Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style. Reconstructions of XIX century costumes

Dominique de Merteuil By Dominique de Merteuil7 min read

Last updated on November 24th, 2022 at 08:08 pm

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style

Once a year, on the day of my birth, I like to indulge my senses, in a way, an act of regenerating, of reminding myself of who and what I am.

On one of these occasions, I was taken to Versailles by Mr de Merteuil, waking in the morning in a hotel that used to be the royal stables and spending the afternoon eating macaroons in le Petit Trianon, while watching wildlife drift by in the lazily setting sun.

This year it was spent at Wilanów Palace, the former residence of Polish Kings located on the outskirts of Warsaw, which I relished visiting for the opportunity to willfully gratify my taste for art, beauty and most importantly cake.

I take cakes very seriously, it’s an art form in its own right but it wasn’t the only reason for visiting the palace, as I wanted to see an exhibition that’s just opened there as it’s one that panders to another of my passions, 19th-century costume design.

Helena Modjeska-The Exhibition!

Titled ‘Helena Modjeska – Icon of Style’, the exhibition, like me being Gemini, has something of a split personality or at least comes in two parts. One half is devoted to recreations of costumes worn by the actress Helena Modjeska, while the other half focuses on a contest set for young enthusiasts of historical tailoring, to create a design inspired by her.

I’m sure you’re wondering who this Helena Modjeska is and why she deserves so much attention. Simply put, she was a Polish actress in the 19th century famed though-out Europe and America for the creativity and construction of her stage costumes, many of which she designed herself.

Well respected for her taste in fashion, she influenced the likes of famed English actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry. She was also at the forefront of a trend to modernise stage costuming to bring it in line with 19th-century tastes.

So there you have it, a true Belle Époque woman, a fitting one to pay tribute to and to follow in the footsteps of. So I’m excited to share with you all my discoveries of her and of how fresh young designers have interpreted the designs that she wore.


Helena Modjeska Icon of Style

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Dalila by Octave Feuillet, photo from the collection of the Theater Museum in Warsaw

Reconstructions of Helena Modjeska Costumes

No1

The first prize in the category Reconstructions was awarded to work by Anna Franczyk

Helena Modjeska Polish actress

Helena Modjeska as Camille in The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas

Replica of the costume for the role of Camille in The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas, designed by Anna Franczyk, age 26.

Replica of the costume for the role of Camille in The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas, designed by Anna Franczyk, age 26
Undergarment designed by Anna Franczyk

Undergarment designed by Anna Franczyk.

No2

The second prize was awarded to work by Pawel Androsiuk

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Magda by Hermann Sudermann,photo from the collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Cracow

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Magda by Hermann Sudermann, photo from the collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Cracow.

Replica of the costume for the title role in Magda by Hermann Sudermann, designed by Pawel Androsiuk, age 17.

Helena Modjeska costume designed by Pawel Androsiuk,
Undergarment designed by Pawel Androsiuk

Undergarment designed by Pawel Androsiuk.


No3

The third prize was awarded to work by Marek Zietka.

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Dalila by Octave Feuillet, a photo from the collection of the Theatre Museum in Warsaw.

Helena Modjeska and her clothes
Replica of the costume for the title role in Dalila by Octave Feuillet, designed by Marek Ziatek, age 17

Replica of the costume for the title role in Dalila by Octave Feuillet, designed by Marek Ziatek, age 17.

Undergarments designed by Marek Zietek.

Undergarment designed by Marek Zietek
Helena Modjeska as Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, photo from the collection of the State Archive in Piotrkow Trybunalski

Helena Modjeska as Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, photo from the collection of the State Archive in Piotrkow Trybunalski.

Replica of the costume for the role of Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, designed by Agnieszka Kaszuba-Chojnacka, age 28.

Replica of the costume for the role of Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, designed by Agnieszka Kaszuba-Chojnacka, age 28
Undergarment designed by Agnieszka Kaszuba-Chojnacka

The undergarment was designed by Agnieszka Kaszuba-Chojnacka.

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style. Reconstructions of XIX-century costumes.

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style
Helena Modjeska in the title role in Maria Stuart by Juliusz Slowacki, photo from the collection of the Theatre Museum in Warsaw

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Maria Stuart by Juliusz Slowacki, photo from the collection of the Theatre Museum in Warsaw.

Replica of the costume for the title role in Maria Stuart by Juliusz Slowacki, designed by Justyna Chruslicka, age 24.

Replica of the costume for the title role in Maria Stuart by Juliusz Slowacki, designed by Justyna Chruslicka, age 24
Undergarment designed by Justyna Chruslicka

Undergarment designed by Justyna Chruslicka.

Helena Modjeska as Yolande in King Rene’s Daughter by Henrik Hertz, photo from the collection of the State Archive in Piotrkow Trybunalski.

Helena Modjeska as Yolande in King Rene's Daughter by Henrik Hertz, photo from the collection of the State Archive in Piotrkow Trybunalski
Replica of the costume for the role of Yolande in King Rene's Daughter by Henrik Hertz, designed by Natalia Stachura, age 23

Replica of the costume for the role of Yolande in King Rene’s Daughter by Henrik Hertz, designed by Natalia Stachura, age 23.

Helena Modjeska as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

Helena Modjeska as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California
Replica of the costume for the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, designed by Blanka Kozlowska, age 19

Replica of the costume for the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, designed by Blanka Kozlowska, age 19.

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Barbara Radziwil by Alojzy Felinski, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Barbara Radziwil by Alojzy Felinski, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California
Replica of the costume for the title role in Barbara Radziwil by Alojzy Felinski, designed by Elzbieta Litwiniak. Work outside of the contest

Replica of the costume for the title role in Barbara Radziwil by Alojzy Felinski, designed by Elzbieta Litwiniak. Work outside of the contest.

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style. Reconstructions of XIX-century costumes.

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style

INSPIRATIONS

The first prize in the category Inspirations was awarded to work by Klaudia Kukula, age 28

“I was inspired to make this design by a dress of Helena Modjeska from private photography. Out of love for all kinds of overprints, I have transferred the main motif on the fabric captured in the photo, which is a crane, on the dress-which is itself very simple in style, The dress is made of white and dark blue fabrics.

The white fabric is plain woven cotton and the contrasting dark blue fabric is a mix of polyacrylonitrile and wool, a heavy twill weave. Dress’s cut is simple. It is cut just below the breasts, its sleeves narrow with puffs.

The lower line of the dress from the front is shorter than on the back, There are three folds on the back. It does not have finishing in the form of the material turned back at the neck, sleeves or at bottom. Fabric is protected from tearing by backstitching.

To make putting on the dress easier, I sewed a zip fastener into the side seam on the armpit-breast line. In the dark blue part of the dress, I sewed a polyester lining of the same colour. For overprint, I used a stencil. I used for fabrics covering paints, similar to those used in screen printing.”

Quote from the book “Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style. From distance to temptation”

Helena Modjeska- private photo, from the collection of Kris Cieply, California

Helena Modjeska- private photo, from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

The outfit was designed by Klaudia Kukula, inspired by a private dress.

Outfit idesigned by Klaudia Kukula, nspired by a private dress.
Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style

The picture I took at the exhibition.


No2

The second prize was awarded to work by Iga Sylwestrzak, age 24

“The design is characterized by a minimalistic, contemporary form of the dress, complemented by the geometrical transformation of detail coming from the photo that inspired me.

This detail in my design plays a leading role, it was also translated on the outfit’s form.” Quote from the book “Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style. From distance to temptation”

Modjeska with her husband-Karol Chlapowski, photo from the collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Cracow.

Modjeska with her husband-Karol Chlapowski, photo from the collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Cracow
Outfit inpired by private dress. Iga Sylwestrzak, age 24

Outfit inspired by private dress. Iga Sylwestrzak, age 24.

No3

The third prize was awarded to work by Daria Woszczatynska, age 23

“Set submitted to the contest comprises of red jacket and short, simple skirt. It is an outfit for a contemporary woman who admires and respects the achievements of Helena Modjeska.

Clothes with overprints of great artists faces are a common tribute to them, also in this design, the characteristic, expressive face of the great actress decorates the back of the jacket. It appears accompanied by red small balls made of fabric-red beads, “contemporary pearls”.

The red colour symbolizes the power of character and passion of Modjeska, I was also inspired to use it by the tradition that red was a beloved colour of Barbara Radziwill. Fabrics (jacquard and  cotton)constitute a compromise and bridge between rather rich, the memorable costume of the actress and requirements of contemporary fashion, allowing maximum utility of the outfit.”

Quote from the book “Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style. From distance to temptation”

Helena Modjeska Style Icon

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Barbara Radziwil by Alojzy Felinski, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

The outfit was designed by Daria Woszczatynska, inspired by the costume for the role in Barbara Radziwill by Alojzy Felinski.

Outfit designed by Draria Woszczatynska, inspired by the costume for the role in Barbara Radziwill by Alojzy Felinski.

HONOURABLE MENTION-HELENA MODJESKA

Justyna Helena Lasota, age 19

Outfit designed by Justyna Helena Lasota,inspired by the costume for the title role in Barbara Radziwill by Alojzy Felinski

Outfit designed by Justyna Helena Lasota, inspired by the costume for the title role in Barbara Radziwill by Alojzy Felinski.

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style Exhibition.

Helena Modjeska-Icon of Style

SPECIAL PRIZE-HELENA MODJESKA EXHIBITION

Klaudia Nikiel, age 18

Replica_of_a_costume_by_KlaudiaNikiel

Breathtaking outfit inspired by Helena Modjeska.

Wilanow Palace

Modjeska Helena

HONOURABLE MENTION

Agata Zwirska, age 24

Helena Modjeska as Camille

Helena Modjeska as Camille in The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandr Dumas, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

Outfit designed by Agata Zwirska, inspired by the costume for the role of Camille in The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas.

Outfit designed by Agata Zwirska, inspired by the costume for the role of Camille in The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas

Michal Byra, age 17

Helena Modjeska and her wardrobe

Helena Modjeska as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

Outfit designed by Michal Byra, inspired by the costume for the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Outfit designed by Michal Byra, inspired by the costume for the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Beata Leszczynska, age 17

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Odette

Helena Modjeska in the title role in Odette by Victorien Serdon, photos from the collection of Kris Cieply, California.

Outfit designed by Beata Leszczynska, inspired by the costume for the title role in Odette by Victorien Sardon.

Outfit designed by Beata Leszczynska, inspired by the costume for the title role in Odette by Victorien Sardon

Diep Nguyen, age 22

Helena Modjeska stye icon

Helena Modjeska in the undermined role, photo from the collection of Kris Cieply California.

Outfit designed by Diep Nguyen, inspired by the costume for undermined role Studio photography: Olga Skoczylas.

Outfit designed by Diep Nguyen, inspired by the costume for undermined role

My beautiful Darlings,

Which costume is your favourite one?

What do you think?

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2 Comments
  • Constance
    July 6, 2016

    I’ll take Justyna Helena Lasota’s little black pearl trimmed hoodie capelet please!