One of the most arrestingly beautiful things about the 2006 film Marie Antoinette is the delicious use of costume, and how we see the clothes become their own character.
Much like film director Sofia Coppola’s desire to use the 18th century era of clothing, yet sex it up it with modern touches, Czech Republic native Pavel Jarab’s costume design and creations also combine the most strikingly beautiful clothing and accessories that are true to this era, but also incorporate sublime contemporary touches.
Now based in Belfast, it was while Pavel studied SPS Textilní Liberec and VOŠON Prague that he took his early love of films like The Three Musketeers, Dangerous Liaisons and The Age of Innocence as the inspiration for his incredible fashion design. His hand-painted designs have led to exhibitions and theatre commissions and are regularly featured in beauty, hair and fashion editorials.
“I think I was always interested in costumes and history. When I was in school, history would have been one of my favourite subjects, as well as drawing. I was always the kid with pencils and chalk. My mum is a painter, I think it was her influence when I was a child,” he says.
“My big passion was to read historical books.
“I remember with my sister we made a small puppet theatre from paper and things and it would always be that, the princess’s robes, the witches costume, that sort of thing.”
Originally, he came to Belfast to get work experience and improve his English after his studies. He studied at Belfast Metropolitan College and now works there in an administration role.
“I absolutely love Belfast. There is something specific about this city. It’s not too big, not too small. People are very friendly and it’s very easy to make friends here. It’s one of my favourite spots.”
He says he has “two jobs” with creating his designs and his admin role. When he finishes work in the evening and weekends, he likes to sit down with his creations.
As well as his love of 18th century clothing, one of his other inspirations is his grandmother’s sense of style.
“I do remember my grandma wearing brooches and fur coats and jewellery. She was making her own clothes as well. Where I come from, we were in a regime, you didn’t get any supermarkets in those days.”
He has always been interested in French history, evident in the decadent, sumptuous clothing he creates.
When he was stuck for inspiration for an early project in his design studies, it was his mother who suggested he drew on his love for the 18th century, and after seeing his initial vision come to life in the completed work, and excellent grades to boot, he hasn’t looked back.
After his first exhibition he saw how much people loved his designs.
“It was amazing seeing the reaction from people who came to see it. Some people thought they really looked like authentic 18th century pieces. I thought, okay, this is definitely something I want to do, and it grew from there with people looking to borrow the costumes.”
What marks Pavel’s work as extraordinary is how he hand-paints his fabrics to recreate the embroidery of that era. The patterns of the time inspire them, and he creates each one, each stroke by hand with delicate, romantic and beautiful results.
“I think you can 100% get an authentic feel from the painting on the fabric. Some people often think it’s embroidered when they see a photo [of one of my designs].
One of the things he loves is to combine his work with cool, contemporary touches. His pieces have been shot in editorials with models in posing abandoned skate parks and city centre bars.
And why the 18th century?
“The originality. It seemed that every single piece was original because they didn’t have online or shops then, nothing like that. So, what I find interesting is that everything was very specific for the particular person or the particular piece. I try the same thing; all of my creations are different.
“There are no two same pieces. Every single one of them is specific, every single one of them is, in a way, special.
“We had a model for a photoshoot, and she said [the clothes] makes you feel like a different person and that it was amazing because it was made specifically for her body, for her.”
With his passion for the historical detail, Pavel is keenly aware of the rigidity, the constrains, the status and meaning clothing had in the 18th century for women.
“I discovered recently, which I thought was crazy, after a certain age women were almost prohibited to wear certain colours. Specifically for the 18th century if a lady was seen wearing purple or a kind of burgundy colour in public after a certain age it was seen that she had an immoral life. It must have been a very, very hard time for women to [live with that].
“In those days, the women were dressed as dolls to look like an object. The clothes were beautiful, but I cannot imagine what it was like to wear something like that. You really couldn’t move, it was just to be seen really as an object and it filled that sort of idea of a woman looking pretty and that was everything.
“She couldn’t really have an opinion. She wasn’t required [very much] other than to look pretty. They would say in those days education wasn’t needed [for women]. The whole idea, the message of this is in a way, frightening. It’s good that we’ve moved on from those sorts of things.”
He takes inspiration in his designs from everything, from something he likes in a shop window, films, architecture and even falling in love with cocktails in some of his favourite bars in Belfast.
“I went to Babel [in Bullitt hotel], the way they served the cocktail, the colour combination, the flowers on it, the glass. It’s funny, but, it’s true. It can be [something like that].”
His dream is to make design his full-time role and eventually have his own fashion brand inspired by the 18th century but make it contemporary and wearable. He would also love to get into film and theatre and is “open to all options” when it comes to his creations.
His designs can take anything from two weeks to a month, depending on the piece, and require intense dedication. One mistake means he has to start from scratch. However, one thing that is palpable is that however long it might take, he derives sheer joy and fun from making such beautiful things.
“What I like too is the fun of dressing up. Anything I like, apart from the hard work [in doing it], there is the fun part. You have to get something from it that fulfils you.”
For more information see paveljarab.com