Italian fashion at the age of 26.
When asked to describe the type of person Ondrej might envision wearing his clothes, he struggled. “Can you just make it up for me?” he asked. But after being pressed multiple times, he finally settled on the following: “A girl. Someone jolly, dreamy, obscure.” He has also claimed that his inspirations are not far-flung or high-minded, but, rather, the places he grew up, the things he sees around him; the streets he has walked in, and the friends he sees on them. His pre-collection is called Forest (although the colour palette is much closer to that of the sea), and his final MA collection is called Flower. “Because it reminds me of home,” he said. “I sort of grew up in the forest.”
Ondrej’s eight-piece collection consisted of bold 3D dresses in cobalt blue and Mexican pinks. The huge satin flowers would conceal the model’s faces (and vision), while petal motifs were used on shoulder pieces, and stuck upward from sleeves or downwards from the bottom of ankle-length dresses. Vertical stripes made the dresses’ slim-fit more apparent, and a mix of dark and light fabrics were used to create separate tops and skirts.
He also decided to make shoes to complement his collection. The soles of the shoes are made of tawny wood and have a scallop edging, borrowing from the curves and scalloped shapes in his main collection. The ankle straps and tab that holds the foot in place are made of shiny black PVC. But this is not his first attempt at making shoes. He previously produced silver bubble shoes for his BA collection, Sound Waves, which was heavy on the fringed metallic-pleating.
On the day of the final line-up, the studio was abuzz with activity. Models were running around half dressed. Teruhiro had just finished presenting to Louise, and was quickly ushered out the room where the line-up was being held, while Ondrej and his fitters (usually first year fashion students, but in Ondrej’s case, two personal friends who understood how the garment was to be worn) had to quickly bring in the clothes and dress the models.
There were only four models booked for the line-up, and the designs would be presented to Louise and a panel of critics sitting beside her, which included Fabio Piras, who is acting head of the course in the wake of Louise’s sudden passing; the much-loved CSM graduate and tutor Julie Verhoeven; noted textiles designer and head of print Fleet Bigwood; and author and designer Jane Shepherd.
“Looks good, looks jolly!” said Louise, as the models walked back and forth. “But the fabric looks a bit crushed. Will it be pressed? You need a clip hanger to hold the dress in place and keep it from falling for the next three weeks. In fact, you probably need a high rail to support the clothes. Are you listening? Do you understand?”
“Yes, I am listening, I understand,” Ondrej replied, as he would for the rest of the line-up, when Louise would instruct that certain adjustments be made, such as adding a new sleeve to two of his dresses, in the shape of a funnel.
The next four looks came out. “What do you think?” asked Louise.
“I think it was fine…” said Ondrej.
“Well, you stupid twat!” said Louise, unimpressed again. “Why didn’t you take out your iPhone and put it to good use by filming the models walking, so you can watch the video at night before you go to sleep, and figure out what’s wrong with it?”
“Yes, yes I will,” said Ondrej.
“I want a yes, sir!” commanded Louise.
“YES, SIR!” Ondrej shouted back at her, like a proud soldier saluting his country. Roars of laughter ensued. Ondrej certainly knows how to humour Louise.
She was also delighted that he had used Velcro fastening for the dresses. “He’s the first student to do it in two years,” she said to the other panellists. “Nobody ever uses Velcro, but he does it really well.”
Whatever hackles were raised during the line-up, Ondrej took serious care to ensure that he would implement all the changes that Louise suggested. “I can’t wait for this to be over,” he said, as we were heat-pressing one of his designs a week before the final show. “Once the show is over, I’m going to go sit in the sun. I’m going to go see exhibitions. I am actually going to live life again.”
Ondrej barely saw Louise for the rest of the week, except for a quick few minutes when she saw his opening look (he created this dress last, so she had never seen it before). She said, “It’s so horrendous that it actually looks okay.”
While Ondrej is no doubt thrilled to have jointly scooped the award with Michael Power, he mentioned that the £5,000 prize money would be split between the two of them, where in previous years the one winner would take all. This meant there was barely enough funding to start a label if one wanted to. Fortunately, Ondrej never intended to start his own line after graduation. He always spoke of his ambitions to join an established fashion house in either Milan or Paris, and seeing where that would take him. “I don’t come from a financially stable background, so even with the full prize money, it wouldn’t be enough,” he said. “Working for the design team of a great fashion brand would be the best thing.”
To draw conclusions from the Central Saint Martins MA show, which was packed full with regulars of the fashion week circuit (Alexander Fury, Anders Christian Madsen, and Sarah Mower to name a few) despite it being the last show on the official calendar, it’s clear that Ondrej’s collection was well received. Laurent Folcher, Senior Fashion Editor at Women’s Wear Daily, described Ondrej’s collection as “naïve” [in the sense of it being innocent] and “cloud-like,” while Kelly Bowerbank, Deputy Editor at Never Underdressed, said his choice of fabrics was like “watching a roll of beautiful wallpaper unravel.”
With the right support, Ondrej certainly has the potential to go far. Recently he has been working with Minki Cheng on Minki’s namesake label. He also took part in the SHOWstudio x 1Granary collaboration, styled by Simon Foxton and Nick Knight, who shot for our second issue, and for a SHOWstudio fashion film.
Words by Kati Chitrakorn