Budapest hopes to turn this former bus depot into a design center
But even considering the square’s normally busy standards, I was surprised by the number of people when I arrived there one Sunday this spring. More to the point, I was surprised by what had brought them in: WAMP, which stands for Hungarian Design Market in Hungarian). The monthly design market features more than 100 vendors who sell local clothing, furniture and accessories in the shade of the square’s former bus depot.
“Every month we choose a topic,” said Bori Mester, one of the market’s organizers. “And it’s all different kinds of Hungarian design: toy designers, furniture designers, industrial, jewelry and fashion designers.”
Although cultured travelers have long had many reasons to visit Budapest — outstanding wine, glorious music, hip night life — it is probably safe to say the local sense of style was not among them. And yet the city has an emerging design scene unlike almost anything I’ve found in the former Eastern bloc. Beyond each monthly WAMP (www.wamp.hu), Budapest Design Week takes place in October and Budapest Fashion Week each April.
The city is also the base for The Room, an inch-thick international fashion and art magazine with texts in English and Hungarian, and up-and-coming clothing labels like Nanushka, which regularly pick up praise on English-language style blogs. There are creative industrial designers as well, like IVANKA, which just showed off its remarkably expressive and fluid home furnishings made from concrete at the Milan international design fair.
It might not be Copenhagen, or even Vienna, but clearly something stylish is happening.
“It’s changing, the gap between Vienna and Budapest,” said David Barath, a graphic designer in Budapest whose work has also appeared in Germany, Japan and elsewhere. “There are still gaps, but it’s changing in the right way.”
The changes are most obvious in the creative-cum-downtrodden neighborhoods of Pest, the Hungarian capital’s eastern half, especially from the Danube River to the Hungarian National Museum in the triangle created by the Kalvin ter, Astoria and Ferenciek tere Metro stations. Within the space of a few city blocks, visitors can check out homegrown fashion both highbrow and low in a dozen or so unusual boutiques.
A good place to start is Fregoli (Bastya utca 12; www.fregoli.co.hu), a single high-ceilinged room that feels as if it must have been a pastry shop a century or more ago. Instead of sweets, Fregoli stocks confections from a handful of designers, including the Instant Hungary line of locally made bags and shirts with Communist-era shop logos copied from the city’s decrepit old neon signs. Despite the fact that most outsiders will find it impossible to pronounce, the Elelmiszer Csemege (or grocery) T-shirt makes a cool conversation starter. More upscale items include a sharp knee-length skirt by Camou, printed with an arboreal silhouette, for 18,000 forints (about $87 at 206.15 forints to the dollar). Equally eye-catching was a packet of two small Detti & Spek notebooks decorated with Hungarian folk patterns for 2,500 forints.
A five-minute walk away are the twinned shops of Retrock (Ferenczy Istvan utca 28; 36-30-678-8430; www.retrock.com) and Retrock Deluxe (Henszlmann Imre utca 1; 36-30-556-2814). The former offers street wear and younger styles, while Deluxe has more upscale clothing from Nanushka, USE Unused, Tamara Barnuff and Je Suis Belle. Next to Retrock Deluxe is the elegant Pazicski Showroom (Henszlmann Imre utca 3; 36-1-411-0631; www.pazicski.hu), an airy and minimalist boutique that opened in December of 2008. Inside are fashions from just three brands: dreamy high heels and pumps from Reka Vago, jewelry from Souffle and elegant women’s fashions by Miklos Pazicski himself. He and his wife, Krisztina, sew all the creations in a room upstairs.
“In Hungary, we have to be more creative because we don’t have many textile companies and we don’t have a long fashion tradition,” said Mr. Pazicski as his wife interpreted for him one afternoon. “So maybe we have to work harder.”
Some of that work seems to be done by the local design maven Dora Henger, whose Web site (www.ourstyle.hu) began as a Hungarian-language style blog and expanded to promote the country’s fashion designers abroad, bringing Hungarian ready-to-wear items to Paris and Stockholm.
“We didn’t have these young designers before 2003 or 2004,” said Ms. Henger, speaking over Soproni beers one evening in the atmospheric Kuplung club (36-30-755-3527) at No. 46 Kiraly utca, a narrow street filled with interior design shops and galleries. Overhead, a papier-mâché approximation of a whale skeleton hung from the ceiling. The D.J. booth was made out of an old East German Trabant automobile. That Budapest’s new design culture arrived ex nihilo might be a slight exaggeration; there was an earlier blossoming of post-1989 designers, Ms. Henger acknowledged. And like Detti & Spek, several current designers are working with and responding to Hungary’s centuries-old art-and-crafts traditions. Mr. Barath, the graphic designer, used some of those elements when a client requested that he create a native feel for an international chain’s local boutique.
“They asked me to do something that was very trendy, but Hungarian,” Mr. Barath said. “So I used some folk elements — flowers and folk stitching.”
Despite the growing interest, design culture has followed a tough road in Hungary. The former bus station near the WAMP design market was supposed to house the Hungarian design center, Mr. Barath said, noting that five years later the center still hasn’t opened. Matters haven’t been helped by the country’s economy, which is expected to contract severely this year. And then there is the issue of long-standing prejudices dating back to the cold war era.
“The problem is that you can’t link ‘Hungary’ and ‘design,’ ” Mr. Barath said. “It’s obvious that it’s just under development, but there’s going to be a lot more of it in the future.”
That development of a local style is probably most obvious at ground level, where I was surprised by the amount of great street art as well as by the chic display put on by the city’s residents. While it might not have been Paris, it also wasn’t far removed. And although I don’t speak Hungarian, I was pretty sure I recognized the English word “design” several times during my visit.
I even began to notice common elements among various forms of applied arts in the city, not the least of which was high-quality handwork, visible in Mr. Pazicski’s evening wear and in the funky bags, belts and other accessories from Luu Anh Tuan (www.anh-tuan.com).
But after several days in town, I was still wondering: What is Budapest style? What really is the city’s look?
“Sometimes I think you can feel it,” Ms. Henger said. “But we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Source: The New York Times