Considering common motherlands for independent designers, it’s easy to have a regional bias; Western and Central Europe are long-established fashion capitals, and North America and Asia have emerged as potent crucibles for streetwear brands. But what about those other corners of the world where fashion absolutely exists? Enter Rad Duet, a womenswear brand hailing from Poland. Run by designers Juliusz Rusin and Maciej Jóźwicki, it has made waves in their local fashion scene and is just beginning to gain exposure elsewhere. Recently, the duo has graciously taken the time to sit down and chat with us about being an independent fashion brand in Poland. Their answers gave us valuable insight into their specific world.
This world gives us the context behind their highly detailed pieces. At first glance, their work evokes a deep sense of homeyness. A personal touch is effortlessly relayed through their clothing’s concepts and motifs. Whether it be through detailing in a lace-curtain style or patterns that look like they jumped right off a set of porcelain dinnerware, Rad Duet’s clothing comes from a very genuine place. They aren’t just doing it for the aesthetic, which is one of the things I sought to understand when interviewing the duo.
I also wanted to pry into their working relationship. These days, we get so caught up in brands being either one designer’s vision for their namesake label or a whole team collaborating on a collection under a brand name. The alternative possibility offered by Rad Duet isn’t often discussed. Therefore, I wanted to know how two people manage to produce work under a single banner with a consistent and coherent aesthetic.
Despite strongly identifying with their local scene, Rad Duet have their sights set on things outside their own immediate community. Being around for less than a decade, I thought it would be worth prying into what kinds of goals they have set for themselves and where they want to go as designers. Rad Duet knows that they punch above their weight and their ambitions reflect this. One could say they’re a big fish in a small pond–a big fish that graciously let us interview them in-depth, exclusively for Perime.
Nic: Tell us about yourselves, who you are, and how Rad Duet came about.
Juliusz: We had mutual friends that very reasonably brought us together. They thought we would have common grounds in our interests in art. So they put us together…and things went very fast, because right from the start we had this special connection.
Maciej: We’ve known each other for six years, and we’ve worked together as RAD DUET for four years. But right from the start, we did many small projects that led us to form our brand. And in addition to working together, we are a couple.
Juliusz: So our private lives and working lives are mixed together.
Ian: You said that you clicked very fast. Do you think that was over a similar design language or a vision you wanted out of a clothing brand? Or was it first on a personal then a professional level?
Juliusz: Right from the beginning, we knew we would be working together. It was personal. It was our interests. Our vision. At the start, my approach to design was more minimalistic, and Maciej was more of a maximalist. So right now, I am the person to push things to be bigger, louder, and more flamboyant. And Maciej is more simplistic, wanting to make more clean stuff.
Maciej: “Rad” comes from the name of a chemical element discovered by Marie Curie–the first woman to win the Nobel Prize twice. It also means “happy” in our language. We liked that the name is short and simple, and also has a nice meaning in English.
Nic: With Rad Duet, who is your ideal consumer? What is your target audience?
Juliusz: That is quite a hard question, because we don’t really want to categorize anybody. Our recipients are people who like our projects. Plain and simple. We don’t want to categorize the person who is the receiver of our art, to be honest.
Maciej: I think the Rad woman is smart. She’s developing her talents. She has several interests.
Juliusz: She’s not someone who is put into one sexual box. It’s multidimensional. Sensuality is okay, sexuality is fine, but there are also more things to a person, like her brain, her interests, humour… her ambitions. So we try to cover all of that stuff in our work. And we don’t want to be dead serious. There are way too many brands that focus just on that trivial “sexy” aspect and are pretentious. We want to be fun, [that’s] very important too. All of that, of course, also translates to a Rad man, because we started to add male or unisex designs.
Nic: So would you say there is a very playful aspect to your work?
Juliusz: Definitely. You know, we draw our inspirations from all over the place. But the common thread is Polish culture. We draw from the rich heritage of our country, art, traditional crafts, cinema and music as well as cult old TV series showing the absurdities of life in Poland. It’s high culture. It’s low culture. It’s a mix of all those things. There is a fun element in what we do. But we treat our inspirations very seriously. It’s not like we make fun of stuff. We try to have fun with stuff.
Nic: I’ve looked deeper into your work. It seems that you draw a lot of inspiration from rural Poland. Expanding on that, what role does agriculture play in Polish culture?
Juliusz: We set the world of our last collection in the countryside because we are disappointed with life in the city, this senseless rush of everyday life, and we have nostalgia for a simpler life in the countryside. Of course, this is a simplification, because life in the country can be pretty tough, but the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
Maciej: We are both very interested in nature and science. Those interests also hugely influence our work. We have a thing for organic lines in our designs. We want the cuts to be smooth and complement the human anatomy…. not always straight and harsh. But there are also more obvious things like florals. Basically, nature comes off in our work in quite obvious and also subtle ways.
Maciej: We are using techniques such as recycling and upcycling.
Ian: So sustainability is also an aspect?
Maciej: Yes, it’s very important to us.
Juliusz: Especially with the last collection. I think 90% of the material was reused. We were repurposing materials like old lace curtains. And this is the path we want to continue right now.
Ian: Moving forward, do you want to keep these inspirations and traits relatable to your community, or do you want to see them reach a wider audience as the brand grows?
Juliusz: There are modern materials that are less harmful to our environment. So it’s not 100% that we want to use recycled materials. There are more and more materials coming every day that are more ecological. With the aspect of growing, we always want to be very involved in our work. And we don’t want to give our work to someone else to do. We want to be hands on because we don’t really see ourselves as just supervisors. Of course we want to grow, but we don’t want to be a Louis Vuitton, for example.
Nic: So moving forward, you always want to have a hand in the manufacturing and the way your work is presented?
Juliusz: Yes, we are very ambitious. There’s a very hands on aspect to our work, so we don’t ever want to go away from that. Of course, one or two great seamstresses would help a lot, at least for now. But we don’t imagine we would ever be the people that just draw something and give it to somebody else to do.
Ian: When I saw one of your recent collections, I noticed the jackets filled with straw and painted ceramic patterns. Were those motifs specific to that collection or will those be part of the core of Rad Duet moving forward? I know you’re a newer brand and it’s hard to guess where you’ll go from here.
Maciej: We are developing a capsule collection–reinterpreting the motifs from “Wiesia” onto more basic products with more sales potential, such as sweatshirts, accessories and bags that are easier to manufacture and wear everyday.
Juliusz: As you said, it’s been very hands on and handmade for now. With that new small collection, we will expand on a few key elements that are characteristic for us, but it won’t be hand painted. The patterns will be printed. The technique specific to that collection is something we may elaborate on in the future. But for now we’ll give it a rest, because it was so strong visually and we want to explore other things. This technique of painting floral patterns on ceramics was from Maciej’s hometown, Wloclawek.
Maciej: It was a process used especially in the 60’s and 70’s. Two of my aunts worked as painters. My grandfather made ceramic casts, and my grandmother would glaze them. Wloclawek pottery was huge in Polish decorative art; it was in almost every household. Then it became too common and received a backlash, and it was almost forgotten.
Juliusz: Our last collection was full of this stuff. The patterns were strong and bold. We are glad that the media success of “Wiesia” contributed to revival of faience popularity. We received a lot of photos from people, [telling us] “I’ve got this in my attic, I’ll dust it off and put it in a visible place in my house.” That was one of the proudest moments for us as designers. That strong reaction from people. But we also developed a lot of subtle things, [for example], those lace curtains, [which] were like when you were a child playing in the backyard and your grandmother was watching over you through lace curtains. Those things are very present in every look from the last collection.
Maciej: We have a jacket made of Hutsul carpets. Hutsuls were an ethnic group of highlanders, of mixed Romanian and Ukrainian origin. It’s a special kind of weaving. It took quite long to find them on various internet sites–and the amount we accumulated was enough only for one jacket. They were surprisingly delicate to sew, probably due to age and the way of weaving. They’re made sort of like tapestry.
Nic: So a lot of your motifs are very deep rooted in your adolescence?
Juliusz: I think it’s a huge part of the last collection’s success. How it was very personal and we weren’t trying to create something we don’t know. When you are inspired by something that touches you and is very close to you, it is more romantic. It speaks to the audience on a more personal level.
Nic: Speaking of things on a personal level, it seems that you’re involved in your own fashion community. Would you say being connected to the local scene is something that’s very important to Rad Duet?
Juliusz: Locally, we are very involved in the drag community. In our hometown, there are a few drag queens that we style for their performances. The drag thing is very fun for us because you are not restricted by anything. They don’t mind being uncomfortable, it’s the final look that counts, so that’s very fun. It’s a small part of our work, but it’s very important because you need that fun fuel that we can put in our work later. We also experienced that designing and making window displays for the oldest fabric shop in Poznan (the city we are based in), “Jazz And Silk Merino.” We are not restricted by regulations, much like [we are] in our main line of work, and we can touch on some controversial subjects. Playing safe is not for us.
Maciej: We have also begun to include political issues. During the presidential election, our president said that LGBT are not human, [that it’s only] an ideology, which rightfully pissed off lots of people. It was extremely embarrassing that the president demonized any group of people for his silly political games. So our LGBT community is fighting right now for their rights.
Juliusz: In Poland, our LGBT community was established, and it was mostly quite safe in bigger more civilized cities. But right now there is some regression. We are going backwards on some human rights issues. It’s deeply upsetting how people do not learn from the mistakes of history. So we want to make our collections increasingly more political, because we find it our responsibility as artists. We also know that your country is in a weird place right now. The whole world’s gone crazy really.
Nic: Has that work you’ve done informed anything about your future and what you want to do moving forward?
Juliusz: There was nostalgia for the fashion shows, for example. Because we really like the fashion shows and we wouldn’t want that to vanish from the industry. There are no fashion shows in Poland right now and we would really like to participate in them. There is talk of fashion shows being moved online. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same level of emotion. So we hope that’s something that won’t vanish or disappear.
Nic: In that case, are you prepared for a world where fashion shows don’t come back for, let’s say, 1-2 years?
Juliusz: We are thinking about it, but we are trying to avoid such thoughts. But what I really like from this whole situation is that we aren’t producing a lot of stuff (we never really were) just to impress somebody…I never understood making a fashion show and showing the same dress in five colours as different silhouettes. Before the pandemic you had to produce 40-50 silhouettes for a collection. We are more than content with 15 silhouettes that are really refined and thought through. That amount really is sufficient enough to tell a story we want to tell and you don’t overproduce crap that’s polluting the planet.
Nic: So you’re happy making smaller focused collections moving forward? And you’re happy with this new mentality that’s permeating through the fashion world?
Juliusz: I hope it stays in the collective minds because we still have that hope that people can learn from the past. Basically a thoughtless existence is pointless.Right now people in Poland are going to parties and behaving like there is no problem. I can only hope that people learn from what is going on right now.
Nic: Where do you see Rad Duet going in the next 5-10 years? Do you have any goals you would like to achieve?
Juliusz: We would really like to enter the LVMH Prize. That’s our plan for the next 10 years. Because what’s funny in Polish competitions is that there’s an age limit. It’s 30 and we are both over 30 right now. LVMH is very tempting not only because it is the biggest competition in the world but because it has a 40 years age limit. I think we would gradually try to take part year after year because we are very systematic and that’s not a problem for us. We tried this year but we aren’t in the top 20 or something. We’ll try again next year. That’s one of the biggest goals. Because we saw what happened to Jacquemus or Marinne Serre after they participated. They became huge. In Poland the competitions aren’t very big, and the fashion industry, contrary to what some people think, is crawling. It’s very nice to win, but it’s not something terribly life-changing. Of course we would like to have a seamstress that could help us out. We would still want to make patterns and want to sew samples and most of the stuff, but we need some help because we cannot manage to do everything ourselves right now. And I don’t know if we would like to have a big studio. Right now we have a home studio and it fits us well. Of course one of our goals is having an independent fashion show and then to have continuity in that. We want to have full creative control over everything and that would be perfect.
Nic: Speaking to how we found you. Are you surprised or flattered by the recognition you have received outside of Poland?
Juliusz: It’s very nice, because of course you plan to expand beyond Poland. We had a great moment last year when a Polish influencer Jessica Mercedes Kirschner wore our outfit to Paris Fashion Week. The reception was unexpected because it went really viral. We were in every magazine in Poland, from major fashion magazines to tabloids. But we haven’t received major feedback from foreign countries that we know of. We got invitations to New York Fashion Week. But we weren’t sure if they were serious propositions or frauds.
Nic: That moment at Paris Fashion Week seems very important to you. Would you say using influencers is an avenue you could see yourself going down in the future?
Juliusz: It’s funny because up to that point we didn’t think highly of influencers. But that situation changed our outlook on that. We would like to try that again. But we don’t have a budget for influencers. So they would have to like us, and they need to want to wear us. We’re worth it. Jessica Mercedes’ example is a proof that the right outfit for the right occasion can do wonders.