Long gone are the times
When Gypsies wandered around,
But I still see them.
They are like running water
Always running away.
You can only guess
What she would like to say.
Bora Aksu’s SS19 collection was incredibly emotive and visceral, effortlessly evoking the nomadic life of distinguished Romani poetess, Bronislawa Wajs, widely known as Papusza. I love the story behind the clothes and this was such an impactful take on a powerful, tragic and independent force of nature.
Papusza grew up with her family in Poland, where she led a nomadic Roma (gypsy style) life. She was literate, which was unusual for the time, and learned to read by trading chickens in exchange for lessons with local villagers. As a woman this was frowned on, and she was beaten repeatedly in punishment. At the age of 15, she was married to a much older man who was a harpist. She took up singing as an outlet for her sorrow. Soon after learning to sing, she began to compose her own songs based on traditional Romani story-telling and started a band.
Papusza and her band stayed in Volynia (now Ukraine) during the Second World War and during that time, she often had to hide in the forests from the Nazis and Ukrainian extremists.
In 1949, she was noticed by the Polish poet, Ficowski, who instantly recognised her talent and published several of her poems. Although her poems made Papusza known to the world, she was also accused of revealing the secrets of her community’s culture. The Roma community also began to regard Papusza as a traitor and banished her from their midst. She could not cope with being disowned and had a breakdown, which resulted in an eight month stay in a mental hospital. She then spent the next 34 years of her life tragically isolated and alone before her death in 1987. This is a commentary on tragic artists as a whole being all too often only appreciated after death.
“This collection is dedicated to her”, Aksu explains, “I wanted to create garments which reflect Papusza’s colourful nomadic life, her melancholic and sensitive self, as well as her determination to stand against the traditional limitations of her community.”
For me the collection was the wandering feel of the Sagittarian traveler in search of adventure and freedom. We saw vibrant floral prints and cut out lace patterns, juxtaposed with the Piscean dreaminess of soft silk tulles and laces and capes in organza, representing the constant push and pull between desiring freedom and true liberation while being confined on this material plane and having to deal with the not so idealistic nature of life. Like the Piscean fish swimming both up and downstream, the energy is also connected with dissociation from reality, so Papusza’s tragic end in life can be seen through the deep dreamy blues and lilacs.