Whether it’s browsing the privately run fashion emporiums of Mokotowska, or dipping into the treasure and trash of Bazar na Kole, Warsaw offers an invigorating alternative to the humdrum of the mall.
Buy one, get one flea
“There are two things you need to remember,” explains Marcin, “first, the early bird gets the worm, and second, paying the asking price means you’re over-paying.” It’s with these words ringing round my Sunday morning hangover that we begin our trawl of Bazar na Kole (ul. Obozowa 99). While nostalgic natives still lament the passing of the Russian Market, Bazar na Kole has always been home to the real bargain hunters. This is particularly true each Sunday, when the premises dedicates itself to goods of vintage history.
Marcin, an obsessive hoarder of what he terms ‘treasure’, has been visiting Kole for the last ten years, making monthly trips from his home in Radom. He assures me he is not unique in this. “I’ve met people who live far further afield,” he states, “who’ve been coming down here for well over twenty years – and they’re the tip of the iceberg.” I look around, scanning what on first sight appears to be a soggy tent city. What is it that compels people to travel the length of Poland to spend Sunday morning here?
The answer reveals itself in the twenty minutes it takes for us to skirt the perimeter. For it is in that time something special happens: I become hopelessly addicted – and that’s way before we’ve even began rummaging, let alone haggling. Considerably smaller than Europe’s more celebrated flea markets, Bazar na Kole is a window to another time. Traders turn up before daylight, unpacking their rusting vans and battered 90’s issue Mercs, before spreading their loot across blankets and wobbling stalls.
Their swag of collectibles and forgettables is not eclectic – it goes well beyond that. As we move in ever-decreasing circles towards the market’s center point, we pass all manner of relics: menorahs, a full suit of armor (zł. 2,500 yells a trader), cavalry sabers, inter-war postcards and pre-war coins. Entering a cramped little hut, its shelves crammed with vinyl (remember Wishbone Ash, anyone?), I spot a dented alarm clock, its face embossed with an eagle and swastika. But in truth, this just scratches the surface. There is no end to the oddities. Soviet, Polish and Nazi militaria are well represented, but so too is chinaware from an unspecified time, stamp books, religious icons and other such detritus. A red velvet banner of Lenin hangs limply from a pile of empty crates, and on the stall next to it, I note some Soviet era toy trucks next to a pile of hand grenades.
For all this, there’s no shortage of what can be best described as junk – a pile of worn stockings, not to mention a creepy lazy-eyed doll that would be better off in an occult museum. As we walk away, I can feel it mocking me with its smile. And, in a nod to the market’s usual function, don’t be surprised to find a couple of statement fashion pieces: e.g., a pullover that’s more Dolce & Banana than the Dolce & Gabbana it purports to be.
Yet despite the fakes and the forgeries, which are prolific in number, there’s something very real about Kole – something you won’t find in the glittery malls or Mokotowska boutiques. There’s an atmosphere of adventure. There’s an excitement here and an element of discovery that appeals to all forms of life. “I’ve seen so many Polish celebrities down here,” says Marcin, “and they all wear a disguise that says ‘I want to be noticed but am pretending I don’t want to be’.” But it’s no surprise that they’re here – they’re here for the magic… and the treasure. (AW)
The most fashionable street in Warsaw is rather subtly hidden away on a curved stretch of cobblestones just a few steps south of the heavily trodden tourist track along Nowy Świat. Set between the bookend squares of Pl. Zbawiciela and Pl. Trzech Krzyży (P3K), it weaves through low-key cool and utterly conspicuous consumption with ease.
The predictable starting point is the southern corner of P3K, flanked by world-class boutiques toting the likes of Zegna, Burberry and Ralph Lauren. Yet, as the logos of these premium brands have literally begun to fade and drop off, it’s apparent that there’s a great deal more exciting stuff down the street. A smattering of global-grade designer boutiques like Tara Jarmon (No. 63) and the freshly-baked Agent Provocateur (No. 59) flagship are recent additions, but the home-grown talent is where the action is. From Zień’s decadent Oscar-worthy gowns (also at No. 59), Tomasz Ossoliński’s gorgeous menswear tradition (No. 56) or Ania Kuczyńska’s highly-coveted minimalist aesthetic (No. 61), Poland’s most ambitious designers are making Mokotowska their primary destination.
Robert Kupisz, the most talked-about designer-cum-socialite, has also made his style home here, catering to celebrity fashionistas out of his loft at No. 48. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there’s a spectacular wine bar just downstairs. In fact, the street is peppered with great places to grab a tipple and a bite to eat after an exhausting day of shopping – the fine elegance of Dyspensa (No. 39), the Cape Cod-esque cool of Flaming & Co. (No. 28) and the hipster chic of Przegryź (No. 52). “Mokotowska is returning to its former glory,” observes Kuczyńska. “I’m glad to see these remarkable changes in the heart of the city – and I’m glad my shop is influencing this change in the fabric of the city.”
Multi-brand boutiques like See Me (No. 51/53) and Blind Concept (No. 63) offer a finely-edited selection of the hottest items of the season from the world’s coolest designers, such as Vince, Joseph, Paul&Joe. Just next door is Mimbla, its refined collection of children’s toys and books a welcome breath of fresh air from the fashionista surge. There’s also a sprinkling of jewelry shops, with dozens of trendy baubles shining in their glass showcases. Of course, Lilou (No. 63) presides above them all, having started from a tiny shop selling charm bracelets just a few years ago to an accessory emporium that takes up nearly half a block.
While it may be true that the area doesn’t see as much foot traffic as it deserves, the shopping experience here is vastly more interesting than strolling the mall, if only for the sake of admiring the glorious original architecture that managed to survive the onslaught of history. As we approach Plac Zbawiciela, the boutiques along Mokotowska start to thin out – save the rock-chic home of Ewelina Kustra’s She’s a Riot signature label – and Koszykowa takes over with its slick multi-brand shops. L’Aura, Flash, Frank A and the recently-opened Frank Y (Mokotowska No. 26, Koszykowa No. 31 & Natolińska No. 3) give Warsaw a dose of the Parisian fashion experience. So whether you’re looking for a pair of Jimmy Choo pumps at Snobissimo (No. 28) or frilly lingerie and a Rihanna-worthy whip at Horn & More, Mokotowska’s style scene is definitely hot enough to ease the bitter chill of winter. (AMG)