How Magdalena Butrym is paving the way for emerging talent
“Nobody from Poland [had done] this before,” said a voice laden with amazement from the other side of the phone. Magdalena Butrym had never dreamt about the international success she has today. She had never even dreamt about fashion, for that matter. Growing up in the South of Poland, she had always wanted to be a doctor. All throughout high school, she prepared for medical school, until two months prior to graduation when her sights shifted and fashion came into focus. She headed for Warsaw to study design, but realized that her most informative studies came from outside the classroom. After 10 years in the industry (six years working as a celebrity stylist and a designer in the meantime), she had plenty of time to observe what was lacking in Polish fashion, and out grew the idea for her eponymous line.
From the get go, Butrym knew that she needed to stand out. “I had read an interview with Proenza Schouler where they said, ‘don’t open a company if you don’t have any idea of how to be different’,” she remembers. “[So] I had an idea to use Polish [handcrafts].” It was these aspects of traditional Polish weaving and embroidery that would define Magda’s aesthetic – that, and the contrasting elements of punky, masculine meets ultrafemme and floral.
Her uniquely edgy designs were anomalous among the many ‘streetwear’ labels in Warsaw; the nation’s compact fashion industry has produced many high-fashion talents with international recognition always on the horizon. It often takes the influence of a well-connected buyer or investor to help grow lesser known industries and champion young designers – something that is still gaining traction in Poland. But by chance, Magda’s style caught the eye of Kim Kardashian – the social media golden ticket. One fringed skirt and two posts later and the brand was ablaze in the Instaworld. Within weeks, her signature cold shoulder dresses and ruffled zip blouses became cult favorites of the street style set and luxury buyers alike.
Social media has played an intrinsic part in crafting the Magda Butrym image; but as any emerging designer knows, the parameters for building a brand are widening every day, while the attention span of the consumer market is narrowing in contrast. “I think the most challenging [thing] is to be noticed; to be different. And it’s not just about the clothes. It’s the marketing, your brand’s idea, how you [shoot] your campaign every season to choosing the right models.” Butrym stresses the importance of defining a single aesthetic and developing from there. Easier said than done; the growing pains are real. “As a [new] designer, you’re not [always] self-confident; you’re thinking that every season has to be [completely] new,” she says. This is where the advice of buyers, like Net-A-Porter’s Lisa Aiken (an early supporter of the brand), comes into play. “She told me [that] every season doesn’t have to be a revolution, but an evolution.” This advice pushed Butrym to hone in on consistency rather than trying to push the envelope – a method that has won her mass retail applause.
Formerly, to be deemed commercial was a nail in the coffin of a young designer’s career. Today, it’s an essential component of their growth; consumer appeal is equally, if not more important than editorial edge. “[When I design] I’m thinking about the girl who has things to do, who goes into the city,” says Butrym of her inspiration. “She wants to look a bit different, but still timeless.” Those thoughts are apparent in the details of her design – dainty, floral dresses that at first look pretty, but are transformed with an asymmetric hemline, an exaggerated ruffle, or a cascade of covered buttons, sharp-shouldered blazers that nip at the waist, and her new signature, a natural, hand-crocheted technique of Polish tradition. Her vibe is romantic, sometimes punky, irreverent – like Vanessa Paradis, the Magda dream girl.
After six seasons, Magdalena is still writing her story, albeit an impressive one; her designs are already sold in over 100 retailers worldwide. But as for expanding, we will have to wait and see what form that takes. Her small team of 12 has been with her since the beginning, and the brand holds market each season at the same tenement house in Paris. It’s this tight knit community that she credits for the quality of production, an “echo” she calls it, of the way her team of pattern makers and seamstresses materialize how she feels. Doing things the “Magda way” is the only way she knows, and it’s certainly paying off.