Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Czech Fashion

As a Design and Merchandising major at Drexel, I was intrigued to see what Czech fashion consisted of. I always had this idea that European style was classy and sophisticated, and everyone always looked presentable. Well, after being in Prague for a few weeks, my Prague 20th Century Art and Design teacher informed me the Czech fashion is an oxymoron, meaning that Czech fashion is non-existent. Prague is city full of tourists, and actual locals are hard to come by. Although I have not witnessed the cutting edge fashion I assumed all Europeans possessed, I have stumbled upon my own findings for shopping and authentic fashionable Czech clothing.

My first day in Prague consisted of exploring the city and picking up a few necessities for the next few weeks (soap, towels, dishware etc), and while running these errands I naturally came upon the Czech Republic’s largest mall, the Palladium. The Palladium was recently constructed in 2007, and consists of four levels, boasting over 200 shops and roughly thirty restaurants and cafes. It is located in Náměstí Republiky, and it's easy to get to by taking the Metro. The Palladium has many stores that we have in America, such as Guess, Calvin Klein, and The Body Shop. Other familiar stores include H&M, Lush, Sephora and TOPSHOP. The Palladium is so massive; we have visited a few times and have yet to find time to see everything at once.

The Palladium

Also on the Metro, the Můstek stop offers shopping geared more towards tourists, with large popular chain stores such as The New Yorker, another H&M, Zara and United Colors of Benetton. While these stores are still great and have a lot to offer shoppers, I personally was on the search for apparel that was different and unique, and made by Czech fashion designers.

Last week when I had time to explore, I found two great boutiques, both selling clothing, accessories and jewelry all created by designers that lived in Prague and/or were Czech! Both stores were really unique, and I was happy to find something that was original. The first store is called Leeda, which is a fashion brand created by Czech designers Lucia Trnková and Lucie Kutálková. The boutique carries their clothing line, as well as a few styles of footwear plus an assortment of accessories including earrings, bracelets, headbands and necklaces. The clothing was ready to wear sportswear with a trendy twist, and all the clothing had a bright color palette.

After leaving Leeda, just a few stores down the block I found another great Czech fashion store called Nakoupeno, which carried Czech fashion and jewelry designers. This store was similar to a funky vintage shop, it was strategically cluttered, and one could spend an hour walking around and still not notice everything on display. The clothing sold at Nakoupeno was bit more eccentric than what was Leeda. There were a lot of skirts made of metallic spandex, dresses with a large bubble skirt full of fake sunflower heads (or other flowers), and striped parachute pants. Although I couldn’t picture myself being able to pull off some of these really interesting outfits, I did manage to find a black and crème striped turtleneck dress, with lace trim on the hem and sleeves, and to add a bit a punch, banana appliqué patches around the collar. It’s a great combination of the everyday, with a little something extra. Nakoupena also carried quite a few jewelry lines; all in all, there was something to be found there for everyone.

Mission accomplished!

Nakoupena Boutique

Here are additional links to various Czech Designers

Monday, July 19, 2010

Week One: Classes and Field Trips

I have been in Prague for a little over a week and I already feel like I know some parts of the city so well, yet there are others areas of Prague I have yet to venture too, like the Jewish Quarter. I have become quite comfortable with taking the metro (subway) from our dormitory down to the center of the city. The tram (similar to a trolley) is still a little confusing to navigate. Much of the tram system is consistently re-routed due to continuous construction around Prague.

The Tram in front of the Metro stop at Malostranká

For the actual “study” portion of this trip, classes are held at the historic Charles University, which is the oldest university in Europe east of Paris. Charles University has a prime location right on the Vltava River, and a stunning view of the Prague Castle on a hill in the distance. We have class Monday through Thursday, with two classes each day. In total, we are in class for about four to five hours each day. It sounds like a long period of time, but the teachers utilize the city as their classroom, and most class curriculums encompass multiple field trips. While in Prague I am enrolled in an Introduction to Photography class and a 20th Century Art History class that focuses on Czech artists and artwork.

Every Friday we have field trips in the morning. This past Friday we visited the Czech Parliament building and Senate building. We learned a little about how the Czech government operates as a unit. On Saturday we had a group day trip to two locations outside Prague. One was to a town called Lidice, which was virtually destroyed by the Nazis on June 10th, 1942. There is a large memorial in place of where the town once stood, as well as small museum dedicated to the event and the citizens living in the town at the time. It was a deeply moving trip, as I saw firsthand the effect of World War II on a European country. After visiting and learning about the event at Lidice, we then visited Terezín, which was a Jewish Ghetto or settlement operated by the Nazis. Terezín was originally a military fortress and later used as a prison. However, when the Nazis invaded the Czech Republic during World War II, it was used as a ghetto, where Jews from Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany and Austria were sent to live. Although it was not an extermination camp, many people still died due to crowded conditions and disease. While the day overall was not filled with usual excitement and giddiness we have in Prague, it was very moving and important to experience. I for one learned a great deal that day, and it was a very eye opening experience into the history of the Czech Republic.

Where the town of Lidice once stood

Jewishl Cemetry outside Small Fortress at

The Prague Castle

Prague Castle complex from other side of the Vltava River

One thing Prague is particularly famous for (other than beer) is the Prague Castle. The castle complex is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, and it is still utilized to this day by the Czech government and President. As students participating in the UNO Summer Seminar series, we were granted the opportunity to actually go INSIDE the castle and view an assortment of rooms used for a variety of functions. This was a rare opportunity, as most tourists only get to view the castle from the exterior. The Baroque architecture and design in a few of the rooms was exquisite.

Picture of Spanish Hall inside the Prague Castle

The castle complex also includes a breathtaking gothic cathedral named after St. Vitus, the patron saint of actors, comedies, dancers and epileptics. He is also the patron saint of Bohemia, the area in the Czech Republic where Prague is located. The cathedral also houses quite a few pieces by famed Czech artists, including a stain glass window by Alfons Mucha.

St. Vitus Cathedral

After touring the castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, we briefly visited the American Embassy in Prague. We met with the director of Public Affairs, who provided us with a glimpse of life as an American living in Prague. He encouraged us to get lost and explore the city, and experience as much of Prague as we can in our short month here. After our scheduled morning activities and tours, we had the afternoon off to further acquaint ourselves with our new city. A small group of us had a delicious Italian meal at a charming restaurant near the American Embassy. The restaurant, called Gitanes, had delicious and fresh cuisine, and the décor alone made this place a perfect spot for an afternoon lunch. We all plan on dining there again before our departure!

Interior of Gitanes

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Greetings from Praha! (Prague)

Ahoj Everyone! My name is Caitlin Stelben. I will be going into my third year at Drexel University. I am a Design and Merchandising major, with a minor in business administration. I am going on Co-op this Fall/Winter cycle, so I am so excited to have an educational “vacation” in Prague this summer before I start working full time.

Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. It has become a popular tourist destination since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It is a beautiful city, located on the Vltava River, in an area of the country known as Central Bohemia. Luckily, much of the city’s historic architecture and cobble stone streets have remained intact throughout the past century, so the city has an old renaissance appeal to it.

This study abroad program is an option for sophomores, pre-juniors, and juniors at Drexel University, and any major is eligible to apply. What is unique about this particular international program is that it is in conjunction with the University of New Orleans, so we will be taking classes and being instructed with students and staff members affiliated with the UNO (University of New Orleans). The educational program of this trip is four weeks long. We will be taking classes at the historic Charles University, however we will be residing at Czech Technical Institute.

I just arrived in Prague a few days ago, and have already begun exploring the city. It is quite easy to get lost, but as long as you have a map and can ask “Mluvite anglisky?” (Do you speak English?) chances are you will find your way sooner than later.

As a part of the Prague study abroad program, Drexel requires that we take a three week long introduction to Czech language and culture class. Our instructor was Kathy Dettmer, who is fluent in Czech and very familiar with Czech Republic, since she was a stationed here when she was a member of the Peace Corps. She provided us with an introduction to Czech language that will come into use for basic conversations with people, as well as for pub/restaurant environments. We also were given a glimpse into the history of the Czech Republic, from its foundation as a country, to the artistic culture of its people, and its duration under communism. We read multiple short stories ranging from Czech fairy tales, to information about the beer served in Prague, as well as a speech by the Czech Republic’s first president Havel.

Since arriving in Prague, I am very appreciative of all that we were taught in those short three weeks. There are many activities planned for us this upcoming week, as well as our first day of classes. Shortly, we have a planned group dinner at a local pub called the Pod Loubim.