As a dancer, he worked with the best choreographers, and as a model he visited all corners of the world. But in the end he was completely captivated by the world of design. He might still be learning all the ins and outs as a designer, but his models are sold mostly abroad and foreign media see a great future ahead of him. That’s a brief description of Jiří Kalfař.
Fast confession: Jiří Kalfař
When I called you regarding an interview, you were visiting Kiev during their fashion week. I guess you won’t find many Czech designers presenting their collections there. How did you get there?
This is the third season I’ve visited the fashion week. The last two seasons, I could come thanks to a fashion scout; a platform which originates from Great Britain but has recently expanded to other countries. Scouts seek out promising young talents and then provide them with the means to enter the market.
So you’ve been “discovered”?
Three years ago, I submitted my application, was selected, and had to decide between London and Kiev, did some research and in the end found Kiev to be a better choice for me. It’s a younger fashion week and so you have a better opportunity to break through, but it’s also a highly prestigious event.
But unless I’m mistaken, you also sell your products in London.
I sell them in Wolf and Badger, in Mayfair. It depends on the collection. Some time ago, we had three to four boutiques selling our products, but we’ve recently toned it down a bit. Now we have one, but we take care of our contacts mostly online. If someone likes something, we send our offer by DHL – the customer is then free to choose whether they want to buy something or send it all back.
Where do you sell more? Abroad or here in the Czech Republic?
Technically speaking, I have nearly zero customers here (laughs). Yeah, basically only abroad. I guess there it’s simply more profitable. I guess that the online world, where most young designers work, simply helps a lot. It’s more practical and easier to market something using the internet, and customers have the opportunity to get things they don’t see in large brick-and-mortar shops. It’s a really individual thing now.
Isn’t it a bit paradoxical that in the Czech Republic nobody has heard about you, and yet in the U.S. you’ve already been included in the top group of designers that should be closely watched?
Well, for instance Nylon already included me in a list of eight designers to watch out for. The French L’Officiel then placed me in the “new wave” of young world-class designers. The M8 collection appeared for instance in the American Sports Illustrated or the Italian Vogue. So, yeah, I guess it could be seen as such. I guess abroad people care more about me than here. But perhaps it’s just because it all goes hand in hand: I present my models abroad, and so it’s not unexpected that there’s more interest in my work abroad.
Don’t you show your designs at the Czech fashion week? Why?
I think that it’s because I’ve already somehow grown accustomed to the Kiev one, and I feel at home there. And I also think that it’s good when participation is followed by some progress – when it’s not just about showing up somewhere from time to time. So when you begin somewhere, you should continue and follow up on that first showing. And, to some extent, it’s also some form of satisfaction for me. Recently we had our first big fashion show, we were “closing” the whole fashion week. The start of my show was hosted by Alina Baikova and the end by the Miss Universe from Ukraine, Alexandra Kučerenková.
That sounds like a truly big success. But you started as something completely different – a dancer and a model.
I began studying at the conservatory at an age of ten; right from the first year there, we closely collaborated with the National Theatre, so we were constantly either on the stage of a theatre or behind it. I studied art history… and all of these things influenced me in one way or another. If you look at my collections, you’ll see they’re not really traditional. They don’t follow trends. Rather, they work on a certain “theatrical” level. I do my best to make sure that my work has something unique, that it’s not just some “black dress” or a “shirt with some words on it”. I want my collection to have a beginning and an end.
What about your parents? They saw you making your first steps in the world of theatre and one could have expected you to stay there. But you then switched to a completely different direction.
My parents were golden. I could do what I liked to do, and they were always very supportive. Even when I decided to go study to Germany when I was fifteen. My dad drove me to Stuttgart and back. I passed the entrance exam; I still remember how my mom drove me for my first day. I didn’t speak a word in German and still she drove me there, because it was something that I wanted. I was always a bit of “my own person”. I guess my parents wanted to see me jump into the waters on my own, and either swim or sink – in which case they’d come for me and drag me out.
And did anyone ever have to “drag you out” like that?
I think I can actually swim quite well (laughs). Actually, nobody in my family ever had a history in dancing, my parents have fairly normal jobs. My mom is a nurse and my dad has his own insulations company. Just like most normal people with normal jobs don’t expect their son to become a soccer player, my parents didn’t expect me to become a fashion designer.
Let me get back to Germany. You said you didn’t speak German at all?
I had about three months to learn English and German; otherwise I could not stay at that school. After that I lived in Barcelona, Paris, New York. I think that my parents gradually learned that they don’t need to worry about me.
So one could say that you learn fast, if you only had three months to learn two languages.
Well, things go faster when you don’t have a choice (laughs). And when you’re young and want something, it’s possible. You just need to want it enough and put energy into it, then it becomes possible. I didn’t speak fluently after those three months, but I could communicate.
So, basically, everything is possible if you want it enough. Would you characterize yourself as someone who sets a goal for himself and then goes towards that goal, no matter what? What’s your current goal?
It’s always rather natural. I don’t set goals; I just know where I’d like to be. But it’s also about the path that gets me there, the stuff I learn on the way. Any crossroads I encounter on the way are just as important. But what I definitely don’t want to do is stay at a single place, be stagnant.
And what if you do stop, sometime in the future?
Well, if I ever felt that I’m not progressing in some way, that I’m stagnating, I’d be unhappy. A person should always keep developing who they are.
There’s a saying that success is never forgiven, and sometimes success is hard to swallow for instance for partners. But you have a 10-year relationship. The partner you’re with must love you and support you a lot to make it work, especially when you travel so much. Does he go with you or do you strictly separate your work and personal life?
We support each other. My partner was with me during my whole career– from being a dancer, through being a model, and now as a fashion designer – and he always supported me.
That sounds like an ideal situation.
He’s often in London, which is good for me since I’m also often in London. This was the first time he came to Kiev with me. However, I don’t think I’m really successful yet. I do my work, I do what needs to be done for my work. But I’m still rather a “low Czech designer” than an “established brand”.
Ok, that’s how you see it at least… I think many other fashion designers are completely unknown abroad and they definitely don’t sell their stuff abroad. Are you even capable of praising yourself?
Yup, sure I can.
Well I’m not sure about that. You’re always too modest!
I can praise myself. But I also find it somehow natural not to overdo it, since there really isn’t all that much to praise – yet. When you’re still just developing yourself and getting somewhere, then at that stage there isn’t a good reason to praise yourself much.
Well, it’s certainly good to keep developing yourself. How long have you been designing?
This is my fifth year. I started in November 2012.
Are you saying that my first interview with you was when you were just beginning?
(laughs) Yup. I was cheeky enough to open my own boutique right from the get go; in the end I had to let it go, since it cost too much. On one hand it allowed me to enter public awareness, but on the other hand I found out it’s not for me, since when you own a boutique you also need to manage it. Turns out that’s not for me, so I “hid” in the showroom and here I can do what I like to do.
Can you even imagine what it’s like working in standard working hours?
I like regularity, so I do my best to be here in the showroom at a certain time; this also helps me stay organized. But standard working hours, say from eight to five? I think that’s not for me.
Do you think you live in luxury? What does luxury actually mean for you?
Luxury probably means to be happy. I’m not the kind of person to care much about material things. For me, luxury means that you can do what you like to do, having a happy family and are generally satisfied. And that you’re not too busy, in the sense of being stressed due to lack of time.
A happy family and good relationship. Do you think that’s something a person needs to work hard on, or does it come naturally?
I think that the same general principles apply to relationships, work, and everything else. You can’t be stagnant; there must be some form of development.
And if that doesn’t happen? Did you ever “get stuck”?
I think that everything is possible. I know how to finish stuff. But you first need to be ready to finish them.