The grounds of the Czech Embassy are being transformed into a secret garden where visitors can search for treasures in the form of bold, multifunctional fashion by Czech designer Petra Ptáčková.
“Fashion in the Garden – Bold Looks,” on display at the embassy from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15 — during global fashion week — marks the first time Ptáčková’s work will be showcased in Washington. The event is part of the group Diplomacy and Fashion, whose mission is to promote up-and-coming designers from around the world. It’s also part of the embassy’s Mutual Inspirations Festival, which every year celebrates a figure who had a major impact on both Czech and American culture. (This year’s spotlight is on John Amos Comenius, often called the father of modern education.)
Several factors make Ptáčková’s designs stand out, says Diplomacy and Fashion founder Indira Gumarova, wife of the Czech ambassador. For one, Ptáčková, a graduate of the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, is not influenced by other designers, Gumarova said. Instead, her childhood memories and life experiences guide her work. For instance, after a bike accident left her with double vision, Ptáčková created a collection with colors that seem to wash away.
“It was like a spiritual awakening for her,” Gumarova said.
What’s more, her pieces, which are gender-neutral, can transform from a bag to a raincoat or shirt, or from a hat to a pillow. “I don’t think that I have seen it before in the fashion world,” Gumarova said. “It’s like art.”
Additionally, Ptáčková is environmentally conscious, using ethically sourced and recycled materials and a zero-waste philosophy in her production. For example, for her knitwear, she uses a Japanese machine that make garments in 3D. “You only put the material in the machine that you use. There is no extra material wasted. You only knit what you need. It is very sustainable in this way,” Ptáčková said in a press release.
It’s fitting, then, that Gumarova styled the exhibition as a secret garden. Visitors will receive something akin to a treasure map that sends them looking for the 30 pieces on display.
The exhibit will also engage the five senses with surprising elements such as hidden scented candles. For sight, visitors can seek out a short recorded video of Ptáčková discussing her work, and for sound, they can listen to music as they roam.
One to three live models will be part of the exhibition, while the other pieces will be on mannequins. Although visitors cannot touch the fabrics, they may touch the nature in the garden, Gumarova said. And to cover taste, each guest will receive a Czech beer or coffee on exiting the exhibit when their 30-minute time slot ends.
“The idea is in this difficult, unprecedented time to take away our mind from reality for half an hour” and get lost in a garden of fashion, she said. “It will be more than an exhibition. It will be an experience.”
Initially, Gumarova planned for Ptáčková’s D.C. debut to be part of a one-night gala with a guest list of 400-plus. She was working with six embassies as part of Diplomacy and Fashion on the event when the coronavirus forced her to change her plans.
“I didn’t want to do online events so I decided that the weather is so beautiful and the Czech Embassy has this beautiful, gorgeous garden, so I came up the idea of a fashion installation,” Gumarova said. “This is something I would like people to come to, to discover a completely new designer they never heard of and from this small central European country who does these innovative, original things that push fashion in a completely different level.”
Although Ptáčková, who is based in Prague, cannot attend the show, she said she is “super excited about the garden. I just love the idea of a secret garden and hidden things. It actually goes great with my principles of work that is playful. It’s something that brings you to a childhood moment.”
The family-friendly show is free to attend, but registration is required via https://boldlooks.eventbrite.com. Up to six visitors are permitted into the garden at one time (up to 10 people total will be present, including models and guides). Masks are required and comfortable shoes for walking are suggested.
“Fashion in the Garden – Bold Looks” runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15 at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom St., NW.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.