Operating Off-the-Grid with MISBHV
The Polish Design Duo on Raving and Staying True to Their Roots
- Interview: Edward Paginton
- Photography: Edward Paginton
What would you do for total control? In the 1980 song “Total Control” by The Motels, Martha Davis cries “I would sell my soul for total control.” Is the paradox of success to compromise your essence? MISBHV founders Natalia Maczek and Thomas Wirski rebel against this notion.
When the creative duo began working together, they had no idea how to sell clothes. They rented a gallery space in Paris for €200 a day with the little money they had in the hope they would be picked up. “When you’re younger and you don’t have anything, there’s no risk involved, there’s nothing to lose. That’s the most beautiful part,” a feeling Maczek says she misses since the label’s ascent.
Through dissatisfaction, alliances appear. “A lot of people are disenchanted,” both in Poland but also universally, Wirski notes. Poland’s cultural context may be woven into the fabric of MISBHV but it calls out to a wider youth complex, not bound by geography; a generation seeking maximum self-expression.
Being adopted by artists and musicians—Playboi Carti and Trippie Redd amongst the most recent—has created whole new meaning for the brand, translated by different people as it enters new environments, a facet that excites the pair. It is also why they are adamant that in order to keep the spirit alive, they need to stay even closer to their roots.
Natalia Maczek & Thomas Wirski
Your backgrounds are not fashion-oriented. What led you to work together?
Natalia Maczek: I don’t have any background in fashion. Growing up as a teenager, we didn’t have fast fashion, we didn’t have luxury fashion—we didn’t have fashion. So for me, especially after I went to London for the first time, I came back and really felt the need to express myself and to build an identity for myself with clothes that were not available. There was never any perception of fashion as an option for life. I studied law, my parents always wanted me to be a lawyer. But at the same time, we did these parties and I began designing t-shirts. Then Thomas joined me four years ago and we built what MISBHV is today, together.
Thomas Wirski: I was a DJ and producer from the age of 17, I never really had an interest in fashion per se—I’m still not really interested in fashion. Since I was like 12 or 13, I was always interested in bands. To me, their image was equally as important as the music. One record for me, I still have it so deep in my mind, was the first Skream album. I saw it in a record store in Bristol. It had him in front of the crowd, all sweaty—I hadn’t heard of dubstep before, but I bought this record and its one of the best covers of the last 20 years for me. I was never really interested in fashion but more so the style and clothing through music.
The influence of music continues to flow through the collections. “Six Years in the Rave” particularly honed in on the subcultural landscape that exists within MISBHV…
TW: The collection itself carried a lot of weight for us. Firstly, because of the escapism and freedom it represented. Rave music is a type of music that is a prevailing theme for the brand. It was a way of escaping the grey and harsh reality of our surroundings. This collection brought all of these elements together. It was also the first time we’d collaborated with an artist, American photographer Sean Schermerhorn. He’d travelled Ukraine for six years, documenting the boom of the rave scene there, in the wake of Russian aggression. So our feelings and our memories of club culture and what was happening in Ukraine combined perfectly together. What “rave” was for us at the time was freedom, as it was for Ukraine; [Freedom] in being yourself, even in the wake of such tragedy as the conflict in Ukraine.
Was there a synthesis in the sense of freedom you shared?
NM: Ukrainians and Polish people are very much kindred spirits because of our shared history. Since the military intervention in Ukraine, we’ve had two or three million Ukrainians coming to Poland, and actually, for us, it’s the first wave of immigrants Poland has ever had, and we are more than welcoming of this.
You have this DIY ethos in how you evolved organically. Is this a unique cultural attitude?
TW: The DIY influence is just in our DNA and has been for centuries. In recent history, we can speak about Poland before 1989 and after 1989. Poland before 1989—our parents' era—is very different from our Poland today. Their everyday struggle was really fighting against communism, fighting against the ridiculous propaganda, the grotesque system, the military power. Somehow, those years of oppression really gave birth to the pinnacle of Polish culture. To me, the best example of that is Knife in the Water the first major film by Roman Polanski, soundtrack by Krzysztof Komeda who was the pioneer of European jazz. Under such difficult oppression, such culture flourished. For our parents, if they saw a pair of jeans on a Stones cover or in a Godard movie, they couldn’t buy those jeans because we didn’t have those stores, they had to make it themselves. So they would rebel against the system but also rebel against the grind of everyday life. For us, this DIY ethos is to build a brand completely outside of the system.
Is this attitude still as strong today?
NM: Now we can have whatever British kids have, there really isn’t much difference. Of course, our roots and mentality are different but globalization really changed this DIY ethos. I’m not sure if it’s still as alive today. Definitely when we were still teenagers, when we wanted to express ourselves, we had to do it ourselves. That’s why I started to make clothes, from a spirit, from a need.
TW: Often when people look at our collection they say, “Well, it’s not super cohesive,” but before 2002, 2001—when H&M and Zara began to arrive—your only source of clothing was from second-hand shops. And when you enter a second-hand shop, they are not curated by any means in Poland. [Laughs] You could have a Hawaiian shirt next to a tracksuit, next to a fancy pair of shoes, next to a suit.
Do you think there is a culture of activism that still exists in Poland today? Do you feed off that energy?
TW: There is a lot of activism that is bubbling under the mainstream which is very interesting. We partner with an incredible festival, that is actually from Krakow too, called Unsound. It’s one of the best electronic festivals in the world. We did a party recently in an abandoned rail station with them. We had like 5,000 people there on a Sunday. The name of the party was called “Six Years in The Rave” and we brought DJs from Kiev to play.
NM: I think it’s quite unique that even friends from Germany or Paris come to visit and ask us if we get support from the Polish people. We wouldn’t have grown if it wasn’t for the Polish people. From the very first t-shirt, it’s very nice to have that support and it gives strength in whatever we do.
Your use of materials is abrasive and aggressive, clashing the synthetic with everyday materials—is there a material identity for MISBHV?
TW: It’s funny if you look at Natalia’s top and the color of the building outside it’s exactly the same. [Laughs]
NM: Sometimes, when we speak with the producers and designers from abroad about the color palette for each season, it makes me realize that the color palette for Poland and a label like us is very much faded. We never really had a strong color identification. In terms of material, Poland was very big in leather in the 80s and 70s. When I look at pictures of my mum and dad on holiday, they always wore leather pieces and jeans. It sent a message of wealth/success or whatever it meant for them. So leather, jeans, and jersey are what we work with quite a lot.
Is this something you’re carrying over into the next collection?
NM: I think the next collection is the one we are giving most of our heart to. The clothes will be very much about how we feel and about Poland. We collaborated with one of the fathers of the Polish School of Posters, Roslaw Szaybo, who is 85 years old now. It is a very unique form of art. Even internationally, it was something very special that happened in Poland during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, because posters back then were one of the only forms of subversion through art.
The experience of fashion has become increasingly flattened, with most people’s first point of contact with a label such as MISBHV being online or on Instagram—is there a danger of losing authenticity?
TW: Being here helps to keep us grounded. I think as you mature you understand more and more that staying true to yourself is the only way to survive in this world. This why we are doing our first show in Warsaw and not in Paris. If you would have asked us this a few years ago, we would say “Paris!” But why get swallowed up in all of this? We have something very special here. We want to show it and we’re proud of it.
What is your position on the erasure of high and low, how streetwear has permeated luxury fashion—is that title appropriate anymore?
TW: I think titles in general simply don’t matter. Titles never really matter for people who create. It’s those that don’t have anywhere to stand that need labels. There is a very famous quote from Basquiat, I’ve said it a million times, who when asked about his style said it’s like asking Miles Davis, “What does his horn sound like?” We just don’t care about it.
“I think as you mature you understand more and more that staying true to yourself is the only way to survive in this world.”
Edward Paginton is a writer and director based in London. His work has appeared in The Guardian, 032c, Modern Weekly, The Travel Almanac, and Nowness, amongst others.
- Interview: Edward Paginton
- Photography: Edward Paginton
- Post-Production: RGBERLIN
- Model: Pat