Literature and film

Peter Michalovič

Although the history of Slovak cinematography may not be as rich as that of other countries, it does nevertheless give us an identifiable continuous tradition of making film adaptations of literary works, both by domestic and foreign authors. This is true for films intended for cinemas as well as television broadcast.

            The film uses literary works for its adaptations since the film ranks, alongside with literature, among the narrative arts, meaning that their common denominator are stories. The stories in film are shown, while they are narrated in literature; fabula, as an extract from the literary work, can be used as a foundation for creating a new syuzhet, i.e. a new film work. Film adaptations of literary works are paradoxical, with this paradox flowing from there being limited by literary works on the one hand, and each film adaptation not being an ordinary translation from one medium to another, but, rather, a transformation. The very fact that a film adaptation is a transformation of a literary text opens an interval of adaptation possibilities. Simply put, this interval is defined by two points, where the first point is made of strict or faithful film adaptations, i.e. those endeavouring for the least possible deviation from the literary original. These include, for example, a film adaptation of the literary work Starý včelár (The Old Beekeeper), which will be discussed later. The other point comprises interpretations that are free, with their creators choosing a number of motifs from the literary originals, which they later enrich with new motifs, diverting the film adaptation significantly from the literary work in many points. A typical example of a free relationship between a literary work and a film adaptation is Dušan Hanák’s film 322. The film is based on a novel by Ján Johanides Potápača priťahujú pramene mora (The Diver Attracted by Sea Springs). The screenwriter and director in one person distanced himself from the literary original mainly by enriching the character of chef Lauko with his past, not mentioned in the novella. The freedom applied though did no harm to the original novella, while it made room for creative use of showing the story via pictures. The visual side of the film is extraordinarily impressive.

            Miloslav Luther is one of the directors who has been involved in film adaptations of literary works almost since the beginning of his directing career. He has made many high-quality film adaptations of the greats of Slovak literature, and in order to understand the specifics of his approach to adaptations, we will choose three films from his filmography that highlight his distinctive touch as a film director.

Triptych on Love

The television film Triptych o láske (Triptych on Love) is an adaptation of three novellas by Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, whose work oscillates between realism and naturalism.[1] The screenplay about three parables of love was written by the prominent Slovak literary historian Ján Števček.

            The first film short story is called Lissote alebo východ slnka (Lissote or Sunrise) and was created as an adaptation of Jégé’s short story Pán biskup a východ slnca (The Bishop and the Sunrise). It was first published in 1928, in the magazine Živena, and after its publication, the Catholic bishop Karol Kmeťko protested against the alleged defilement of a high church dignitary. To understand the reason for his protest, let us recall the fabula that is identical both to the literary work and its film adaptation. The story is simple: the young girl Lissote from the mill brings to the bishop flour intended for the Pope. She fetches the flour as she is the only virgin far and wide, and in order that the flour can work miraculously, it must be brought by a faithful virgin, virgo fidelis. The old bishop is fascinated by the girl’s beauty, it can be said that she awakened in him a seemingly extinct feeling of love, which manifested itself in a change in the bishop’s lifestyle. At sunrise he gets up and perceives the hitherto unseen beauty of the landscape and longs for the virgin’s arrival. It all ends abruptly when Lissote tells him that she will not come to him again, because she is engaged and to be married.

The first motif developed by the film short story is a motif known, for example, from the paintings of the mannerist Bartholomeus Spranger, who worked at the Prague court of the Emperor Rudolf II, and used the figures of Greek and Roman mythology to create his motif. The motif shows an aging man in the company of a young woman whose vitality and youth are to reverse the inevitability of this aging. The second motif lies in his becoming aware of his sexual and gender identity. At some point in her life, Lissote comes to no longer see men as people, but rather as another sex attractive to her. She talks about a beautiful robber, who was allegedly hanged for nothing at the gate. She enthusiastically describes his eyes and defends his deeds, obviously proving that she was not indifferent to him. The awakening of the feeling of love in the body of a girl who, though, is now becoming a woman, should be understood as an inverse complement to the bishop’s false rebirth of youth. Lissote is quietly maturing and discovers something naturally related to biologically conditioned sexuality. In contrast to this, the bishop wants to revive what has irreversibly passed away. When Lissote informs him that she will no longer bring flour to the Pope, the bishop once more wakes up with back pain and other ailments characteristic of old age.

            The second film short story Annalena alebo poludnie (Annalena or Noon) is an adaptation of the novella Annalena (1927), which narrates the story of a young woman and her two suitors. The first is Bartolomeo Orlandi, a successful young man in the service of Florence. He becomes engaged to the beautiful Annalena, whom he saw naked before their engagement. Annalena was bathing in the lake he was passing by. She felt humiliated as she was standing defencelessly naked in the water, exposed to the eyes of an unwelcome witness, and never forgot it. But higher interests determined her engagement, and Bartolomeo introduced to his fiancée his friend Baldoccio, a soldier who had saved his life in battle. Baldoccio doesn’t like talking about this event because he views helping a friend as a natural thing. Annalene is impressed by Baldoccio’s modesty, she falls in love with him, Baldoccio reciprocates her love and they secretly keep meeting. People of Florence know of their meetings, as does also Cosimo Medici, who wishes to seize power over the city. Medici is also aware that Baldoccio is respected by soldiers, he is considered to be an honest and devoted soldier. He views him as an obstacle to his power ambitions. He does not want to face him directly and therefore for his power games decides to use Bartolomeo’s jealousy. He provokes him and Bartolomeo kills Baldoccio in a fit of jealousy just as he is leaving Annalena. In this way Medici got rid of both Baldoccio and Bartholomeo, as passion prevailed over reason in his actions. Medici has on mind a Machiavellian reason capable of rationally justifying any immoral act.

            The second story shows a mature passionate love, which prevails despite the adversity of fate. Love keeps the lovers in its bounds, makes them blind and deaf, stops them from behaving rationally, and thereby exposes them to danger, even death.

            The last film short story Lauretta alebo súmrak (Lauretta or Dusk) is an adaptation of the novella V čom je radosť života (What is the Joy of Life?) (1931). It depicts the story of the sinful love between Lauretta and Sicco Bonatti. Sicco was married, had children, and respected his wife, even loved her. However, he could not resist the seduction of the beautiful Lauretta. Her father and brother knew about their love affair, and because of it wanted to kill Sicco at all costs. Lauretta left for a family villa in San Stefan, where she continued to meet Sicco and indulge in their sinful love. She knew that Sicco would never leave his wife, so she decided to tie him to her. She gets infected with leprosy and also infects Sicco with this disease. By law, they must leave for a leprosy hospital where lepers are isolated together. They could not go out until after dark, and the ringing warned the healthy in time to avoid them. Sicco lost his wife and children, Lauretta lost her wealth and status, but she perceived the loss as a gain, since when they were freed from obligations, wealth and status, they had gained the pleasure to be together forever and make love. Sicco agrees, but he would rather live with all the losses and wins. Their love is followed by a threateningly approaching death, a reminder of the temporality of life.

            This triptych can be considered to be Luther’s most minimalist work. Each of the three film short stories has a few characters; the stories have almost no motionless characters. What is clearly to be appreciated is the fine-art side of the film, in particular in the second and third short stories. It is truly difficult to shoot Florentine interiors and exteriors in Czechoslovakia, with a minimum budget; nevertheless Luther succeeded magnificently. This was possible not only thanks to the choice of locations (the films were made, for example, at the castle in Telč in South Bohemia), the sensitive cameraman’s work by Dodo Šimončič, but also thanks to the admirable period costumes of the costume designer Milan Čorba. For example, in his short story What is the Joy of Life? Jégé makes reference to the Italian painters Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio or Sandro Botticelli, and it is clear that Čorba was inspired by the portraits of these Renaissance masters. The costumes, together with the masks, contribute to the creation of the illusion of the Renaissance world, better said they comply with the images the contemporaries have about the Renaissance, which are co-created with the aid of the world of Renaissance paintings.

The Old Beekeeper

After his Triptych on Love, in 1981 Luther began making a television film Old Beekeeper. Once more it is a free adaptation of the short story of the same title by Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, transformed into a screenplay by Anna Hollá and Jozef Beňovský.

            The Old Beekeeper gives us the story of a painful rotation of generations. The oldest generation is represented by an old beekeeper and his wife, the middle generation by their son and wife, the youngest by their grandson. The old beekeeper is a man of tradition. He honours it; in his understanding tradition is something sacred, something that gives order to the world. Just as God posed order upon nature, and which must be honoured and respected by a man, so the tradition embodied in habits and customs gives order to society. Perhaps it may be said more accurately that in the old beekeeper’s understanding, nature and society are governed by the same law, order, and this view is strongly backed up by his relationship with bees. For the beekeeper, bees are not just useful insects, they are a partner. In the spring, he carefully awakens them by rapping on their hives, sees whether the bee colony has survived, and moves the hive, in which no bee movement is heard, to a warm room. Patiently he waits and when the swarm finally wakes up, he prepares their first “meal” to sate them, make them stronger and able to fly out into nature to collect nectar for honey. The beekeeper understands their annual cycle, repeating on a regular basis, and respects it, because he deems it to be an organic component of himself. Just as the life of bees is determined by the alternation of seasons, so is the life of a farmer. A farmer must adjust to it, he must endure the vagaries of nature, rejoice at a good harvest or humbly, patiently endure crop failure. He knows that everything he has is due to his hard work.

            The beekeeper’s opposite is his son. It would be unfair to say that he avoids work; rather he is trying to make it easier and more efficient. The son believes that the harnessed oxen are cumbersome, slow and inefficient. That if working with a horse, the work can be done easier and faster. The son urges the father to sell the oxen and buy a horse. But the father doesn’t even want to hear about it. One day, against the father’s will, the son decides to act resolutely, and without his father’s consent he sells the oxen and buys a horse. When the father sees the horse in the stable, his whole world collapses. He does not see the exchange of a horse for oxen as a way of making work more efficient, but as a deep and irreversible schism in the sacred order. In the old beekeeper’s world, the son is to obey his father unconditionally, just as he obeyed his own father. As long as the father lives, he is the head of the family and the family must follow him without defiance. This is the law of the tradition and the tradition must not be freely opposed. At the moment when the son stands up in opposition to his father, the world loses its order and falls into chaos. The beekeeper recognises his defeat and leaves the family for the apiary. The family finds him in the apiary and takes the patient home. Physically, but especially mentally, broken, the beekeeper lies down in his bed and dies as a result of a cold. His death symbolically concludes one era and a new era begins, with no one knowing whether the next one will be better or worse than the previous. The son is convinced that it will be better, while his father saw in it the beginning of the end, at least the beginning of the end of his family.

            Interesting characters in the story are the beekeeper’s wife and grandson. The wife embodies the type of woman who, though understanding her son’s needs and comprehending the rational core of the proposal to exchange oxen for horses, she never opposes her husband. In her old world, the woman must always obey her husband and follow him in good and bad. In her understanding, the man is hierarchically superior to the woman, as is preached by the Scripture, and to go against it is impossible. Her role is to take care of the family and the household. Like her husband, she honours tradition, and which always takes precedence over personal interests or private desires. While the beekeeper’s relationship to traditions is depicted through an illustrative example of his relationship to bees, his wife’s relationship to tradition is suggestively shown on the scene of her husband’s death. When the man takes his last breath, she closes his eyes, crosses his arms across his chest, covers the mirror, and opens the window so that his soul can leave the room. It is a ritual, repeated from time immemorial every time someone dies. The ritual of death is presented realistically, we could even say so precisely that this film depiction could serve as a pictorial example of the posthumous ritual in an ethnology-themed lecture. Viewers could see, for the first time in the history of Slovak cinema, a realistically filmed funeral, capable of evoking an illusion seen as a fact, already in the film by Juraj Jakubisko Kristove roky (Christ’s Years) (1967); Luther’s scene does not fall short of the realistic depiction of the scene from the Jakubisko’s film.

            The character of the grandson acts as a mediator in this story. On the one hand, he is fascinated by the wise words of his grandfather, his knowledge of the life of bees, the organisation of their social life, their needs and how to treat them. These words had an effect of letting him in on a secret that will allow him to become part of the world of bees, to be their partner. On the other hand, he welcomes his father’s decision to swap oxen for horses, because the farmer in the next field has a horse and ploughing is much easier with a horse than when his grandfather and father plough with cumbersome, clumsy oxen. Last but not least, in his child’s eyes, a horse is a much more beautiful animal than an ox.

            As mentioned at the outset, the author of the original book was considered by literary historians to be a representative of realism and naturalism; Luther tried to translate the literary style of the original into his film adaptation, which is very close to realism. His version of the realistic illusion is made up not only of the composition and content of the individual moving images, that is, of what they represent, but also of the editing, rhythm and music. The editing does not draw attention to itself, it is featureless. It humbly serves the images by subtly combining them into a traditionally constructed story. The rhythm of the film supports a cyclical understanding of the time derived from the cyclical repetition of natural processes. In the spring, nature awakens, summer is a season of flowering, autumn is the time of harvest, and winter represents a temporary death, which ends in spring with a re-awakening of nature. Time repeats itself, so everything in the old beekeeper world’s is predictable until a moment which, according to the thinking of Yuri Lotman, can be viewed as the event of an explosion, because it breaks the cyclic nature and establishes linearity.[2] The replacement of oxen with a horse represents an intrusion into the established order, the horse bring on the innovation, not the new thing, but the new thing of a different kind, and the beekeeper is afraid of what this innovation might cause. He merely suspects that this explosion sent his old world irreversibly into the past, and perhaps it would have sent himself into eternal oblivion if the traces of him had not been preserved in his grandson’s memory. The rhythm of the film is significantly aided by the music of the Slovak composer Svetozár Štúr. An important source of his musical expression is folklore, and this is what enabled him to compose music that interestingly arranges moving images into a rhythm and also participates in the realistic sound of the film narrative as a whole. It seems that the cinematographer Dodo Šimončič tried to keep the realistic diction of the film as much as possible, and therefore avoided more fundamental innovations; his images ethnologically imitate the features of the departing old world and ever so more emphasise its gloomy atmosphere and conflict, quite inconspicuous to the viewer’s eye, though crucial in terms of the relationship between the old beekeeper and his son.

A Life without End

František Švantner’s novel Život bez konca (A Life without End) deserves an important place in the history of Slovak literature and it was only a matter of time before someone tried to adapt this novel into a film. Ján Števček was the first and so far the last to try, as he had at least two reasons to take this step. The first reason is supremely private, Švantner and Števček are connected through a village on the southern side of the Low Tatras. The village is Mýto pod Ďumbierom, where Švantner worked as a village teacher from 1933 to 1940. Ján Števček was born in the same village in 1929 and Švantner was his teacher. It can be assumed that the close relationship between the student and the teacher acted as an important impulse and perhaps this impulse made Števček to pay attention to literature, including the literary work of someone who was first his village teacher and later a famous Slovak writer.

The second reason is that Števček knew Švantner’s literary work in detail, as evidenced by his first monograph Baladická próza Františka Švantnera (František Švantner’s Ballad Prose) published in 1962; to this day, other historians and theorists of literature consider him one of the most in-depth experts in Švantner’s work. It is natural that his interest in Švantner’s work culminates in the transformation of the novel Život bez konca (A Life without End) into a film work. Števček, as a literary, historian was aware that any attempt to create a faithful adaptation of the novel A Life without End means an attempt doomed to failure, and therefore he decided to use only some of the novel’s motifs and did not even hesitate to make a few deviations, which will be mentioned in conclusion of this section. The five-part television series of the same name is framed by the first two sentences of the novel, voiced by an anonymous narrator at the beginning and end of the series: “What is life? – Hard to say!”[3]

These two short sentences are then supplemented by a paraphrase, which extracts from the other sentences of the third paragraph from the beginning of the novel one, according to the author of the screenplay, an essential idea: “It carries us and we don’t know where to. It has no end at all.” To know why the idea is important, we quote the first four paragraphs of the novel.

“What is life?

Hard to say!

All we know is that it is in us and we are in it. It resembles a river without beginning or end. It flows through space without rest as powerfully and unstoppably as it flew through paradise or Calvary, it has no basin, no measurements, it follows its own laws, creating on its way wonderful shapes, which not only fill the content of this world, but also give it the most essential meaning.

A man is only a speck in it, which suddenly emerges from the depths to the surface, perhaps caught up in a vortex, floating once in a more powerful, other times in a weaker current, ascending, diving, twisting through the curves and bends, jumping over rapids and again all of a sudden falling back into the dark depths.”[4]

Literary scholar Peter Zajac in his interpretation of a novel called Román tkaniva (Novel of Tissue) considers this paragraph to be the narrative framework of the work.[5] We are convinced that this quote can also serve as one of the interpretive keys of both the novel and the series. Likewise, we dare to note that most representatives of vitalism could agree with these four paragraphs without serious reservation. On the one hand, people live their lives, on the other hand, lives are more than just what is tied to each of individuals. People are born and die, life persists, which is why the model author compares the life inside the text of the novel to a river without beginnings and ends, while this river is governed by immanent laws. A man as an individual is a swimmer in a river. He wishes to cross the river from one bank to the other, but the current of the river or the eddies pull on him and carry him off in another direction. At one time he is swimming through paradise, at other times via Calvary, but no one knows the point toward which he is actually swimming, as the banks keep escaping him whenever the swimmer thinks he is within their reach.

The main character of the story is Paulínka and the novel depicts her life’s fates. To avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, we must say that the TV series only shows the torso of her life. Her story begins in the summer of 1913 and ends in the summer of 1920, so the story lasts only seven years. The setting of specific time data and the location of the story in the mountain landscape of central Slovakia can be understood as specific time and geographical indices, which in an inconspicuous, and for that ever more intense, way confirm for the viewer that what he sees should not be understood and evaluated as fiction, but should be considered to be the world itself.

Paulínka enters the scene of the story at the time of her adolescence, at the beginning of the story we see her in an innocent play with her childhood friend Tóno. It is obvious that Tóno likes Paulínka, it is obvious that he is platonically in love with her, but he knows that Paulínka and he come from different social classes and her parents would never agree to her marrying him.

Several men enter and exit Paulínka’s flow of life, each of them in such a way that at one time she is flowing through paradise, at another time she is swimming through Calvary. Truth be told, the journey through paradise always takes a very brief time and must be paid for with a long, painful journey through Calvary. Even before she personally experiences that strange twinkling between a woman and a man, her parents send her to the city to her godmother Elvíra to learn higher class mores. Elvíra used to be a prostitute and is saved from the whirlwind of life that pulls her to the bottom of society by the wealthy Colonel Fazekas. But Elvíra is not satisfied to live the life of an obedient wife, so she finds a lover who gives her physical pleasure. The lover is Pišta, ergo doorman, butler, coachman, in short a boy for everything. The colonel cannot come to terms with Elvíra’s adultery, and in rage he shoots her and immediately commits suicide.

After her death, Paulínka returns to her home village, where she meets the first man, the local post office clerk Ervín Tóth. He is persistently interested in her, courting her clumsily, which is most evident at the recruits’ ball dance. He is unable to take the opportunity, his behaviour embarrasses Paulínka and she is saved from the awkward situation by another suitor János Alpár. In Paulínka’s eyes, this man is a man with a secret. From the first moment, she is impressed by Alpár’s enchanting look, gallantry and the attention he pays to her. He seems like a gentleman to her. It can be said that it was love at first sight for her, though then she still refused to admit it. Alpár’s interest in Paulínka irritates Ervín so much that he gets drunk during the ball and the new cavalier takes care of her. After a beautiful night spent in total modesty, Alpár disappears from Paulínka’s life for a long time so that he can re-enter it later.

Another turning point in the story is the arrival of a new village teacher, Nándor Lang, an order-loving and strict man, but at the same time a measured and snobbish man. Besides this, “Hungarianness” prevents him from becoming more integrated into the community’s life. He remains a foreigner and Paulínka’s family becomes the only mediator between him and the villagers. After the outbreak of the World War I, he is enlisted, but at the last moment he manages to ask for Paulínka’s hand in marriage. For her parents he is a good choice; they quickly get married in front of the notary and Lang leaves with the army. The wedding night is postponed until later. The direct communication that was until then very economical is replaced by written letters. The jilted Ervín wants to take advantage of Lang’s departure. After multiple twists, he seduces her and gets her pregnant. By an unfortunate accident he dies, as does Lang on the front, who thus never learns of her infidelity and child.

Once the war is over, another man appears in Paulínka’s life. Soldiers of the Czechoslovak army arrive at the village to suppress the Hungarian rebellion. An attractive Czech officer with Slovak roots starts to court her. However, he also dies after he gets into a conflict with Alpár, who is captured in a group of Hungarian soldiers. After the army leaves, Alpár returns to the village and asks Paulínka for her hand in marriage. Her father does not give his consent; he considers Alpár an ordinary loafer, impostor and adventurer, but Paulínka’s wheelchair-bound mother Hermína consents to the marriage. Hermína wants her daughter to find the happiness her life has denied her. When Alpár learns about the illegitimate child at the wedding, his great ego is humiliated and this humiliation has far-reaching consequences for Paulínka. They move to the city, but her new life does not bring her good luck. After Alpár’s frauds and a conflict with the police, Paulínka, after years, once again accompanied by Tóno, her childhood friend and currently a war veteran returning from Russian captivity, gets back home to her mother, where she also finds her daughter Betka.

The flow of Pauline’s life has been changed by the flow of lives of four men, of whom only Tóno played honourably. Although Lang loved Paulínka, she could not form a relationship with him, although paradoxically they understood each other best when they were just writing. As if they were both able to entrust to the scriptures what they could not say directly to each other. Although Ervín loved Paulínka, he could not get her, and he abused her loneliness and sadness. He knew about her situation and yet he committed a shabby act. The most complicated man in Paulínka’s life is Alpár. He was a man without morals, his actions are governed by boundless egoism, he enjoys life to the fullest, he is not bothered by his past, and he refuses to deal with the future. The only thing that is important to him are the possibilities offered to him by the present. Paulínka knows that he viciously killed a Czech officer; Alpár, on the other hand, feels infinitely humiliated by learning about an illegitimate child at his wedding.

Three of the four men in Paulínka’s life are foreigners. All three come to the village, but remain a foreign element in it; the villagers do not accept them among themselves, and due to their social status or different language the villagers consider them to be a threat to their traditional order. Paulínka stands in contrast to them. Aside from a few happy moments, her life has been one of suffering. At first she is a witness to how sins of the past deform human lives in the present, and later she repeatedly experiences this cruel truth first-hand. She wants to defy the flow of life, but the current pulls her along and carries her away from the goal she originally wanted to achieve. Her life flows unpredictably and gradually the hope fades from the horizon that she could ever have life completely under control. Life is confronted with death, with death not only coming unexpectedly, but often occurring when it is least expected.

The novel expresses the presence of existential dimension from the beginning to the end of the plot, forming, according to Zajac, the inner framework of the novel;[6] the novel is characterised by “a constant tension between the infinite cosmic flow of life and the necessity of individual human death, a tension between a vitalistic framework with an existentialistic interior. This tension is inherent in the novel. However, it does not take the form of an insurmountable contradiction, but of mutual interferences, interconnections, penetrations, overlaps and fusions. The outcome is existential imagination [a concept by Jaroslav Papoušek; added by P.M./P.D.], amalgamating a full range of different modalities of relationships between the two frameworks.”[7]  The same applies unreservedly mutatis mutandis to the film adaptation, and thanks to the constant tension between the two frames, the film did not become a cheap story of love and unhappiness.

The filmmakers worked in an interesting way with the village/city contrast. Usually, the village environment is associated with nature, as even this Central Slovak village is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The city, in turn, is associated with civilisation and modernity, which, however, bring not only progress, but also suffering and the breakdown of morality. Series A Life without End shows a different image of the village. Its inhabitants revel in alcohol more than is tolerable, broken relationships in families come to the fore. At the beginning of the story, the city represents a dream paradise for Paulínka, she longs to move to there and live a pleasant life of a city lady. Even her father wants to leave the village, he wants to own a rental house that would earn him a living and he would enjoy a peaceful autumn of life. However, when they get to the city, their desires dissipate. Neither the village nor the city are ideal places to live, but probably there is no such place, people must come to terms with this fact and live their miserable lives to the end.

At the beginning of this section we mentioned that the author of the screenplay adheres to the basic diction of the novel, though in some places he deviates significantly from it. Many of the novel’s supporting characters do not appear in the film, and the choice of film locations is considerably narrowed and includes a much shorter duration of Paulínka’s life story. These are important deviations, including those that change the fabula. Among other things, the novella’s fabula is based on Alpár’s leaving for Budapest with Paulínka. Alpár later abandons Paulínka and returns together with her daughter to a town, where they were accidentally shot during a demonstration by factory workers. In the film, Alpár elopes with his mistress Ema to an unspecified metropolitan city in the west.

Despite these significant deviations, the TV series A Life without End is undoubtedly one of the best that were created in the framework of television production during the socialist normalisation period. The creators avoided unnecessary ideologization, ignored the principle of political partisanship or class identity, their characters are not dragged or guided by the objective laws of the development of society, but are people in the stream of life and life is in them. For this reason the main characters of the series can be deemed dynamic and plastic, of which there are not many in Slovak cinematography.


Our aim was to present three film adaptations of three literary works. The author of the first two literary works is Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, the author of the third work is František Švantner. Both authors rank among the classics of Slovak literature, which naturally places great demands on the creators of film adaptations. Despite all the pitfalls, they grasped the literary masterpiece in a way that, even years after the film adaptations, gives rise to well-deserved admiration and respect. One of the prerequisites for a successful film adaptation is an understanding, figuratively speaking, not only of the literal meaning of the text, but also of the spirit of the text. Understanding the meaning of the text is not enough, as slavish adherence to the original would subordinate the film narrative too much to the word and push the image to the sidelines. Understanding the spirit, i.e. the deeper meaning of the literary text, allows for freer work with the original to the benefit of pictorial representation of the plot, which is not to say anything else, but that the film adaptation must respect the literary model on the one hand, but on the other hand it must take into account the specifics of film as a medium. This study was created as part of the grant project Artwork: Mediality, Rules of Art and Interpretation (VEGA no. 1/0541/20).

[1] All three were published in the ensemble Ladislav Nádaši-Jégé, Writings III – Wieniawski’s legend. Bratislava: Tatran 1980.

[2] Yuri M. Lotman, Culture and Explosion. Brno: Host 2013, p. 19.

[3] František Švantner, A Life without End. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ 1963, p. 7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Peter Zajac, Novel of Tissue. František Švantner: A Life without End. In: Peter Zajac (ed.),Sondy. Interpretations of key works of Slovak 20th century literature. Bratislava: Kalligram 2007, pp. 286–313.

[6] Ibid., 289.

[7] Ibid. For the concept of “existential imagination” see Jaroslav Papoušek, Existentialists. Existential Phenomena in Czech Prose of the 20th Century. Prague: Torst 2004, p. 15.

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Lyricised prose and its forms in film adaptations

Zuzana Michalovičová

In this brief reflection, we focus on film adaptations of literary works, where the selection is focused on three emblematic works of naturism:Tri gaštanové kone (Three Chestnut Horses), Drak sa vracia (Dragon’s Return) and Nevesta hôľ  (The Bride of the Mountains), whose film transformations belong to the highly acclaimed films in the history of Slovak cinematography. Our approach is simple and respects the autonomy of both the literary originals and film adaptations, i.e. in the case of each of the three films interpreted, we will first describe the literary work and then the interpretation of the film adaptation.

Three Chestnut Horses


The novella Three Chestnut Horses (1940) by Margita Figuli is characterised with its lyrical expression and ambiguity of meanings. The author made the village theme as something special under the influence of the artistic-literary naturist concept. Figuli uses the play of hidden meanings to intensify the charm of her storytelling. The fairytale tendency is fortified by the stylization of the narrative, especially statements of the protagonist, which he gives in an extensive, lyrically tuned sentences, with urgently repetitive words, offering a thumbnail sketch in the biblical style. The text is interwoven with allusions to the Bible, such as a paraphrase of The Hymn to Love ofthe Apostle Paul (1 COR. XIII.): “But I am not afraid of it, because my love is patient, my love is sacrificial, my love bears all things, believes all things and hopes all things.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 272) It includes folklore-magical symbols, the fairytale motif of the Good versus Evil conflict, bringing to the fore the biblical and numerical symbolism of the number 3 (number three representing the Holy Trinity, three chestnut horses as a sign of return, development of the syuzhet in a three-tier gradation). The symbolism of horses holds an important place in the lyrical stylisation. Horses appear in the first chapter as a symbol of strength and courage; in the second as a symbol of nobility; and in the third they are a symbol of loving life.

The author of the novella begins with an opening segment, from which the first sentence reads: “I do not desire the vanities of the world from the Lord, for riches, gains, and fame, with a momentary joy, ignite the heart of man, and I want my heart to be ignited with eternal joy.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 255) This text segment from Three Chestnut Horses, “pinpointed before the epic structure of the work as if its motto, surely was not a mere self-serving, ‘lyricizing’ linguistic-style element, but had primarily a function of an indicator of the basic semantic gesture with which the author approached the creation of her new, ‘aesthetic object’; at the same time it clearly pointed out the specific value context of the spiritual tradition in which Margita Figuli consciously placed this aesthetic object: the code of ethics of Christian religiosity and its source in the Bible.” (Šmatlák, 2007, p. 414) The work’s syuzhet is locked in the ideological framework of Christian worldview. “A fairy-tale novella – the récit Three Chestnut Horses returns to the harmonious postulates of truth, goodness and beauty, differentiated by an asymmetric element of personal tragedy that redeems the desired happiness.” (Čepan, 1984, p. 728) The work deals with a mythically serious and fateful test. The heroine’s name, Magdalena, already indicates her fate and allusion to the biblical figure. A fate that came to its true conclusion in the story. “Everything in this extensive novella, starting with the characterisation of the hero and ending with the naming, especially the comparisons, is marked by a tendency to hint – a stylistic element, adequately corresponding to the hero’s (and heroine’s) ability to respond internally according to moral principles.” (Števček, 1973, p. 158)

The narrator merges with the literary protagonist represented by Peter. Peter’s character is unconventional. He rebels against the customs of the village community, because he is not a farmer, but a “vagrant”, as the villagers call him. Figuli used a strong lyricisation procedure, namely a subjective statement that sounds like a confession and is characteristic of lyrical genres. The prose is monologised, linking all the motifs with the main character – the narrator.

Peter thinks of the girl Magdalena, whom he loves from an early age and wants to marry. The conflict of ideal and carnal love takes place on symbolic, fairytale planes. We can outline the novella’s syuzhet as follows. Peter is startled by a shot and deafening noise of hooves of the seven frightened horses galloping towards him. When the horses are crossing a stream, one slips and falls to the ground with its rider. Peter does not hesitate and runs to help. He recognises the rider who has fallen from a horse. He is Magdalena’s cousin Jožko Greguš. He tells Peter that Jano Zapotočný is going to Magdalena’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage; Peter doesn’t give away anything. “The bride theme is developed from a childishly ideal love in ‘Turec’, which becomes a mythical analogue of the ‘golden age’ and the ‘promised land’, through to the touch of erotic love in ‘Orava’, which in turn represents the outside world – reality. The intervention of reality manifested itself in the invasion of value criteria, favouring property and ownership.” (Šútovec, 2005, p. 59) Jožko guesses why Peter is returning to his hometown and tries to dissuade him from his intentions. When they finally arrive in the village where Magdalena lives, they immediately go to the Maliarik inn.

In contrast to Peter, the antagonist Jano Zápotočný is a rich man without a code of ethics who wants to win Magdalena into his possession in a violent and possessive manner. Magdalena and Peter are supposed to meet in the evening, but when Peter is waiting for her, he suddenly hears a scream from the stable and quickly runs there to see what is happening. He finds Magdalene lying under a horse, frees her, takes her home and revives her with wine, which in the biblical tradition represents the symbol of Christ’s blood. Angry Jano drives him from the house, takes a chance and asks Magdalena to marry him. During Midsummer’s night, Peter and Magdalene manage to sneak away. They agree that Peter will build a house and come to Magdalena with three chestnut horses. Magdalena promises to wait for him. Against the background of folklore tradition, known from folklore ceremonial poetry and customs, Midsummer’s night is a night of anticipation and decision-making about the future. However, Jano eavesdrops on their conversation from behind bushes and attacks Peter. Peter escapes him and returns to Turec to fulfil his promise. When he returns to Magdalena after more than a year, he learns the unfortunate news: “I have met now several people on this pilgrimage to my Magdalena, and all talked of pain, as if they conspired against me.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 333) The same time Magdalena and Peter made their promise, Jano raped her and she had to marry him. After returning to the village, Peter spots Magdalena in the field helping with ploughing. Jano is hitting the horse, even though he sees that the horse is tired and jeopardises Magdalena. Peter runs to them, knocks Jano over and carries Magdalena to the stream. Jano recovers consciousness and tries to kill Peter. Magdalena gets seriously ill, but Peter is not allowed to visit her at any cost. He stays in the village and hears Jano’s sister’s cry that her brother has gone crazy. He is branding one horse with the word “vagrant” on his hip, a gesture of hatred he feels against his rival Peter. Peter does not hesitate, breaks the window and gets to the yard, where he sees as Jano is getting ready to burn the horse’s eye. The horse goes blind and tears itself free from Magdalena’s hands, jumps on Jano who dies under the hooves of the maltreated horse. Eventually, nature turns out to be stronger than the tormentor. “God’s hand” serves love and punishes the antagonist. Three days later, Jano is buried.

At the end of the novella, Peter and Magdalena get married and leave together for Turec with three chestnut horses. “By going to ‘Turec’, the syuzhet of Three Chestnut Horses is culminated and exhausted in terms of its motif – though is not completed ideologically. The mentioned ceremonial act, which at the beginning of the work separated the profane past from the ‘sacred’ present, repeats itself in a minor scale in conclusion of the novella: the protagonist again asks for God’s help in the rest of his life, and the main thing he wants is to preserve status quo ante.” (Šútovec, 2005, p. 60) Let us recall Peter’s words at the end of the novella: “And I don’t wish for anything else, but that things stay between us unchanged forever. Let that what united us remain intact and sacred.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 60) These words are a parallel to the words at the beginning of the novella, where the requirement of “eternal joy” was formulated for the first time.


The film by Ivan Balaďa, Three Chestnut Horses, from 1966 is a dramatisation of the novella of the same name by Margita Figuli; the film develops the love drama against the social background, using a limited space. Jelena Paštéková (2016, p. 306), in History of Slovak Cinematography 1896 – 1969, writes that before Balaďa, Vladimír Bahna wanted to adapt this material into a film: “The Christian universalistic gesture of Margita Figuli in Three Chestnut Horses had not beenrehabilitated enough for this work to become a topic for a film that Vladimír Bahna intended to make. Even his second screenwriting attempt (the first one dates to 1954) was not met with understanding.”

Right at the start of our analysis of Balaďa’s film we must note that the narrative of the adaptation is not completely identical to its literary original. The major difference in the film is the absence of the narrator. This robs the film adaptation of subjectivity that is characteristic of the original due to the first-person narration of the protagonist.

The opening sequence of the film consists of several shots of trees in a dark forest. In the film, Balaďa deliberately uses poetic elements to complete the lyrical atmosphere and aestheticise the shots, as exemplified by the motifs of nature and the forest immersed in fog in the film’s opening scenes. It is accompanied by dramatic music by Ivan Parík with its variations appearing throughout the film. After the opening titles, we see Peter (Michal Dočolomanský) walking through the forest and meeting Jano (Juraj Kukura). The viewer perceives the established conflict between two diametrically different characters from the very first moment; we will analyse the differences in these two characters in more detail later. At this point there is a noticeable difference compared to the literary original, in which the opening features the character of Magdalena’s (Marta Terenová) cousin Jožko Greguš. Greguš does not appear in any of the scenes in the film. The same is true of Zápotočný’s mistress Eva. Their affair described in the first part of the novella is not captured in the film at all. The third character ommitted in Balaďa’s film is Jano’s sister. We can give an example from the end of the film, when Jano is raging and branding his horse with a fiery hot poke letters of the word “vagrant”. It is not Zápotočný’s sister calling for help, as is the case in the novella, but Magdalena’s mother (Hana Kováčiková).

After a brief digression concerning the omission of supporting characters, let us move on to the analysis of the main characters of the film. The affinity of Peter and Magdalena is expressed by their character traits, piety and moral values. Love as the dominant theme of the whole story is the driving force, thanks to which the heroes can overcome the most challenging obstacles. Peter is an active actor in achieving a common goal, while Magdalena’s activity is narrowed down to waiting and delaying the wedding with Jano. Her passivity can be perceived as a consequence of social norms determined by the stereotypes of the Slovak village. Balaďa placed emphasis on depicting the love of two young people with the aid of the most lyrical scenes in the entire film. These are scenes stylised in the form of memories: Peter and Magdalena in the field, Peter carrying Magdalena in his arms in the meadow, their running together among geese, or Magdalena bringing Peter water. These should be Peter’s childhood memories of his time spent with Magdalena. However, the memories are constructed in the film in the form of actions of adults, so we can rather call them to be Peter’s visions, giving the viewer the impression of memories.

The opposing contrast of Peter and Jano plays an important role in the film. On the one hand, there is their opposing physical appearance, on the other hand, there is the manner in which each of them expresses their affection for Magdalena. Jano uses his power, demonstrating it with his property, behaving violently and possessively, while Peter wins Magdalena’s love with tenderness and in accordance with her will. In the film, Balaďa pinpoints Maliarička’s negative attitude towards Peter. Maliarička presses upon Peter not to court Magdalena, arguing that he “has nothing to give her”. In contrast to the book, Maliarička’s motivation to get her daughter married to Jano is even more pronounced in the film, i.e. the motif of property. The screenwriter Miloslav Kubík puts words into Magdalena’s mother’s mouth, in which she encourages Peter to convince Magdalena that marrying Jano is the best option for her. Allegedly, Zápotočný would reward Peter well for this. The main character replies with these words: “I don’t sell my conscience and I don’t betray people!”

A significant theme of the film’s story is the clash between the “vagrant” and the village community. Evidence is displayed in the sequences when Peter is walking through the village. The village people watch him in unison with distrust, expressing their contempt with grimaces. People avoid him and close the windows on their houses as if to let him know that he is an undesirable guest in their community.

The imaginary second part of the film’s story takes place after the Midsummer Fire Festival, where Jano rapes Magdalena, and which begins with Peter’s return with three chestnut horses. The sequence of Peter’s return occurs after a longer period of time of the fabula, which is not represented in the film, unlike the literary original. Subsequent events are depicted in a way that respects the novella’s syuzhet. 

At the end of the comparison of both works, there is the last significant difference, namely that the film adaptation omits explicit and numerous references to the Bible, which play a key role in the novella. Also absent are Peter’s prayers to God framing the whole story. The film version integrated at least one important biblical analogy, Magdalena’s likening of Peter to the Apostle Peter, who denies Christ, in the forest during the Midsummer celebration. With regard to the references to Christian faith, on the visual plane, the film offers the images of a cross, a picture or a statue of Christ. Peter walks through the village and reveals Christian symbols correlating with his life story. The loss of his parents at an early age and the fear that Magdalena would marry Jano are all trials of a man carrying his cross. The heavy burden of carrying a cross is placed mainly on the suffering Magdalena, who, in her marriage to Jano, must bear cruel torments. She herself is aware of this merciless judgement. The statement is supported by the words from the novella, when after Peter’s  return with three chestnut horses, the main characters find themselves on the hill where the Zápotočnýs are ploughing a field. For the second time in the novella, Peter saves the helpless Magdalena from under the hooves of a horse. In the novella, they hold the following dialogue:

 “– He doesn’t deserve this. Just a moment ago I watched him torture you.

– Christ, too, was tortured by people, and did not cease to love mankind.

– But you’re not Christ, Magdalena, – I tried to bring her to her senses.

– I just follow him, Peter.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 337)

Magdalena’s martyrdom is not explicitly contained in the film in this way. Allusions to the Bible oscillate to a lesser extent in the film, essential analogies with the New Testament comparisons and Peter’s predestination as saviour are omitted. The suffering of the innocent, that of Magdalena and Peter, nevertheless has its meaning. Balaďa’s film Three Chestnut Horses expresses the physical and mental suffering more through events, action, and at the same time through the ascetic form of the film style.

Dragon’s Return


Chrobák classifies his long short story Dragon’s Return (1943) as a fairytale story and takes its introductory motto from the work Lord Jim by English novelist Joseph Conrad: “The search for lost honour, love and trust of people is a suitable substance for a heroic fairy tale.” (Conrad, 1900, quoted according to Chrobák, 2011, p. 139) Motto – a quote from Conrad’s novel is not accidental, because “the fate of extraordinary people who through their heroic deeds try to regain the lost trust of the collective, attracted Chrobák from his youth.” (Beňadik, 1988, p. 242). The predominant motif is the return, which deepens the atmosphere of tension and expectations. The fairy-tale syuzhet is a suitable narrative pattern of the path to reaching the goal by overcoming many obstacles. “The undoubtedly original creative performance of the prose author of Dragon’s Return can then be seen so that he succeeded, through the synthesis of two differently articulated forms of the ‘life truth’ of epic narrative (folklore and realistic), to implicitly, exclusively using  the means of artistic stylisation, but still in a manner comprehensible for the contemporary reader, also express his own life ‘truth’, as well as to achieve a new structural form of the artistic ‘truth’ of a prose work.” (Šmatlák, 2007, p. 408)

Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, nicknamed Dragon, is a symbol of the self-sacrificing Promethean effort to serve and help people, but he is also a man who did not belong to anyone. “He was always alone. Alone against all, … including his own self.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 146) The surname Madluš has its own prehistory in Chrobák’s work. The character named Madluš appears for the first time in the novella Kamarát Jašek (Friend Jašek), later on in the short story (Chlapská reč) Boy’s Speech, which is a model of several episodes in the work Dragon’s Return, and which shows us the character of Ondrej Madluš, and finally the character of Madluš is engaged in a short story Červený jarok (Red Stream). Šútovec (1982, p. 105) points out that “all the ‘Madlušes’ who preceded the character of Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, the so-called Dragon, in Chrobák’s work are more or less cut from the same cloth and have one trait in common: they are strangers in an epically relevant space.” Chrobák created the protagonist Martin Lepiš – Dragon in an original way. Behind the explanation of Martin’s nickname there is the symbolism with which the word dragon is associated. “A dragon in fairy tales comes from the outside, as if from another world. In such cases, the environment is described as unknown, unclear, dark, lying not only beyond the hero’s horizon, but also outside the circle of our world.” (Propp, 2008, p. 266)

The novella puts into forefront the conflict between the individual – the loner and the collective mass, represented by the inhabitants of the village. “The seclusion of Martin Lepiš Madlušovie away from the collective WE could only be carried out by selecting the optimal variant from the Chrobák’s literary invariant, which can be described as ‘Madluš’, and further by establishing the opposites that specify further the particular variant in its meaning. For this case, the specific semantics of the personal pronoun HE is built up by layering other semantic levels on the character thus determined. One of these levels is specifically mythical and is expressed by the predicative ‘Dragon’ and relevant attributes; the other level may be said to be socially defined and is expressed through the nature of the work carried out by the character.” (Šútovec, 1982, p. 109) Dragon from Chrobák’s novella is a negative character in people’s minds. He is mysterious, of an unknown origin, with a different appearance, clothes and an enchanting look. The villagers superstitiously reason that the drought and crop failure happened because of the presence of this man, who lives alone in a house on a hill, isolated from the rest of the village inhabitants, who digs clay from under Hell and makes a living from pottery. “Twice they wanted to set Dragon’s house on fire, and twice they would have succeeded if Dragon hadn’t procured a dog that gave him a warning. Then they poisoned his dog. And here was when he turned into a true dragon. … No one called him otherwise, and everyone believed that his presence in the village could only mean misfortune.” (Chrobák, 2011, pp. 147 – 148) Villagers even attribute magical abilities to him: “A bandit, he deceived us, by magic he turned flour into clay!” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 149) The nickname, not chosen by Martin himself, the name of the place where he got the clay, or even the dark colour of his clothes worn by Dragon, in all this the village recognizes something dark, even demonic, and is convinced that it has identified the cause of the evil that is happening in Leštiny.

The story takes place in an unidentified historical time in the rural and mountainous environment of the Liptov region, within reach of the Polish-Slovak border. “The Tatras countryside is enjoyed in this fairy tale in all its monumental beauty and force. Valleys, tarns, peaks, saddles and ridges have their exact names. … And there is a strong psychological moment in it: Chrobák’s protagonists are able to communicate with ease as they know every sport and eventually win their tough match.” (Bob, 1964, p. 101)

No one in the village knows where Dragon came from. As a small child, he was found by old Lepiš Madlušovie on his way from the fair and took him in. He raised him in a house without children, where he trained him bit by bit in pottery. One day old Lepiš died under mysterious circumstances. At that time, the young Martin Lepiš lived in an old pottery hut outside the village. The most beautiful girl from the village, Eva,  fell in love with him, they became closer from a human and intimate side. Dragon is unable to merge with the life of the villagers. They gradually start to hate him and attribute to him all the bad things that happen in the village. They are convinced that Dragon has magical powers and is the cause of all natural disasters in the village. His mystery, self-sufficiency, strength and loneliness provokes them. Their hatred goes so far that they decide to get rid of him. Eventually, Dragon does truly disappear one day. Eva gives birth to a child fathered by Martin. She is waiting for him to return for years, until she finally marries the jealous Šimon Jarjabek. The misfortunes in the village continue to occur also after Dragon’s return: “It is also conspicuous to everyone and all think so that it should be the second dry year in their memory. The first one ended with Dragon’s departure from the village. The second begins with his return.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 166) Fires are lit in the mountains and villagers are in danger of losing cattle driven to graze in the mountains. No one in the village wants to risk their life and go save the cattle. At that moment, Dragon returns: “He, Dragon, is standing over there, on the doorstep. With one eye he looks at everyone at the same time and at each one separately. His other eye is covered with a black ribbon tied over his ears.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 155) He stands in the doorway of the inn and offers the villagers to save their cattle and bring it from the mountains to the village. They agree that if he does not bring the cattle back to Leštiny within a week, his cottage will be burnt down.

Since Dragon is not “their man” and they cannot trust him, they send Šimon along with him. According to Josef Bob (1964, p. 97): “from an ideological and artistic-compositional point of view, the descriptions of Dragon’s and Šimon’s ascent to the mountains acquire crucial significance.” This is an important part of the novella, when Šimon gets to know Dragon and gradually loses his prejudice toward him. Bob (1964, p. 99) points out “the psychology of action, sensitive reaction, and mutual rapprochement of two opposing characters. … this is a very unusual and special procedure. One of the characters is always in “advantage” (usually Šimon), he can attack unexpectedly and get rid of his opponent. But crossing the Tatras peaks and valleys requires mutual cooperation. There are moments when the characters are grateful to one another for saving their life.” At the end of their successful rescue of the herd, Šimon misinterprets Dragon’s encounter with the Poles and thinks that he wants to sell the cattle to them. He rushes to the village, calls Dragon a traitor and sets fire to his cottage. Dragon fights to the last. He manages to return to the village and bring the herd with him in an honest way. After the arrival to the village with his Polish bride Zoška, he continues to long for acceptance in the village community. Dragon’s return turns into a triumph, when the mayor addresses him by his real name as Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, and thus restores his human identity. Relationships between the main characters regain harmony; Eva forgets about Dragon and begins to respect Šimon. Mutual wrongs are forgiven.

In the epilogue, we learn that the old woman narrating the story to a child is Eva, reminiscing about her youth. The novella ends with these words: “Then? Then nothing. They loved each other and lived happily ever after… Sleep, my son.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 224) “Chrobák’s fairy tale uses the genre framework of modern récit. It is a form that evokes a past event through a retrospective view of a monologue-fairy-tale type of narration, while dealing mostly with predetermined attitudes of the participants of events. Syuzhet-compositional structure of the récit Dragon’s Return uses the ‘positive’ direction of the curve to return to the conflict’s starting points. It aims for reality, demystification of destiny, the vision of a socially full life.” (Čepan, 1984, p. 723)


The efforts to adapt the literary piece into a film form dates back to the late 1940s, when the Hungarian film theorist and screenwriter Béla Balázs tried to make the film with his own screenplay. He wrote a synopsis of a screenplay for the film in collaboration with writer Dobroslav Chrobák. The director of the film was to be Ján Jamnický. Eduard Grečner in his study Long-Term Obstacles and Problems with Screenplay Preparation and Filming of Dragon’s Return explains the reasons why the film did not get shot by this creative group. “A completely different cultural orientation of communist ideological domination branded this project as unsuitable for the building-era theme, which was imposed forcefully upon the culture via the new ideology, and the ballad story of the search for lost honour – as Chrobák himself defined it – simply did not fit in.” (Grečner, 2009, p. 78) Violent changes were proposed, when “Dragon, during his absence from the village somewhere in the world, were to be ‘made different’ in a working environment and return to the village now as a conscious individual, whose factory team rid him of his closed individualism.” (Grečner , 2009, pp. 78 – 79) Balázs and Jamnický ultimately rejected these changes and the film was never made according to Balázs’ script.

Chrobák’s novella was not filmed until 1967, with Eduard Grečner as its screenwriter and director in one. The main theme of the film is the revolt of an exceptional individualist against an anonymous crowd who unjustifiably condemns him. The film adaptation lacks the category of narrator that would explicitly express the ideas and internal mood of the characters, so they must be deduced from the action, but also from the fact that Grečner focused on the psychology of the three main characters: Dragon – Martin Lepiš (Radovan Lukavský), Šimon (Gustáv Valach) and Eva (Emília Vášáryová). In building the psychology of his characters, Grečner though does not rely on words; Eva does not utter a single word in the film. The dialogues are placed on a minimalist scale; this part of the soundtrack seems to have been deliberately suppressed by the director. The film contains relatively few words, their place is taken up by image and music. The music was composed especially for the film by the composer Ilja Zeljenka. Music is not only used to illustrate the current film image, but it highlights important moments and adds new meanings to the film. There is, for instance, a pagan pounding of drums, but also creative work involving whispering and distorted echoes of the voices of villagers used as a commentary on Dragon’s return to Leštiny at the beginning of the film.

Grečner’s innovation is considered to be his depiction of the protagonist who is placed into the role of a misunderstood artist. He is not a potter – a craftsman as in the novella, but an artist who creates anthropomorphic vessels made of clay with an original author’s touch. The villagers look at them incomprehensibly as the embodiment of Dragon’s ‘demonic nature’. The destruction of the vessels by the villagers symbolises their desire to destroy Dragon himself, who is hated by the entire village and especially Šimon. Grečner, using the language of film and poetic codes, managed to express the insurmountable barrier between the mysterious Dragon and the villagers. An example is the sequence in which an outcast walks through the village and is being observed. Instead of a direct confrontation with the villagers, it is rather the closing windows of the dwellings that metonymically represent the villagers, thus creating an atmosphere of mystery and tension. An instance of the use of the synecdoche is the scene where Šimon breaks a clay vessel created by Dragon because Eva refuses to kiss him, as her heart still belongs to Dragon. The vessel represents Dragon as such. In Šimon’s case, the hatred he feels towards Dragon is justified by jealousy of Eva’s feelings for Dragon. The reasons for the villagers’ extreme hostility lie in the suspicion that he is a mysterious force that causes dry weather and fire. They even try to alleviate their fear of Dragon in a pagan ritual. Compared to the film, the novella makes the theme of a greater number of reasons why the village decided to put Čierny Macek alias Dragon in the role of an outcast. For example, the film omits the motif of a fabricated version about Dragon’s alleged murder of old Lepiš Madlušovie.

Grečner’s adaptation leaves out certain moments, the film contains no mention of Martin’s origin or that he fathered a child with Eva. The film also deviates from the exact sequence that can be followed in the novella’s plot, while using retrospective features that make the plot more interesting to deliberately narrate certain events. These complicate the narration and at the same time serve to lyricise the syuzhet. The viewer can distinguish whether they see present or an event from the past, based on whether Dragon has a black tape over his injured eye. The tape serves as an indicator of the plot taking place in the present. The first two retrospectives capture Eva’s memories: a kiss with Dragon, a memory of her wedding to Šimon, another kiss with Dragon and her visit to Dragon’s house. The initiator of another retrospective is Dragon. The moment he offers his help with the herd at the committee, the viewer is moved into the past through Dragon’s memories. Only here do we learn about the causes of Dragon’s exile. We see him wounded in the head, his house set on fire and Dragon’s act of revenge and his exile from the village. In the film, these events are additionally rendered, using flashback. The last retrospective takes place in Šimon’s mind and expresses the contradictory relationship between the married couple of Eva and Šimon. He remembers Eva at their wedding, not wanting to take an apple from him, which symbolises her rejection of love. He then imagines her smiling and happy in his arms, which we interpret as Šimon’s wish. But the desire fades away when Eva rejects his kiss and runs away. Thus, the last retrospective connected with the indication of the desire for marital happiness vanishes.

The biggest difference between the literary work and its film adaptation lies in the conclusion of the works. In the film, Dragon indicates when talking to Zoška that he is aware that he will not be accepted in the village after saving the herd. Still, he tries. He comes to the village on horseback alone, unlike in the novella, where he arrives with Zoška, just to bring Šimon the oakum he forgot in Tomanová. Instead of the original ending used in the literary original, Grečner decided to prefer another concept, when the outsider Dragon leaves Leštiny for good and paradoxically does not return. An idea conceived in this way is in conflict with Chrobák’s idea.

In conclusion, we add that Grečner’s interpretation cancels out the author’s intention concerning Dragon’s return among the village’s inhabitants and sounds more tragic compared to the conclusion in the novella. Chrobák’s epilogue missing, bringing the literary work closer to the fairy tale in terms of genre. Due to these changes, the film adaptation can be perceived as a drama with ballad elements. According to Václav Macek (2016, p. 462), the “film Dragon’s Return in Grečner’s interpretation” is “a symbol of timeless loneliness, in which ‘hell are the others’.” The director made full use of the potential of the film medium. He created a work of demanding poetics, a mysterious and gloomy atmosphere, a specific visual stylization and a high artistic culture, in which the cinematographer Vincent Rosinec and the artist Milan Laluha also put in their significant artistic contribution.

The Bride of the Mountains


The Bride of the Mountains (1946) by František Švantner is a masterpiece of Slovak naturism. This view is held by a number of literary scholars. Šmatlák (2007, p. 454) speaks of Švantner’s work as follows: “In this novel, which emerged in the last years of World War II and is in a sense considered an extreme culmination of naturism as a literary-aesthetic concept, artistically articulated irrationalism becomes a constructive principle of semantic and syuzhet construction of a literary text.” A similar view is also held by Šútovec (1982, p. 149), who evaluates the work as one of the “most versatile and most commented Slovak prose works.” Concurrently he adds, based on the statement of Ján Števček, that The Bride of the Mountains “still evokes concern about the mystery contained therein and which has in fact remained unresolved to this day.” (Števček, quoted according to Šútovec, 1982, p. 149) Čepan, in his work Kontúry naturizmu (The Contours of Naturism), published in 1977, ranks the novel in the literary system of Slovak naturism as its final definitive work. History of Slovak Literature 5 evaluates this novel in the following words: “In the parabolic mirror of the imaginary, essentially expressionist exaggeration and deformation of the contours of reality, the author uses the constructive principles of naturism (anthropomorphism, mythicism and lyricism) in their most optimal constellation and in ideologically and aesthetically most authentic form.” (Čepan, 1984, page 739) An interesting fact is that Švantner originally wanted to name this work Werewolf, Tavo, White Weasel, or Cursed Youth. “The names changed along with the development of the author’s creative intent from idyll to drama and the related changes in genre starting points from a simple fairy tale celebrating the world of nature placed in contrast to the human world, to a mythical, intricately instrumented ballad about man in nature, nature in man and man in dispute with himself.” (Šútovec, 2005, pp. 227 – 228)

In The Bride of the Mountains “the syuzhet loses its plot and objective character, it essentially turns to only serve as a means of expressing the author’s subjective attitude towards the world. It is natural that this makes it even more fantastical, even more fairy-tale in nature.” (Števček, 1962, p. 101) The novelhas a fairy-tale-ballad character, giving us the realm of fantasy as well as tragic events. As indicated above, it can be considered a prototype work of naturism. According to Šútovec (1982, p. 227), “at the plane of the theme (the ideological-thematic plane), an important role is played by the ‘mythical paradigm’, the content of which is authentic archaic mythological material (mythologems, paganisms), as well as the Christianised mythological material (Christian cosmogony, Bible) and profanised mythological material (folklore). The common feature of these three sources is archaicness (archetypes) and fantasy.” In his work Novels and Myths, Šútovec (1982, p. 252) adds that for Švantner “myth is not just a thematic issue, but literally an organising energy”.

The theme of man, animals and nature is strongly manifested in Švantner’s work. Animals play an important role in the story, especially the horse Eguš, who represents not only a servant but also a faithful friend for the main character. The story takes place in a natural environment, in a village, in forests and mountain peaks unsullied by man, which create a mysterious atmosphere and change according to the plot’s dynamics in order that the author can capture the feelings of his protagonists. The work contains characters for whom it is difficult to determine whether they are really human due to their supernatural abilities. Zuna is mysterious, obscure, ever changing, sometimes to an animal. She is a child of nature, can perfectly imitate nature and its sounds. She understands mountains, trees, flowers and animals. Another similarly strange character is the figure of an ugly, neglected coal miner Tavo living alone in the mountains; the darkest mythical character is the werewolf – a creature that looks human, but does not belong to the human species; the whole village is afraid of him. Švantner emphasised the otherness of the characters and names, Zuna and Tavo are not typical Slovak names and the author used them to intensify their unique characteristics, unknown origin or unspecified age.

“Syuzhet of The Bride of the Mountains copies the almost regular oscillation of the hero’s consciousness between reality and fantasy.” (Kuzmíková, 2000, p. 104) The subjective narrator and the main character in one is the gamekeeper Libor. The mental struggles of the protagonist, as well as that of all the characters involved, are the basis of the whole text. There is little direct speech. Švantner prefers more poetic descriptions. The unrestrained text constantly shows man’s connection with nature. It reveals the human essence, to what degree man lives with nature in symbiosis. The reader remains uncertain about what is a dream, a vision or reality: “…that is why I had the impression that I was carried away by a fragrant cloud or a soft carpet into a magic castle, as, strangely, the surroundings, too, were transforming into an unreal, enchanted landscape.” (Švantner, 2007, p. 147)

Libor returns to his native village to take up the post of gamekeeper. He meets his old childhood love Zuna, who represents nature, vigour and the world outside reality. Libor longs for her, but she only causes him suffering. Libor “realises that the main obstacle to winning over Zuna is the force of sheer spaces, dizzying heights, the force of the loneliness of the mountain peaks, which is embodied in a predatory wolf to protect the hills from the intrusive man. He assumes that when he kills the wolf, he destroys the evil and liberates the enchanted country and Zuna.” (Kuzmíková, 2000, p. 79) Zuna changes her behaviour with every moment, constantly giving preference to someone else because there are many men around her. One of them is the coal miner Tavo, a wild man who has been claiming Zuna since her birth. At the same time, the mountains are haunted by the Unknown/He/Vagrant, a kind of mythical character who appears in various forms. Each of the male characters striving for Zuna’s hand in marriage views her differently. Tavo sees her as an innocent lily promised to him by her mother in the past. The innkeeper Weinhold perceives her as a frivolous lass and wants to potentionally marry her for greedy reasons. The gamekeeper wants to keep seeing in her a girl from his memories, the girl who promised him fidelity and her hand in marriage.

It is clear from the development of the syuzhet that Libor does not want to give up Zuna. But at the same time, he is not planning any specific pragmatic steps to make his desire come true. His desire has not turned into a goal, his actions are not led by Libor; his own desires and emotions stirred inside him are controlling him: “How should I understand that? What could suddenly stand against me when I gave no one any cause for anger. So far, I have lived in friendship with everything: with heaven and earth, with hills and valleys, with nights and days, with flowers, with trees, with animals and with people, yes, with everything that came to me to live with and deal with, so who has so suddenly become my enemy?” (Švantner, 2007, p. 222) Zuna escapes the young gamekeeper. The gamekeeper struggles, is jealous, does not want to lose Zuna, despite her causing him mental and physical suffering. In a dream, Zuna confides in the gamekeeper that she is held by the spirit of the mountains, who sometimes take on the form of a wolf, sometimes a form of a mysterious vagrant. The gamekeeper tracks down the mysterious wolf and kills it: “On the very same day, I decided to pull the main root of all dark forces out of the hills and to cleanse the hills of monsters. … I decided to vanquish the uncomfortable predator at all cost, believing that this would remove the main obstacle that arose between Zuna and me.” (Švantner, 2007, p. 236)

Zuna mysteriously disappears, and at the end of the novel, Libor meets Tavo, who takes him to his last meeting with Zuna. The gamekeeper, who neglected his duties for his love for Zuna, and as a result the village barn burned down, where his horse Eguš also perished, is dismissed from service. In the end, Zuna magically merges with nature, which Tavo concludes with these words: “Zuna grew up among the hills. She knew their strength and love, so she had been engaged to them a long time ago. Her choice wasn’t a bad one. Do you think she could be happy among people whose every option, even every passion is measured only by death? Eh, she didn’t deserve that fate. The peaks raised her, so they married her, as they, too, have their brides.” (Švantner, 2007, p. 294) According to Milan Šútovec (2005, p. 229), Libor’s struggle, which he constantly takes on, can be interpreted as a process of knowledge that “the adversary is not a specific figure, but the whole of mythically perceived, anthropomorphised nature, and his own deep, archaic psychic layers. Recognising the consonance of the deepest layers of the ‘I’ and the archaic-mythically conceived world reveals to the gamekeeper that his struggle is to a large extent a struggle with himself.”


Martin Ťapák’s ballad film from 1971 is made under the same name as the literary original, as was the case of the two films we examined above. The authors of the screenplay are Igor Rusnák and Martin Ťapák. The story takes place in the Slovak mountain area, in the bosom of wild nature full of traps in the form of wild beasts, and at the same time in places creating a mystic impression. The most mysterious place rich in myths, Peklisko [Huge Hell], where the “ogresses and werewolves” allegedly live; Ťapák substituted its name, as Švantner calls this place Kotlisko [Huge Couldron] in the novel.

The narrative of the film in brief is as follows: after some years the young gamekeeper Libor (Milan Kňažko) returns from the city to his native village. He meets his childhood love Zuna (Mária de Riggová), a girl – an element. She appears to the gamekeeper in his dreams, but in the real world she constantly eludes him. Libor constantly dreams, has reminiscences and revelations. Premonitions are also expressed by the villagers, for example, by the miller who at the beginning of the film tells the young gamekeeper that he knew he was coming, because the day before yesterday he heard the mountain roar. The gamekeeper decides he wants Zuna as his wife. Since he is not the only one who longs for her, he cannot avoid confrontation with other men, especially with the savage coal miner Tavo (Július Pántik) and the innkeeper Weinhold (Miloš Pietor).

Balladism appears as one aspect of a complex structure. From Libor’s point of view, one ballad element is the impossibility of obtaining Zuna. He has to come to terms with his pain. The key element of the film is the intertwining of the real and mysterious world. The film style is complex and the intelligibility of individual meanings is complicated. It was not easy to express the poetics of Švantner’s novel. Ťapák and Rusnák decided to use such dramaturgical structure, in which the dream and reality, past and present constantly alternate, thus achieving a dramatic atmosphere and a visually saturated film. History of Slovak Cinematography by Paštéková and Macek classifies this film as experimental. Paštéková (1997, pp. 324 – 325) is critical of the film adaptation made according to the novel: “The expressive film interpretation of the work is dominated by the fate, fantastical and fairy-tale quality of the plot. In the case of Švantner’s novel, the mythical happening is a manifestation of the psychological confusion of the main character of the young gamekeeper (the whole novella is stylised as a first-person narrative) and has existential dimensions. The film lacks this dimension. It loses significant support of the contrapuntal intertwining of internal and external action. The story of The Bride of the Mountains is turned into an unmotivated pictorial vision, unnecessarily complicated by an unclear author’s key to the use of individual means of expression (colour filters, wide lenses, camera angles). The resulting shape of the film is dominated by undifferentiated artistic decorativism, not anchored in the semantic structure of the work. Paradoxically, optical shocks resulted in monotony and pictorial mannerism. “The style may resemble ornamental mannerism. It is also true that the film often changes colour scale, which may cause a disturbing impression. On the other hand, the frequent change of colours can be explained as author’s deliberate intention with an thought-through artistic concept. The colours of yellow, orange, brown, blue and green alternate. Each of them is directly connected with some activity of characters in nature, proximity to fire, dance scenes or is effectively used in paranoid imaginations of the meeting with the werewolf, wolf and a vampire soldier. The black-and-white images illustrate Libor’s return to his childhood or Tavo’s reminiscing of the miller’s wife. It can be said that each colour is used analogously to the meaning to which it symbolically makes reference. The colour-intensified scenes express feelings, moods, desires, passions and memories of the characters. It is up to the viewer to decode the visual perceptions. The alternation of colouring in a way clarifies the flow of the plot and the intertwining of the story planes from the present and the past.

The film is remarkable in how the director expressed the intermingling of the real and mythical worlds, where rationality meets unrestrained vitality and where irrational phenomena are often not clarified and seem incomprehensible. The outcome of the film’s story is conceived in a contradictory manner, has an open end and opens up several possibilities for interpretation. Ťapák’s greatest focus in his film went to expressing the link between man and nature in accordance with Švantner’s feeling for expressing the symbiosis of man and nature in his prose of naturism. This connection with nature, as well as the connection with the past is expressed with the aid of the visual style in the framework of the expressive poetics full of irrationality and mysticism.


The concept ‘naturism’ is often mistakenly merged with the concept of ‘lyricized prose’. The prose of naturism falls into the category of multifaceted lyrical prose, but it is important to realise that it is only one of its numerous components, and therefore the two concepts cannot be combined into one. In Slovak literature, the prose of naturism is largely unrepresented, given the number of authors falling under this genre, but nevertheless represents the culmination of lyrical tendencies that appeared in post-war literature.

Representatives of naturism replaced the outwardly imitating method of realistic depiction of reality with more subjective literary fiction. The prose of naturism, as its name implies, reminds one of one’s ties to nature, points to the basic values in society such as love, belonging, understanding of ‘thy neighbour’ and nature through the characters who are the embodiment of these values. The dominant style of the prose of naturism is the fairy-tale mythical epic prose and the default genre is a ballad fairy tale. One of the main sources of inspiration for writers is the Slovak village, which they consider a real and healthy source of life. The prose of naturism combines the fantasy of a folk fairy tale, the realism of the village and lyricism as an achievement of modern literature at the time. The motifs of man’s relations to the nature that surrounds him and his love for it are deepened.

This paper is devoted to three important works of naturism prose. In the novella by Margita Figuli Three Chestnut Horses we find a story framed by invocation, where the postulates of Christian ethics are defined as the starting points of the narrator’s journey through life. Such an ideological framework determines the behaviour of the protagonist, who fights for the love of his chosen one. He undergoes a series of tests and shows his kindness, nobility, humility, and patient acceptance of injustice. Overcoming the trials of the male protagonist and enduring the bitter fate of the female protagonist, where both fall and redemption are present, determine the genre basis of the novella, i.e. a legend. The novella Dragon’s Return by Dobroslav Chrobák develops the motif of an outcast who is fighting for his acceptance into the community and endeavours to break down the villagers’ irrational prejudices. They see in him a mysterious force and a harmful element causing all evil, drought and crop failure. In its theme, the work focuses on overcoming the mistrust of the environment and the search for lost honour. In the end, the main character wins and gets his honour back. The novel by František Švantner The Bride of the Mountains presents a multifaceted picture of man’s struggle for knowledge of the world and pursuit of a harmonious being. This, seemingly simple, story incorporates a number of interconnected planes, to be decoded by the reader. Mythical elements play an important role in the formation of characters, the environment and the story’s construction.

Each of these works were transformed into a film adaptation. When analysing the feature films, bearing the same names as their literary originals, we focused our attention on directing procedures, means of expression, the special features used and particularly the differences from literary texts. We explored the narrative style of the individual works, the visual processing and the semantic level of the story. In accordance with the aim of our work, we detailed the differences between the originals and the adaptations in the way of showing the same fabula. We focused on whether the authors accomplished their efforts for approximating to the literary original or whether they made preference for certain changes that differentiate them from the original texts.


BÁTOROVÁ, Mária, 2000. J. C. Hronský a moderna. Mýtus a mytológia v literatúre. Bratislava: Veda, 168 p., ISBN 80-224-0613-9.

BEŇADIK, Michal, 1988. Dobroslav Chrobák. Po strmých cestách. Život a dielo v dokumentoch. Martin: Osveta, 344 p.

BOB, Jozef, 1964. Moderný tradicionalista Dobroslav Chrobák. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ, 132 p.

CHATMAN, Seymour, 2008. Příběh a diskurs. Narativní struktura v literatuře a filmu. Brno: Host, 328 p., ISBN 978-80-7294-260-2.

ČEPAN, Oskár a kol., 1984. Dejiny slovenskej literatúry V. Literatúra v rokoch 1918 – 1945. Bratislava: Veda, 852 p.

ČEPAN, Oskár, 1977. Kontúry naturizmu. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ, 232 p.

ĎURIŠIN, Dionýz, 1975. Teória literárnej komparatistiky. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ, 408 p.

ĎURIŠIN, Dionýz, 1979. Dejiny slovenskej literárnej komparatistiky. Bratislava: Veda, 240 p.

FIGULI, Margita, 2011. Výber z diela. Bratislava: Kalligram, 496 p., ISBN 978-80-8101-495-6.

GREČNER, Eduard, 2009. Dlhodobé prekážky a problémy s prípravou scenára a nakrúcania filmu Drak sa vracia. In: KAŇUCH, Martin (Ed.). Béla Balázs. Chvála filmového umenia. Bratislava: Asociácia slovenských filmových klubov, Slovenský filmový ústav a Filmová a televízna fakulta VŠMU, p. 78-82. ISBN 978-80-970420-0-4.

GUILLÉN, Claudio, 2008. Mezi jednotou a růzností. Úvod do srovnávací literární vědy. Praha: Triáda, 456 p., ISBN 978-80-86138-88-6.

HELMANOVÁ, Alicja, 2005. Tvořivá zrada. Filmové adaptace literárních děl. In: MAREŠ, Petr, SZCZEPANIK, Petr (Eds.) Sborník filmové teorie 3. Tvořivé zrady. Praha: Národní filmový archiv, pp. 133 – 144. ISBN 80-7004-119-6.

CHROBÁK, Dobroslav, 2011. Prozaické dielo. Bratislava: Kalligram, 616 p., ISBN 978-80-8101-566-3.

KUZMÍKOVÁ, Jana, 2000. František Švantner. V zákulisí naturizmu. Bratislava: Veda, 208 p., ISBN 80-224-0635-X.

MACEK, Václav – PAŠTÉKOVÁ, Jelena, 2016. Dejiny slovenskej kinematografie 1896 – 1969. Bratislava: Slovenský filmový ústav a FOTOFO/Stredoeurópsky dom fotografie, 624 p., ISBN 978-80-85739-68-8.

MACEK, Václav – PAŠTÉKOVÁ, Jelena, 1997. Dejiny slovenskej kinematografie. Martin: Osveta, 599 p. ISBN 80-217-0400-4.

MCFARLANE, Brian, 1996. Novel to film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 279 p. ISBN 0-19-871150-6.

PROPP, Vladimir Jakovlevič, 2008. Morfologie pohádky a jiné studie. Jinočany: H&H, 343 p., ISBN 987-80-7319-085-9.

ŠMATLÁK, Stanislav, 2007. Dejiny slovenskej literatúry II. Bratislava: Literárne informačné centrum, 533 p., ISBN 978-80-89222-29-2.

ŠTEVČEK, Ján, 1962. Baladická próza Františka Švantnera. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ, 224 p.

ŠTEVČEK, Ján, 1973. Lyrizovaná próza. Bratislava: Tatran, 292 p.

ŠÚTOVEC, Milan, 1982. Romány a mýty. Bratislava: Tatran, 272 p.

ŠÚTOVEC, Milan, 2005. Mýtus a dejiny v próze naturizmu. Bratislava: Literárne informačné centrum, 246 p., ISBN 80-88878-98-5.

ŠVANTNER, František, 2007. Nevesta hôľ a iné prózy. Bratislava: Kalligram a Ústav slovenskej literatúry SAV, 640 p., ISBN 978-80-7149-994-7.

ŽILKA, Tibor, 2014. Novela a jej filmová podoba. In: BÁTOROVÁ, Mária, BOJNIČANOVÁ, Renáta, FAITHOVÁ, Eva (Eds.). Premeny poetiky novely 20. storočia v európskom kontexte. Bratislava: Univerzita Komenského v Bratislave, p. 54 – 62. ISBN 978-80-223-3714-4.


Drak sa vracia [Dragon’s Return] (1967; Eduard Grečner)

Tri gaštanové kone [Three Chestnut Horses] (1966; Ivan Balaďa)Nevesta hôľ [The Bride of the Mountains] (1971; Martin Ťapák)

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National language and literature

Peter Michalovič

In his study Culture as a subject and an object in itself, Yuri Lotman compares culture to the monad. In his opinion “a monad of any level is thus an elementary unit of generating meaning and at the same time has a sufficiently complex immanent structure. Its minimal organisation includes a binary system, consisting (at least) of two semiotic mechanisms (languages), which are in a relationship of mutual untranslatability while they are mutually similar to each other, as each of them, through their own means, models one and the same extra-semiotic reality. The text entering from the outside immediately acquires at least two mutually untranslatable semiotic projections. Inherent within the minimal structure is a third element: a block of conventional equivalences, a metaphorogenic device allowing translation operations in a situation of untranslatability. As a consequence of such “translations”, the text undergoes irreversible transformation. There occurs the act of generating new text.”[1] Lotman argues that culture as a whole is made up of at least two, but really multiple, independent semiotic systems. Each of them has its own organisation focused on generating, conveying and preserving information; in Lotman’s terminology these are the creation, storage and reception of texts.

One of the basic semiotic systems of each national culture is a system of natural or national language and, related to it, other, linguistically organised, semiotic systems, such as literature, philosophy, law, morality, religion, ideology, science, etc. In general, these are semiotic systems capable of generating, conveying and preserving information in the form of discrete texts, meaning texts composed of discrete semantic units, the arrangement of which produces a text endowed with meaning.

The second of the systems of national culture is any non-linguistically organised semiotic system; among these we can include painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, motion pictures, architecture, etc. These semiotic systems are able to generate continuous or linked texts, where the text is dominant and from it derive individual features, or on it depends what can and cannot be considered and interpreted as a feature.[2]  

The sum of these texts, semiotic objects, can be considered as “non-hereditary memory of the collective.”[3] In order for this non-hereditary collective memory to function, the collective memory must comprise the corresponding codes. In their study On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture, Lotman and Uspenskij argue that the duration of texts and codes in collective memory “need not match directly: for instance, different kinds of superstition can be understood as elements of text of an old culture to which the code has been lost, e.g. a text that has outlived its code.”[4] What is true of superstitions is to greater degree as a rule true also of literature and artistic texts, which are usually decoded by a different code than the one used for encoding, so their meaning is constantly constituted in the interval between semantic updating and semantic weathering.

The individual texts as a whole form the collective memory of the nation, and, mutatis mutandis, such collective memory exists either in the form of a functional or storage memory.[5] Functional memory exists primarily in the form of stories, story, and as such determines the life of national culture and its direction. Functional memory can select from the storage memory, understood as a collective fund, and, as a rule, it selects texts or fragments of texts of various kinds, it interprets them in a new way and thus changes their original meaning depending on the pragmatic goals it achieves with their aid.  

National culture then consists of a number of mutually independent semiotic systems, which respond primarily to a common extra-semiotic reality, an undifferentiated continuum. Nevertheless, it would be naive to believe that national culture can evolve as a hermetically sealed and isolated system separate from the systems of other nations’ cultures. On the contrary, “not a single semiotic mechanism can function as an isolated system immersed in a vacuum. A necessary condition for its functioning is its immersion in the semiosphere – in the semiotic space. Each semiotic monad, precisely because of its segregation and semiotic uniqueness, can enter into convergent relations with another (others) monads, at a higher level creating a bipolar unity. However, from two adjacent, unconnected elements, these monads become a higher-level organic unity only when they enter one and the same higher-order grouping.”[6] If one tribe gets to dominate another and is able to “force” upon it their own culture, or is able to take over something from the culture of the dominated tribe, a new culture or at least the germ of a emerging national culture can emerge. Another situation may arise though, where, despite the long-term domination of one nation over another, no new culture has emerged; Lotman cites an example of the three-hundred-year domination of the Mongols over the Russians. “Despite the three-hundred-year domination of the Mongols in Russia, no unified social structure emerged, and the numerous contacts occurring in the military and state areas, which could not have functioned without certain forms of contact, failed to form a common semiotic mechanism. The cause can be seen in the incompatibility of urban and steppe cultures, but also in another interesting fact: the Tatars were religiously tolerant and did not persecute Orthodoxy in Russia. This created an incompatibility with Russian Orthodox culture, in which the church played an utmost important organisational role.”[7] I agree with Lotman, but I would like to point out that individual national cultures, these Lotman’s monads, not only can but usually do interact with other monads. Nonetheless, there may also be the case where some semiotic systems of monads are resistant and inert to one another, while other semiotic systems may interact with one another, with forms of interaction varying on a case-by-case basis.

In terms of culture, the most complicated are the relations between individual national or natural languages, and although I agree with Derrida’s critique of phono-logocentrism and all in all with any critique of linguistic centrism, which warn us against unjustified favouring of the national language at the expense of other languages, ergo other semiotic systems of one or another culture, the disputes concerning the place and function of the national language in the whole of culture remain current to the present day. Naturally, the national language appears differently from the perspective of a foreign language community and differently from the perspective from the inside of the language community using it on daily basis. From the outside, the language appears as a language unit different from the language spoken by another language community. From the point of view of a Hungarian, a Czech, a Pole, an Austrian or a Ukrainian, the Slovak language, if they do not speak Slovak, appears as an internally coherent and homogeneous system, simply a national language, binding on all Slovaks. National languages only with difficulty become equal parts of two different national cultures, but this does not mean that two neighbouring national languages cannot, at least at the border where they meet, influence each other, absorb and incorporate words from one vocabulary into another. Sometimes such mutual influencing takes place at a subconscious level, not even perceived by individual speakers at such a meeting place of two languages. For example, a strong Hungarian accent alerts a Slovak from northern Slovakia that he is speaking with a Slovak from southern Slovakia before it is explicitly stated in the interview that one of the speakers comes from the south of Slovakia. Yet again, the incidence of words of Slovak origin in the speech of Hungarians living in southern Slovakia becomes a reliable sign for a Hungarian from Budapest that he is speaking with a Hungarian from southern Slovakia. Bilateral language exchanges, interpenetrations and changes brought about by the proximity of two languages are possible only if the relations between the two neighbouring nations are friendly, untarnished by politics or ideology. As soon as a potential conflict is about to pop up, the national languages begin to close, pull in, and their users take great care not to take over anything from a foreign language that is at the given moment perceived as hostile. Moreover, the excessive occurrence of non-national, “foreign elements” in the national language may make such a speaker suspicious in the eyes of other members of the nation.

Despite the dynamics of development, the national, natural language retains its identity, albeit a differentially established identity, and therefore for such a language it would be hard to become one of the fundamental identifying features on a mass scale for several national cultures. Yes, you can argue that the Swiss speak French, Italian, German, even Romansh, but this is rather an exception to the rule. In history and the present, we tend to encounter differentiation, i.e. in addition to similarities, differences are also taken into account, especially those differences that are defining for certain language communities. Burke reminds us that “speaking of the English language community in singular is a bit strange; it is more useful to distinguish between different communities and their ‘English’”.[8] Similarly, there are several separate, figuratively speaking, ‘Spanishes’ recognised in the framework of Spanish; currently, linguists take into account the differences between Austrian German and standard German applicable in the Federal Republic of Germany.

The national language is the subject not only of linguistic research, but often the subject of nationalistic-ideologically tainted disputes. During national revivals in the 19th century, passionate debates were held about which language was better than the languages of other nations, or which of the national languages could be considered the legitimate heir of ancient Greek or Latin, generally considered the founding languages of European culture. One of the important stimuli for these discussions is presented by the Humboldt’s and Herder’s initiative, since it was them who translated “supranational and suprahistorical reason into the image of the world inscribed in the order of language. The reason thus relativised to the linguistic image valid in a given nation was ipso facto nationalised: it perished in the spirit of the nation of the relevant culture.”[9] Johann Gottfried Herder, in particular, played an important role in these discussions and disputes, important to such degree that it is possible to speak “of a certain ‘Herder effect’ in the sense that it was a practical application of some of Herder’s key ideas, rather than his own theoretical and political elaboration of his thinking. Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man (Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menscheit, 1784 – 1791), undoubtedly Herder’s most famous work, became immediately a huge success after their publication in Hungary (most likely meant as Hungary Kingdom – noted by P.M.), where the Outlines were read in German; it is also known that brief chapter, devoted to the Slavs, had a decisive effect: it turned Herder into a ‘teacher of Croatian, humanity’ and the first man to defend and appreciate the Slavs. The main motif, constantly repeated by Hungarians, Romanians, Poles, Czechs (including Slovaks – added by P.M.), Serbs and Croats, was the right and duty to write in a particular mother tongue.”[10] For instance, the representatives of the Czech revival, encouraged by Herder’s views, in their defence of the autonomy and maturity of the Czech language, claimed that “‘the Czech language is pleasant and resonant’, while German is a tongue ‘barking and grunting’ (JUNGMAN), ‘our [language] more beautiful’ than German (JUNGMAN), Czech more musical than German (JUNGMAN), ‘our tongue […] highly above this [= German] […] can float proudly’ (ŠAFAŘÍK – PALACKÝ).”[11] In general, it can be stated that the purpose of philological comparison, which has been from the beginning heavily contaminated by ideologically tainted axiology, is to prove that Czech or Slovak, or other Slavic languages, to which Czech and Slovak belong as dialects, are comparable to other national languages, especially to that of German or Hungarian. This, however, is only the first step, in the second step the Czech and Slovak national revivalists are seeking to prove that they are not only equal to them, but also outperform them in many aspects. For example, in their sonority that is not inherent in Hungarian or German, and therefore they also endeavour to write literature in their national language, create dictionaries, professional terminology, etc.; all these activities from the current point of view can be viewed as testing of the productivity and universality of national languages. From this perspective, the national language then appears as a collective body of the collective spirit of the nation or a blanket that can cover all the members of one linguistic community.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of a member of the same language community, e.g. a Slovak working in one way or another in the area of the scientific reflection of language, the Slovak language no longer appears as a universal and internally homogeneous language system. On the contrary, it appears as a space in which relatively separate language units complement each other and compete with each other – the so-called languages within a language or functional languages (Prague Linguistic Circle), speech games (Ludwig Wittgenstein), small speech genres (Michail M. Bachtin – Valentin N. Vološinov), various discourse genres (Jean-François Lyotard). If we were to look at the ‘national language’ from this perspective, then we find that what at first appears to be a single language system is internally broken down into several subsystems, relatively separate language units. On the horizontal plane, different regional dialects are placed next to each other, differing from each other to a greater or lesser extent. On the vertical plane, one language space suddenly houses different jargon, argots, professional languages, social group languages, “genres”, or generational languages, etc.; each member of a given community can speak and as a rule speaks multiple languages existing as if inside one national language. According to Bakhtin, “a mere illiterate farmer, miles away from any centre, naively immersed in his way of life, which was motionless and unshakable, lived in several language systems: he prayed to God in one language (Church Slavonic), sang songs in another language, spoke in a family circle with a third language, and when he was dictating to the scribe a request for authorities, he tried to speak in the fourth one (official, cultural, in a language of ‘authorities’). All these are different languages, even in terms of abstract socio-dialectological symptoms. These languages were not in the linguistic consciousness of the farmer in a dialogue relation; he passed from one to another without a thought, automatically: each of them were in their own place, indisputable, and their place was indisputable. Such a farmer was still unable to look at one language (and its corresponding verbal world) through the eyes of another language (see the language of his daily life through the language of prayer or song, or vice versa).”[12] Furthermore, it proves useful to the purpose to distinguish between spoken and written forms of language, whereas this, as Bakhtin aptly called it, realistic stratification and divergence of languages is used in an exemplary way by literature, primarily one of its genres and that is the novel. Why is it the novel? Because the novel belongs to dynamic genres, i.e. the novel is characterised by constant development. “The novel is pure plasticity. It is an ever-seeking, ever-self-searching genre that is being built in the sphere of direct contact with the emerging reality.”[13] In addition, the novel, according to Bakhtin, is one of the “secondary (complex) speech genres.”[14] Besides novels, secondary speech genres include “dramas, all kinds of scientific studies, major journalistic genres.”[15] These “are created under the conditions of a more complex and relatively highly developed and organised cultural intercourse (mostly written-artistic, scientific, socio-political, etc.). In the process of their formation, they absorb and transform various primary (simple) genres, which were developed in the conditions of immediate speech intercourse. After their incorporation into complex genres, these primary genres transform and change their nature: they lose their direct relationship to the true reality and to the true external statements. For example, replicas of ordinary dialogue or a letter in a novel retain their form and vital significance only at the level of the content of the novel as a whole, i.e. as an event of literary art, and not as an event of everyday life. The novel as a whole is as much a statement as a replica of a dialogue or a private letter (they have the same essence), but unlike them, the novel is a secondary (complex) statement.”[16] If one reads this quote as an explanation of the phenomenon of intertextuality, then one reads correctly, because, as Julia Kristeva convincingly proved, Bakhtin in his works described intertextuality with precision without using the name of the concept.

Can this be understood as meaning that the recognition of plurilingualism thus eliminates the space for reflection on the national language? Certainly not; there is something that is professionally referred to as official language, and the designation ‘official language’ suggests that this language regulates primarily written and spoken forms of verbal communication, more precisely the official, academic and various governmental forms of written intercourse. Although the official language is one of many languages, its ambition is nevertheless to act as a centrifugal force, as, however boldly it may sound, a common denominator to which all the languages mentioned can be translated; languages which act as centrifugal forces in respect of the official language, preventing homogenisation and unification. It should be understood that the official language and the language of literature are two relatively separate and mutually different systems. Despite this, it can be said, especially as regards the relationship of these languages to other language communities, “that literary capital is national. Through its constitutive relationship to language – which is always national because it is inevitably ‘nationalised’, i.e. appropriated by various national representatives as a symbol of identity – the literary heritage is linked to the national interest.”[17] It is generally assumed that the national language and literature are interconnected vessels; the national language enables the existence of a certain national literature and the national literature in return cultivates, expands the possibilities of the national language while at the same time it distorts, reforms, and changes applied meanings, creates linguistic puzzles, develops all layers of irony. Given this meaning of the issue, there is no problem between the official and literary language, nor a problem between one or another national language. Though, as soon as one national language and national literature begin to hierarchically take precedence over the other national language and literature, then there I see a problem – a big problem – as well as unfortunate consequences that can often times manifest themselves as an irrational reason for starting bloody wars between two states or ethnic groups. In place of confrontation, possibilities for cooperation must be sought, and in this respect the translations of literary texts from one language into another play a huge role. Translations make it possible to get to know other literature, be inspired by it or look for original alternatives. I believe that the more translations there are, the more intimately we will get to know one another, thanks to which the distance between us will be shortened and the initial enemies can become partners in dialogue, the otherness can be turned into our otherness, that is, the otherness that will make us realise who we truly are.

Besides the cases where two semiotic systems of the identical type as part of two different national cultures retain their autonomy and interact only to a small extent, and this only in a certain historical time and geographical space, and the effect of this interaction is reflected in the change of these two systems, we also record cases of massive, mutually beneficial and politically unlimited interaction. An interaction that is massive to such extent that the texts generated by such a semiotic system, such as the language of fine arts, can be considered part of the cultural heritage of the two nations; in this context it is enough to mention the names of Ladislav Medňanský or Dominik Skutecký, and it immediately becomes clear to a member of the Slovak or Hungarian nation what I am hinting at. The paintings of both these artists represent a part of the history of Hungarian fine arts, while the same works are also considered by Slovak historians of fine arts to be an integral part of the history of Slovak fine arts. Another example of successful interculturation is music; regardless of whether we mean artificial, the so-called classical music or folk music. In the case of classical music, the languages of music can be successfully internationalised, individual initiatives arising on the grounds of this or that national music culture can be mastered and often successfully developed or modified by other national music cultures. This is made possible, among other things, by strictly defined sound units (tones) and a binding system of rules (musical syntax), allowing these sound units to be combined into harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structures.

As regards folk music, the situation here is even simpler, as the melodies migrate almost in an unchanged form from one national culture to another, frequently becoming a permanent part of three or more national cultures. I think that few people succeeded in this field as precisely as Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945), who collected many folk songs on his ethnomusicological work trips across Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, thus earning admiration not only from Hungarians but also from Slovaks and Romanians. In my opinion, Bartók showed one of the possible paths to be followed by those who care for the success of interculturalism and who want to make it a model for getting to know one’s own identity through the knowledge of otherness, and especially how to not consider otherness as something negative, threatening, hostile, but to perceive it as our otherness, as a challenge to become different and especially more sensitive towards the world of nature as well as the world of people. Yes, it sounds like a phrase, but I still believe it, and it seems that no one will shake this faith of mine so easily.    This study was created as part of the grant project Artwork: Mediality, Rules of Art and Interpretation (VEGA no. 1/0541/20).

[1] Yuri M. Lotman, Culture as a subject and object in itself. In: Text a kultúra. Bratislava: Archa 1994, p. 10.

[2] For the distinction between discrete and continuous texts, see the study LOTMAN, Yuri M.: Rhetoric. In: Text a kultúra. Bratislava: Archa 1994, p. 67– 90.

[3] Yuri, M. Lotman – Boris A. Uspenskij, On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture. In: Exotika. Výbor z prací tartuské školy.  Brno: Host 2003, p. 39.  

[4] Ibid. p. 40.

[5] At this point, I make free use of Aleida Assman’s views. See ASSMAN, Aleida: Spaces of remembrance. Forms and changes of cultural memory. Prague: Nakladatelství Karolinum 2018, p. 151 – 157.   

[6] Yuri M Lotman, Culture as a subject and object in itself. In: Text a kultúra. Bratislava: Archa 1994, p. 11.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Peter Burke, Languages and communities in early modern Europe. Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny 2011, p. 11.

[9] Manfred Frank, What is neostructuralism? Prague: SOFIS in cooperation with PASTELKA 2000 publishing house, p. 15.

[10] Pascale Casanova, World Republic of Literature. Prague: Nakladatelství Karolinum 2012, p. 103 – 104.

[11] Quoted according to Vladimír Macura, Sign of birth. Prague: Academia 2015, p. 51.

[12] Michail M. Bakhtin, The Word in Poetry and Prose. In: Problems of novel’s poetics. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ 1973, p. 53.

[13] Michail M. Bakhtin, Epos in Novel. In: Problems of novel’s poetics. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ 1973, p. 110.

[14] Michail M. Bakhtin, Aesthetics of verbal formation. Bratislava: Tatras 1988, p. 268.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. 

[17] Pascale Casanova, World Republic of Literature. Prague: Nakladatelství Karolinum 2012, p. 53 – 54.

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Clothing in Slovakia at the time of communist Czechoslovakia

Socialist realism and fashion reality

Centralisation of fashion design and printing

In 1945, on the basis of the Beneš Decrees, at a time when a democratic government still formally existed, nationalisation processes in Czechoslovakia were gaining force and applied to large clothing companies with more than 500 employees. The second stage of the nationalisation of private property came after February 1948, when smaller companies with more than 50 employees also became state property. From 1949 onward, small businesses and trades were gradually liquidated. By abolishing private property, the state took control of production. It became the sole owner of large and small businesses. After the February coup in 1948, Czechoslovakia definitively became part of the bloc under the political influence of the Soviet Union. The world was divided into East and West. Even tough state propaganda against the so-called West was ultimately counterproductive, aroused resistance and did not prevent the countries of capitalist Europe and the United States from becoming a symbol of freedom and plenty in the eyes of people living in the socialist bloc. The functioning of the mechanisms of fashion and its availability in this period are also an example of the hypocrisy of this ideology. Political pressure failed to suppress a person’s natural desire to dress nicely and fashionably.

Centralisation of fashion design and printing

Centralisation applied not just to the production and distribution of clothing, but also to clothing design, fashion printing and the education of creative designers. In 1949, the state-owned enterprise Textilná tvorba (Textile Creation) was established, with prototyping plants and design studios in Prague. Their main task was to ensure the artistic level and craftsmanship of the products. At this institution, designs were made for model, small-run and large-scale production. All fashion collections by which the state presented itself at foreign trade fairs and exhibitions were designed at Textile Creation and produced under its supervision. It was an elite workplace that fell under the auspices of the state. Similar state institutions also existed in Western countries, for example, France also managed fashion production very precisely at the state level (haute couture is a licence granted only by the French Government following a rigorous selection of applicants). The institution Textile Creation transformed the former fashion salons founded during the time of the First Czechoslovak Republic. Although there was some continuity, this occurred against a backdrop of changed ownership and wholly different social contexts.

In 1958 Textile Creation was renamed to the ÚBOK (Institute of Home & Clothing Culture). The organisation also played an educational role, organising lectures and courses for professionals from large- and small-scale production. It became a standard for quality and professionalism. At the instigation of Textile Creation, the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art in Prague in September 1949 established the Clothing Studio. Hedvika Vlková, a well-known designer from Textile Creation, was appointed to manage the studio. This was the same Hedvika Vlková who worked in the Podolská salon in the interwar period and in 1938 opened her own fashion house in Prague. The Communists took advantage of the professional qualities of several professionals from the First Republic and offered them realisation in the new structure of clothing creation.

After 1948, fashion magazines also became a tool for spreading communist ideology. They were run, staffed and censored by the state. One monthly periodical was published in the Czech language Žena a móda (Woman & Fashion) (from 1949), as well as the quarterly periodicals Módní tvorba (Fashion Creation) (1948 – 1951), Tvar (Form) (1948). The first Slovak fashion magazine was published in 1949, under the title Mariena, renamed in 1950 to Móda – textil (Fashion – Textile), in 1961 to Naša móda (Our Fashion) and from 1968 to Móda (Fashion). It was published by the publishing house Živena, which belonged to the Committee of Czechoslovak Women. In 1969, they expanded their offer for younger readers with the magazine Dievča (Girl).

Problems with production and distribution

The post-war resumption of textile production was influenced by several political steps in the 1930s and 1940s. A substantial problem for resuming production was the lack of raw materials. Quality raw materials had become a strategic commodity. They could only be imported from abroad, often from the capitalist countries of Western Europe, which required foreign exchange funds, which the state lacked.

Czechoslovakia was a major producer of clothing and textiles in the Eastern Bloc and Comecon countries. These countries organised International Fashion Congresses in the countries of the Eastern Bloc (for example, in East Germany in Leipzig, in the Czechoslovak Republic in Prague and Brno). It was a competitive show and at the same time a platform for professionals and salesmen to meet. International contracts were negotiated here. Each country presented itself with the best it could make in clothing.

Large-scale mass production of clothing goods should have saturated the needs of a large population. With the standardisation of clothing, fabrics and linen, the production of goods at large-scale enterprises should have increased. Nevertheless, in stores there was a manifest lack of goods for customers. In Slovakia, there were several state-owned enterprises for the production of clothing ranges. The largest producers were Odevné závody Viliama Širokého (Viliam Široký Clothing Plants) in Trenčín (formerly the firm Nehera) with plants in Trenčín, amalgamating the clothing factories of: the former Slovena in Nové Mesto nad Váhom and in Topoľčany, the former Sbor in Hlohovec; and new companies in Šafárikovo and Skalica. They made men’s and boys clothing, formal and leisurewear. A major manufacturer of women’s and girl’s clothing was Makyta Púchov (formerly the enterprise Rolný), with operations also in Žilina, Sučany, Bytča, Námestovo. In 1985, the small-run segment of MakytaŠARM was established.

In eastern Slovakia there were several stores of the Captain Nálepka Clothing Plants (formerly the Magura enterprise): in Košice, Michalovce, Lipany, Svidník, Humenné. They focused on children’s and men’s clothing. The largest manufacturer of linen, such as men’s and women’s shirts, nightwear, women’s, men’s and children’s underwear was Zornica in Bánovce nad Bebravou. In Ružomberok and Levice they used mainly textile fabrics. In the late 1980s, under licence from Lee Cooper they began to make men’s denim shirts and women’s suits. Various types of knitwear were made by Pleta in Banská Štiavnica, Slovenka in Banska Bystrica, Trikota in Vrbové, Tatrasvit in Svit.

Short-run production in state hands also existed, offering customers above-standard services. All short-run production enterprises were characterised by a high degree of professionalism and they guarded the quality of their products from design through to processing. Thanks to them, quality clothes were on offer, often with a unique design. Vkus and Vzorodev are examples of custom-made clothing and short-run production garments. High-quality models of various types of clothing were made here, for example formal dresses, women’s two-piece suits, women’s and men’s coats. In the production of clothing, hand sewing still prevailed, with an emphasis on precise stitchwork and detail.

An important alternative in short-run clothing production was the creation of model collections by the folk art cooperatives: DetvaÚĽUV, Slovakia, Kroj, Angora. Under the auspices of the Centre for Folk Art Production (ÚĽUV) a design studio worked with artists in the field of textiles, clothing, and home accessories. Klára Brunovská, Jana Menkynová, and Eva Kováčová all concentrated on clothing. They focused on the use of quality natural materials and reviving traditional techniques of clothing production and decoration, inspired by traditional folk clothing. They made blueprint women’s clothes, embroidered blouses, twinsets, and coats. They were sold in the firms’ own stores: Detva, Slovakia, Centre for Folk Art Production.

Modex Žilina (from 1967) was a somewhat different enterprise, combining clothing fashion ranges with customer service. It produced a smaller volume of clothing, of a customised nature, allowing greater flexibility of trends. For their models, Modex had fabrics made at domestic textile factories, though also purchased quality fabrics abroad.

One of the greatest legends from socialism in Czechoslovakia was the firm Tuzex. The name was a portmanteau of the Slovak words for domestic and export. It was an organisation falling under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, and was founded in 1957.  It was a retail network where one could buy consumer products from abroad, from a fashion range of clothing, footwear, dresses, handbags, cosmetics, and bijou jewellery. In the mid-1960s, the state allowed people to wear so-called texasky, i.e., jeans. They were purchased at Tuzex, or their relatives send them by post from America or other countries. In 1968 Rifle jeans, an Italian brand, first appeared in Tuzex, going on to become a generic term in Czechoslovakia also for other quality jeans. At Tuzex in the 1970s it was also possible to buy quality brands, such as Mustang, Levi’s & Strauss, Wrangler. They were produced in Czechoslovakia at the company Kras Brno at the end of the 1960s. And at the end of the 1980s denim was produced at Levitext in Levice.  In year 1981 licensed the firm Captain Nálepka’s Clothing Factory in Prešov. At Tuzex it was also possible to get products such as Adidas – T-shirts, sneakers, jackets. Most Tuzex stores were in the Czech Republic; in Slovakia only in Bratislava, Piešťany, Nitra, Banská Bystrica, Košice, Martin, Michalovce, Poprad, Prešov, Ružomberok, Vranov nad Topľou, Žilina, Tatranská Lomnica.

So-called fashion houses had an exceptional standing in the network of stores in Czechoslovakia. One of them was in Bratislava, known as Dom módy Dunaj (Danube Fashion House). You could also buy higher-standard clothes from small-run production and clothes from abroad. Quality products could be purchased at the Luxus chain of stores, which while being of higher quality in comparison with large-scale fashion collections, the term “luxury” was nevertheless an exaggeration.

Domestic ingenuity

If a citizen of Czechoslovakia wanted to be on the pulse of fashion news, they had to use their own initiative. Clothes were made by people at home, who knew how. Skills such as sewing, knitting, crocheting were relatively common women’s abilities. Home-based production of clothes was supported also by imported period fashion magazines, but the most popular, if hard to come by was the German magazine Burda. There were specialised magazines for knitwear with detailed instructions for making clothes, for example the magazine Dorka. Many girls and women experimented at home, making unique creations. Many times, however, home-made clothes showed only the fashion of the silhouette, but were amateurish and of poor quality.

Besides individual home-based and amateur production, the lack of goods was filled in part by tailors’ operating unofficially from home. It was a form of private enterprise tolerated by the regime. Trained tailors were also able to earn money at home. Many sewed alongside other jobs in their households, where their customers took turns. Even in small towns where there were no professional tailoring workshops, Vkus, or special shops with above-standard fashion goods, there could always be found a tailor working from home.

The barbed wire behind which the Eastern Bloc countries lay represented significant political, economic and cultural isolation, but practice showed that people behind the Iron Curtain were not at all cut off from the realities of life in the West. The cautious infiltration of new trends from the West came through unofficial channels, often borne by young people. Official ideology strongly condemned the following of Western trends, and fought also against all youth fads.  In the 1950s official ideology criticised “páskov” (stripes) – boys with distinctive striped socks, “potápkami” (divers) – narrow above-the-ankle trousers, with T-shirts or shirts with distinctive ties; in the 1960s the official ideology armed with the propaganda press fought against hippies, beatniks, big-beats, who preferred long hair and very casual clothing; in the 1970s official propaganda guarded the music scene against influences including hard rock and punk; followed in the 1980s by metallists and Depeche Mode followers. Adherents of any alternative currents were publicly criticised as anti-state elements, and often persecuted.

Man-made fibres preferred

From the 1950s onward, scarce raw materials for garment production were gradually replaced by new types of materials being developed since the Second World War. Materials based on a purely synthetic basis were created. The first synthetic fibres in the world to be produced were polyamides. Clothes made from them were easy to maintain. Nylon, perlon, and dederon belong to this group. Nylon production spread in Czechoslovakia under the name silón, with silónky becoming synonymous with women’s tights, as did nylons in English; as well as the Nezmar make of men’s socks. It was also used for the production of underwear, as well as women’s dresses. Crepsilon was used to make women’s gloves, which were still a standard part of formal wear in the 1950s, even for the day. Nylon was combined also with classic natural fibres. It was also used for the production of swimsuits, with a quick-drying swimsuit appearing in 1957, made from curly crepsilon. In the mid-1950s plush fabrics were also made from polyamide fibres, for example for artificial furs. Imitations of ocelot, ram and beaver were created. Other polyamide fibre materials such as nylon, perlon and dederone were used from the mid-1950s to make men’s shirts. The slang word dederónka, used for a shirt from this material, became a symbol of socialist fashion production. In the 1960s, another synthetic material was introduced into textile production – polyamide silk (artificial silk), but in Czechoslovakia clothes made from it could only be bought at Tuzex.

From the 1960s onward, new types of materials using polyester fibre were introduced. In Czechoslovakia, they appeared later than in the West, and until the 1950s, were called “svitlen” (lights). In the mid-1960s tesil (known in the world as terylene) appeared on the market. Various types of women’s and men’s clothes were made from it. A new material similar to terylene was used for the production of sportswear, but with better flexibility and stretchability: polysport.

A major discovery was the elastic polyurethane fibre, which began to be produced in 1962 in the USA under the trade name Lycra. Its production was gradually introduced in Europe as well, but was only imported to Czechoslovakia, not produced. It was an elastic knit, used mainly for making underwear, tights, swimsuits, but also knitted outerwear, including sportswear. Lycra and elastane were used mainly for their elasticity, stretchability. In Czechoslovakia, it was mainly the knitting industry that used imported elastic fibres for the production of corsets, tights, but also women’s elastic trousers with under-foot straps – stirrup pants. In 1967, products from diolene became available in Czechoslovakia, followed by zadara – a synthetic chemlon knit – in 1969, which was used for the production of various types of garment. It entered the market in the same year tesilan, which was mainly used for the production of clothing for young people. Crimplene became a widespread material used particularly for scarfs and knitwear. For the clothing of the 1950s and 1960s, textiles from synthetic thread resembling metal fibre, the so-called lurex was produced on a large scale. It was first produced in the 1950s in Great Britain, and its popularity rose in the following decade.  Czechoslovak industry tried to respond quickly to this development, but the local products did not reach the quality of Western goods. Imported lurex could also be purchased by the metre. In Senica, Slovakia, synthetic textiles resembling silk fabrics were produced from 1970 onward: polyester silk slotera, or the viscose silk slovisa already in the interwar period.

In 1970, paper dresses officially appeared in Slovakia. They had commonly been worn in the West since 1967. They were not made of normal paper, but from a non-woven textile papitex (viscose with tesil). It was a disposable dress designed for casual wear. An advantage of these dresses was that they could be folded into a small form.  They also withstood gentle washing and ironing, but had a short life.

What was worn in the 1950s

The basis of the women’s wardrobe was a two-piece suit with a straight smooth or slightly gathered skirt. The length of the skirts was 10 cm below the knee (although it was shorter in the West).  Short jacket coats of various shapes gained popularity; those loose below the waistline were given the slang name coolie coat. The blouse and skirt became a widespread combination for daily wear. The most popular was a variant of a white blouse often embroidered with a small collar with a white gathered skirt. Loose sweaters were also given the slang name cooligan. They combined with a skirt or trousers, the more elegant ones were shaped to the waist and had a collar. The sweater and skirt had become a popular garment since the interwar period. Various shapes of Macintosh coat were worn: with distinctive V-shaped arms, or in a close-fitting shank gathered at the waistline, or also in the shape of a pyramid in an A silhouette. The most common type of winter coat in the 1950s was the hubertus (women’s and men’s) in green from combed wool, unlined, and in the back having a counter-fold with a belt. The most widely worn coat in spring (among men and women) was the duffel coat. It was sewn from thick linen fabric and tightened at the waistline with a belt.

On the head a scarf was worn on a normal day, or rádiovky (berets) were also worn. Hats then were considered outdated, or even a bourgeois experience.  Nevertheless, they were promoted in the contemporary fashion press of the time as a classic element of formal elegance. Knitted caps of various shapes came into fashion.

In the 1950s the wearing of trousers became more common among women, particularly young women. Kominárky (chimney-sweep trousers) were a favourite (made from corduroy or fabric in dark colours); they had a narrow cut and reached down to above the ankles (Potápky (divers) also had a similar cut, and were worn also by men.) They combined with sweaters, jacket coats, pullovers, T-shirts. A nicer type of T-shirt with a collar was called the skampolo, and could be a single colour or striped. They were used only as a casual type of clothing.

Gloves remained a mandatory part of the wardrobe: for social occasions, as well as for summer walking clothes. They were made from various knits, spring gloves now from synthetic fibres, and winter gloves from leather. Mittens also became popular outside of sports.

The evening dress had a similar silhouette as the day dress – a slender waist and a gathered skirt. But they were sewn with conspicuous necklines, often with large folded collars falling over the shoulders. In addition to a richly pleated skirt from taffeta or tulle on an evening dress, a skirt could also be narrow at the front and extend into a siding at the back. A new introduction were cocktail dresses, which were included in the group of dresses for social occasions worn in the afternoon, as well as in the evening (as a small elegant evening dress). They were calf length, small cleavage, existed in a short-sleeve or sleeveless variant, then supplemented by a short coat or bolero. They could be sewn from expensive fabrics: silk or semi-silk, often with a strong pattern (brocade, lace, velvet, taffeta).

Formal shoes were still leather pumps on a thinner, but still quite massive heel, even on a high platform with a thick heel. Much sought-after ones were termed italky (Italians): only slightly open at the tip and without a heel at the back. Shoes made from cork were also worn, with a layered platform, and received the slang name súdkové (barrel shoes).They were popular in particular for their light weight. Fabric shoes on a low platform became a popular summer shoe; those that tied with the laces high below the knee were called šnurovačky (lacers).  Sports fabric shoes up to the ankle and for tying with laces on the instep were called tramky. In winter only full-ankle boots were used; boots were not yet worn as elegant footwear. There were also cloth shoes on a platform, colourful and decorated with a leather ornament on the ankle, and known by their slang name as filcáky (felts) or tatranky or partizánky. A common type of footwear were galoshes, or cossacks: rubber ankle boots with a small heel, and you could also buy canvas insoles for them. Cossacks, unlike galoshes, were also worn with elegant clothes.  Shoes giving a massive, or solid, look continued to be produced in the Czechoslovak Republic.

Tights, which were warned by elegant women were always only thigh-length and fixed with a garter on the waistband. A great hit were women’s very thin nylon tights, termed sklenky (glasses) – very transparent and fragile. Thick pantyhose, flórky, were worn on ordinary occasions. There were also patentky, which held onto the thigh.

Etiquette in the men’s wardrobe simplified greatly. The suit began to be worn without a waistcoat, even evening suits for celebratory occasions. The tailcoat and tuxedo remained the clothing only of artists and diplomats. Designers looked for alternatives to the men’s suit, preferring a simplified jacket or coat instead. These jupky – short jackets pulled into the waist, where they ended in a ribbing; the sleeves could be loose or also in a ribbing, with distinctive pockets on the front.  They were made from cotton and flax, with winter coats made from wool.  This type of coat was worn even in the interwar period as an informal type of clothing. Now it was preferred as an alternative to a jacket, and accompanied men’s trousers. The official men’s silhouette on jackets and trousers was wide; jackets had distinctive shoulders and a loose fit; trousers were wide and ironed into creases. In the second half of the 1950s, a suit jacket could also be accompanied by trousers without creases. Young boys and men preferred narrow trousers, potápky (divers), which were significantly narrower than the official cuts, and reached down to above the ankle. They were worn with striped very distinctive socks and Hungarian shoes – low shoes on a cork platform. Another trendy type of shoe were the peštianky (Budapest shoes), with a 5 cm high soul made of laminated rubber. Semišky, or suede leather shoes, were another trend. In the second half of the 1950s, šupky (peels) became the new hit, replacing peštianky. They were pointed shoes on a thin platform, light as a peel. In winter, young men wore felt shoes called partizánky.  Trendy jeans, though, could be got only from abroad. Instead, imitations of the real thing were worn. They were sewn by tailors performing craft unofficially at home. They used tarpaulin for them, using small snaps as studs. A favourite for spring were duffel coats (similarly as for women), as well as baloňáky (thin raincoat). The duffel coat could have a liner for winter. The most common coat for winter, similarly as for women, was the hubertus. Various types of tweed fabrics used for suits and coats were popular in the men’s wardrobe. The length of the coats remained just below the knees. In the second half of the 1950s, the man’s silhouette narrowed, particularly in the trousers, but also in the volume of the shoulders. Young men, and women too, liked T-shirts (skampolo), as well as striped T-shirts, pullovers, and shirts with wide provocative ties, or also without ties. A hit of the second half of the 1950s was the so-called Swedish shirt, a loose linen shirt that had no fastening on the front, was dressed over the head and fastened only under a wide collar on both sides. The urban chic appeared in beige gabardine shirts with a folded collar (wing), which were the height of European fashion. Cowboy shirts or brightly coloured model Hawaiian shirts, as well as chequered flannels, were widely popular.

In the 1950s, the most common means of transport was still the motorbike, for which a leather jacket was an essential accompaniment. Cool haircuts of the time were the crew cut combed backward or with a high “cock” above the forehead. For ideological reasons, the hat in the 1950s was not promoted, yet it remained common headwear. Rádionky (berets) were still popular among the proletariat. Boys and youths expanded the trend of knitted caps.

During the relaxed 1960s, a tuxedo was again recommended for evening events. At that time, the overall silhouette on men’s suits and overcoats narrowed. The turtleneck became a hit, which could function as an alternative to a shirt in a suit. The new cut of men’s trousers had a lower waistline and widened from the knees downward. The slang term zvonáky (bell-bottoms) was used for the bell-shaped cut and trousers themselves. They were still worn in the first half of the 1970s, and the bottom width could be as much as 60 cm.

What was worn in the 1960s

A major event was the opening of the fashion house in Prague in 1958 and in 1966 in Bratislava (in the building of the former department store Brouk a Babka). These shops offered a range of higher quality garments. Bratislava in the 1960s also saw the new department store buildings: Prior on today’s Kamenné Square and Centrál on Krížná Street or the Ružinov department store.

In women’s fashion a more relaxed line appeared in the Czechoslovak Republic, without the need to emphasise the proportions and shapes of the figure in detail. In 1962, a trapezoidal (conical) silhouette appeared and was worn for a whole decade. It did not require a complicated division of clothing, and emphasised material and colour. The skirt length reached down to the knees. Headwear became more expressive, with various shapes of garrison cap emphasising the head or hairstyle. Massive tufted hairstyles, often achieved using wigs or hairpieces became a new feature in hairstyling. From Britain there came the new ideal of beauty – the tomboy – with short hair, becoming widespread among young women and girls also in Czechoslovakia.

Shirt dresses with or without a belt were very popular. Trousers became a permanent feature particularly among urban women, and at the end of the decade they appeared on the pages of Czechoslovak fashion journals in line with the French design, also as evening models. This was quite a reversal, because trousers previously had been unthinkable as eveningwear. A new entrant among Macintosh coats was a street model featuring a long lapel. A notable trend was the dress costume, consisting of address completely complemented by a costume jacket. Large distinctive buttons were worn on clothes. Short three-quarter sleeves appeared on coats even in winter, and high gloves were worn. A fashion hit, arriving from Italy, were windcheaters, named šuštiaky, for their rustling sound when touched. They could only be bought at Tuzex or imported from abroad. Sweater vests and waistcoats made from various materials, worn with a skirt or trousers were another new trend.

We can see a significant change in footwear; solid-looking pumps were out and replaced by subtle pumps with a thin heel and slight toe. Also more sporty pumps began to be worn, similar to moccasins at the front, but with a heel.  A new trend from 1961 were women’s shoes with an oval toe and a small wide heel. The front part could be designed in various ways: with a class, a bow, a buckle, and possibly without a heel. Leather boots with a more elegant look, calf-length and from softer leather began to be worn. Nevertheless, rubber cossack boots were still the most popular footwear in winter. Moccasins were also a big hit, having an embossed platform. Handbags took on the shape of small suitcases, as well as having flaps, both types often with two handles – one for the hand and a shoulder strap. Following Chanel’s design, shoulder chain straps became a common feature on handbags.

The miniskirt established itself among the youth worldwide in the first half of the 1960s. Born on the streets of London among youth in revolt. Its promoter, the miniskirt, established itself as informal clothing among young women and girls. And officially also in Czechoslovakia in 1966, while at the International Fair in 1964. Nevertheless, in official fashion magazines it was promoted only at length above the knee. The miniskirt was worn in a pencil shape, but also in an A line. Women’s elasticated trousers with under-foot straps – stirrup pants – were presented at exhibition fairs in Liberec in 1965 and became a great favourite, because they clasped the legs tightly.

In 1967, the long skirt made a comeback. They were worn alternatively in lengths from mini to maxi. In the late 1960s, several alternative trends styles emerged: hippies, neo-romantic, ethno, safari, and unisex. They addressed mainly young girls and women. Alongside these, there was also a classic conservative style, only slightly influenced by youth fashion. The year 1968 saw the return of the silhouettes of the female ideal accentuating the waist, breasts, and narrow shoulders. Long or short hairstyles with curls and expressive make with shading added a romanticising touch. 

Clothing at the time of Soviet “normalisation”

The occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968 was of fundamental significance for the entire 1970s and 1980s. Soviet-style socialism was restored; the Communist Party’s leading role was reasserted, and the Soviet Union’s control of life in Czechoslovakia was reaffirmed. Borders were closed again and travel to the West was significantly restricted. Despite efforts, the state could not prevent the population from taking an interest in what was happening in the West.

Western capitalist countries were seeing and individualisation of society – seeking and supporting a person’s free choice. Expressing oneself in one’s own terms, not according to societal norms, also took on a political charge.  No new silhouettes, or new canons, were created in the fashion of the 1970s; quite the opposite. It was possible to dress in various styles, to look for inspiration in history, folklore, on the street, in technology. The way of dressing came to be seen as an expression of the three individual. The fashion of hippies and, in the second half of the 1970s, the inspiration from punk, stirred up and relaxed not just aesthetic rules in fashion, but particularly in social conventions. Adherents of punk disengaged themselves so much so that they looked aggressive or even brutal. Each generation of young people is provocative against the older generation, yet the force with which this happened in the 1970s was quite unprecedented. Street fashion also began to be accepted by the world’s fashion designers, who in the 1960s reflected elements of artistic or technological trends in their fashion creations. The fashion of this decade wholly abandoned conventional notions of elegance and taste.

The founding of the Czechoslovak Federation in 1968 led to the establishment of Slovakotex, which became a separate organisation independent of management from Prague. It was a central body based in Trenčín that brought together several clothing and textile plants for large-scale and small-scale production in Slovakia.

Right from the start of the 1960s, the magazine Burda had been freely available in Czechoslovakia in some shops specialising in foreign press.Nevertheless, demand for it was greater than the number of magazines for sale, and that was why people drew cuts and lent them to one another.  In the 1970s, fashion was also influenced by disco culture – essentially mass to full entertainment combined with dance, exhibition and light effects.  Disco was a specific type of clothing and also influenced daily fashion (distinctive make up, glitter for make up, shiny and luminescent materials). American film became a huge inspiration. Saturday Night Fever of 1977 and a year later Grease, which were shown also in Czechoslovak cinemas.

The state organised regular exhibition fairs for fashion: the first year of the international fashion fair in Brno Intermóda was held in 1972, as well as the regular Liberec exhibition fairs (since 1955), a fashion show in Trenčín – Trenčín the City of Fashion and in Prostějov Zlatá Fatima. These exhibitions presented the best from domestic textile, clothing and footwear production.

Tuzex continued to be a place where Western clothing could be imported, as well as textile sold by the metre. Besides this, shopping tourism also flourished: inhabitants of Slovakia were closest to Hungary, while the Czechs were closest to East Germany. Hits in clothing were also imported from summer holidays by the sea, especially from Yugoslavia. Regulated by the state, it was possible to reach Western countries, even exotic ones. Obtaining a travel permit was quite complicated, and those whom the state evaluated as unreliable or noncooperative with the regime were not allowed to travel abroad. Importing clothes and accessories from abroad required adventure, because customs controls were typically uncompromising; smuggled items discovered were confiscated.  Being chic, actionable or an alternative dude in socialist Czechoslovakia required a great deal of effort.

In the 1980s, fashion designers who started to come out of anonymity became important in Czechoslovak fashion. Despite the fact that since the start of the communist regime they had been involved in creating clothing and fashion trends, their names were unknown to the general public. The communists kept them in anonymity. Change came only gradually during the 1970s. The presentation of designer-labelled clothing with a more pronounced emphasis on the individuality of the creator occurred through regular fashion shows held in the years 1976 – 1985 at Bertramka in Prague. The individual work of the young generation of designers, especially graduates of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, were presented. Some young designers also collaborated with the Institute of Home and Clothing Culture. Readers had already been learning about them in the periodical press. Designer models could be bought by mail order direct to home – a wholly new possibility. This was offered, for example, by the magazine Mladý svět (Young World), popular among the intellectual class of women. Thanks to their models, Liběna Rochová, Nina Smatanová, Daniela Flejšarová gained wider recognition among the public.

In Bratislava, similar events as at Bertramka were to appear only later. In 1986 designer clothing from the workshop of young designers was presented at the Slovak Exhibition of Applied & Industrial Art in Bratislava. An important platform for presenting designer creations was the event Design of Clothing & Jewellery I in 1986, which was held at the Institute of Industrial Design in Brno. The third year was held not only in Brno, but also in Bratislava. A significant contribution to the organisation of these events was made by Ľuba Slušná, an art historian, who from 1987 worked as an editor for Pressfoto. Thanks to her curatorial efforts, clothing as well as other types of applied art have become a part of exhibition projects.

The first sales exhibition of clothing models took place at the sales outlet Dielo, which was organised by the Art Fund only in 1986. In several stores of the outlet Dielo in Slovakia, it was possible to buy clothes from Slovak clothing artists. Nevertheless, they had to meet certain criteria, which were checked by a commission (not just professional, but also ideological) of the Art Fund. A young generation of designers in Slovakia arose thanks to the university formation of the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art. Only from 1976 did there begin to exist a separate textile department at the Academy of Fine Arts & Design in Bratislava. At this studio, students were trained in free artistic design processes, with emphasis on textile as a medium. The Academy’s graduates found employment in clothing design, for example Mária Mutkovičová in the magazine Dievča (Girl). Compared to the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art, in its formation there was less emphasis on the design and more on the designer. Graduates found employment not only in free creation, but also in textile design and some worked in plants as designers (Júlia Sabová, Jozef Bajus). Clothing design in the traditional sense was studied only at the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art. From it came graduates who were active in Slovakia in the 1980s with their own creative work (Katarína Böhmová, Iveta Ledererová, Marta Bošelová, Anna Bohátová). One graduate of the Academy of Industrial Design in Budapest, who went on to become a notable personality was Karol Pichler, who with his clothes worked on the edge of free and utilitarian creation. In the second half of the 1980s, the outlet Dielo also sold clothes by designers who had not directly studied art at an academy or fashion design, but whose creations were nevertheless approved at the Art Fund, whereby they officially became members of the association of artists; such artists included Lea Fekete and Michaela Klimanová–Trizuljaková. Lea Fekete was a founding member of the SET 88 group, in which Andrea Krnáčová and Daniel Brunovský also worked. Their designs brought a connection between the designer’s clothes and jewellery. Most of the garments that we refer to as designer garments sold through Dielo represented an alternative creation to the mainstream taste in fashion. These models were expensive, available only in cities where Dielo had shops and did not represent a mainstream fashion. They were worn rather by artists and intellectuals; women with strong opinions regarding clothing. Thanks to these models, women with non-mainstream tastes were able to dress in interesting models. Clothing began to be seen in the 1960s in Czechoslovakia and around the world as a medium through which artists could express and convey an idea. Such innovators in the Czech Republic included Milan Knížák and in Slovakia Otis Laubert and Milota Havránková.

At the end of the communist regime, in the autumn of 1989, monthly fashion shows were beginning in Bratislava at the Forum Hotel. They were organised by Ľuba Slušná, Xeňa Lettrichová and Lea Fekete from the SET 88 group with the official support of the Art Fund. Fashion designers presented themselves at the shows and their models could be purchased directly at the showing.

What was worn in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, the Paris collections brought the length of the skirt to mid-calf. Young girls, though, continued to wear mini or maxi skirts. At this time, the miniskirt was also worn on top of trousers, creating an untypical combination. As an alternative to the miniskirt, short trousers were extended below the buttocks. They first began to be worn in America, followed by Europe from 1970. These shorts were very practical, not provocative like miniskirts, and at the same time demonstrated the modernity of their wearers. They were combined with various types of uppers, with long coats or sleeveless tops being a favourite. They were no longer just some sportswear, but were worn year-round, from various materials, even on top of stockings. In the 1970s trousers definitively took over as an alternative to skirts for both day and evening wear. Trousers were worn in various shapes: bell-bottomed, wide, with a low or high waistline, narrow, to the ankles, to the knees, and others. Trouser combinations became a new trend. The trouser skirt also gained ground. In official clothing to work in offices, in teachers’ clothes, trousers were only rarely worn. The middle and older generation of rather conservative women were also cautious in adopting them. More courageous women wore costumes with a man’s cut, complete with ties and masculine hats and overcoats. 

A fashion hit were sleeveless tops of various shapes: long as well as short sleeveless tops, wide or close-fitting. They were worn with skirts or trousers. They could be sporty, or be of a more elegant nature. They were worn on top of shirts, blouses, but also turtlenecks. Shirts were close-fitting, with distinctly stretched collars, which shrank in the second half of the decade. There were single-colour shirts, as well as colourful shirts with flowers or geometric patterns. Trendy blouses were long under the buttocks, often knitted (including home) and had slits on the sides. They could also be belted. Shirts and blouses of a romantic cut with ruffles on the plastron became fashionable, a plate ruffle, a high standing collar, embroidered blouses in a folk style on a sheet were all favourites, as well as multicoloured silicones, in long- and short-sleeved form, were all popular. Dresses of various cuts and several styles were still worn: fitted, preferably made from knitwear, as well as white shirt dresses, also with a slim bodice and a pleated skirt. The trend was to dress them in blouses or turtlenecks. Sleeveless or short-sleeved dresses were termed dress skirts and are quite typical of the 1970s. T-shirts led among young people: single-colour, multicolour, patterned or with various inscriptions; best from abroad, with foreign inscriptions. Singlets from knitted fabrics with thin straps, sometimes at the top for tying were a completely new arrival in the girl’s wardrobe. They showed the woman’s body more exposed than before. The bare-chested singlets created a courageous image. In the summer, clothes spread completely, to uncover the back.

At the end of the decade, the principle of layering clothes prevailed: dresses over skirts, dresses over trousers, white blouses across skirts and trousers, or trousers with long shirts, and short waistcoats or sleeveless tops on dresses. These various alternatives allowed for variable dressing. When we consider stylistic diversity, the 1970s come out as very colourful and relaxed.

Clothes from denim (often false), corduroy, in safari style from cotton, in ethno style from flax and cotton, i.e. clothes from quality natural materials were worn throughout the decade. A hit of the 1970s was also worn in the following decade, namely Indian cotton – very airy and a light cotton fabric with a finely structured surface, from which summer dresses, blouses and skirts were sewn. Fabric by the metre and clothes were still produced from synthetic materials: dederone, Crimplene, nylon. In the 1970s the Bavlnárské závody V. I. Lenina (V.I. Lenin Cotton Plants) in Ružomberok began the mechanised large-scale production of blueprint patterned clothing, while designers worked from classic blueprint templates. Clothing factories produced a large number of them, particularly women’s summer clothing. Czechoslovak textile factories have since the 1970s produced quality woollen fabrics of various types. The 1970s can be called a decade of knitwear – jerseys, from which almost all types of clothing were made. In addition to machine knitting, entire sets of women’s (and children’s clothing were also knitted or crocheted at home. In addition to the existing standard dresses, pullovers and sweaters, knitted trousers or skirts were also seen.

There was also variety in coat design. Spring and winter coats were sewn from denim and corduroy.  It was common to see the whole garment, together with the coat, in these combinations. Firms were still popular, and synthetic furs and imitation leather were also gaining ground. The combination of fur with the lads are also became a trend. Fur coats, both real and synthetic were produced in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic at Kara Trutnov a Kožatex Liptovský Mikuláš. So-called Slovak fur coats, sewn from brushed velour, remained a favourite. The sportier cuts of the coats were based on the already known – trench coats and raincoats, with a wider free line coming into fashion. Women also wore masculine coats. Paletots and windcheaters still enjoyed popularity. In connection with romanticising historicism, both short and long pelerines reappeared. “Windbreaker” textile became a hit, and from which were sewn not just winter sports garments, but also fashionable day coats. The popularity of anoraks became so widespread that in the 1980s the streets of the Czechoslovak Republic were awash with people in anoraks.

Formal clothing underwent a real revolution, as it ceased to be considered something special among young people. It was worn both for evening occasions and daywear. More formal and classic clothing, preferred by women for evening theatre visits, returned to the style of long dresses down to the floor, with a small neckline and short or long sleeves.

At the beginning of the decade, women wore pumps on a higher, thick heel, slightly widening downwards. The tip was a little rounded. From 1972 onwards, very solid shoes on a thicker sole appeared. Around the middle of the decade, shoes gradually lost this solid look, but, paradoxically, shoes on a large platform appeared at the same time. Wooden clogs worn not just by women, but also men, became a legend. Another novelty were shoes from denim, or other textiles, which could be on a wedge heel or flat platform. An interesting feature of the decade as a whole was the trend in high shoes, up to the knee in unprecedented combinations, even in summer. High boots were also worn with shorts in the summer. These were not just boots, but also shoes with refined straps up to just below the knee. At the end of the decade, shoes just above the ankle on a high slim heel made an appearance. Moccasins were a favourite summer shoe, and they could also be on a high platform. Sand shoes, various sneakers and trainers were also worn.  A hit for several years in footwear were Číny (All-Stars) shoes – sneakers made in Svit Poprad, in white with a fine red rim on a rubber sole, with metal holes through which white laces were tied. They reached just above the ankles. Besides natural leather, vachette, and swayed, footwear was sewn also from synthetic materials. Synthetic materials were used also for the production of handbags. Alongside this, textile handbags also appeared. The decade saw great variability in handbags: besides the traditional frame and flap ones, leaf handbags with a shoulder strap also appeared. The length and shape of the shoulder straps and handles varied. Work handbags of a larger size also gained importance. Baskets made of natural materials, from synthetic bast fibres, as well as plastic baskets were carried as handbags. In Slovakia, handbags from the Centre for Folk Art Production became quite a trend. They were sewn by hand with leather braid, and were made entirely of natural undyed letter, in the manner of shepherd’s scrips, decorated with embossing or punching.

The hat was no longer a necessary part of a woman’s wardrobe; but still it a firm place among women preferred a classic style. Young girls didn’t want to look like their mothers and grandmothers, so they didn’t wear a hat at all, or very extravagantly – in terms of location or form. Masculine types of hats became popular among women, as well as romanticising with large crimps of various shapes. Hats, or hat caps from denim or knit were worn, crocheted hats being a particular hit. Historicising tendencies returned in the form of turbans and flows. In the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s, garrison caps gained popularity. More elegant forms of knitted cap were dome-shaped at the top, with a small corner; their lower part folded into a distinctive tube.

In addition to the popularity of denim, corduroy, and washing cord, a great hit of the 1970s were nets, especially whole sets – dresses or trousers with a waistcoat, dresses with sweaters, or coats.

A certain degree of romanticism also prevailed in men’s fashion of the 1970s. After a long period in the history of men’s fashion, there was a deviation from civil, inconspicuous development. Men’s colourful floral patterns on shirts, ruffles and fastenings, shiny materials, distinctive colours, white patterned tights, heels, platforms, narrow trousers at the waistline, wide bell-bottoms, long hair (even in an official neck-length cut, in alternative hairstyles, including very long hair) wide sideburns, moustaches and beards of various shapes.

The classic men’s suit was now simply an alternative to other clothes. It remained in the closet of officials and politicians, and was worn for ceremonial occasions. From the mid-1970s onward, more modern-minded men, particularly of the younger and middle generation, preferred suits made of trousers and jackets, or jackets with a more sporty shape, with distinctive pockets sewn in double seams, often made of modern materials, such as denim and corduroy. Cotton jackets of various colours became popular, sometimes ambiguous in their cut, because they resembled both a suit jacket and a coat jacket. This type of suit was sewn in a wider or slightly fitting line. Men wore shirts with them, but without a tie, open linen shirts, or T-shirts. In the first half of the 1970s, a narrow silhouette dominated in the upper part of the man’s body. Overcoats and suit jackets had a distinctive front shape: wide, almost to the waist, and the length of the jacket shortened just below the buttocks. The shoulders were only slightly widened. The jackets were sewn with a slit in the back.  The trousers, fitting over the hips, widened significantly downwards. A completely new arrival were suits made from velvet in dark colours: black, bottle green, burgundy, dark blue. There were also men’s suits of a sporty nature, with distinctive pockets, often with stitching and contrasting fastenings. Raglans and trench coats with shoulder straps, buckles and straps on the sleeves remained a regular feature among overcoats. For the winter season, Ulster coats remained in fashion, while hooded duffel coats fastened with olive leather clasps became a hit particularly among intellectuals. Classic fur coats, termed Slovak coats, were complemented by coats sewn from synthetic materials. Waist-length fur jackets were also worn. Shoes, in the case of both men and women, took on a more solid form. Heels and platforms appeared on men’s models.

What was worn in the 1980s

In the early 1980s, differences between leisure and work clothing almost disappeared. In official fashion, though, casualness had to be of an elegant nature, not rebellious. Clothing for civil servants or grammar school students remained under scrutiny, at least by the proactive party comrade director, or comrade professor.

Massiveness of the shoulders was a major trend in women’s fashion in the 1980s. This was manifested in several silhouettes: with massive shoulders and a tapering Y downwards, and with massive shoulders, a slender body, and a widened skirt X. Wide-shouldered silhouettes were complemented around the mid-1980s by a T-line, particularly on coats in a straight line.

The preference for silhouettes with massive shoulders brought back the so-called bat cut on sleeves, in which the sleeve is cut from the waistline. Large pads, lowered armholes, or even sleeves gathered in the armhole were used for highlighting the shoulders. The skirt length in official designs was recommended above the knee; a big hit was a significant slit either in the front, back or side.  At the end of the decade, the silhouette of a lowered waistline became popular on dresses; the upper part was straight, and the dress waistline dropped to below the buttocks. Or, the top part of the dress was wrapped at the waistline down to the buttocks, where the skirt was inserted. Formal dresses were sewn in this line. Separate skirts were also made with a large saddle. Wide-cut garments, such as dresses, shirts, tunics were popularly fitted with wide massive belts with a large buckle. They were either fastened at the waistline, or were lowered casually to the hips, being higher at the rear than at the front. Quilted anoraks from a balloon rip stuffed with polyamide fleece or feathers became a hit. Anoraks remained popular.

In parallel with romantic patterns on dress material, there were also geometric patterns, or large coloured areas dividing the garment. Girls’ fashion was influenced particularly by the aerobics training outfit. Elastic exercise trousers, and tight elastic T-shirts, as well as headbands, or leggings moved into daywear. So-called elastics were worn with a skirt, or alone. The saddle on women’s trousers rose, with so-called mrkváky (carrot jeans) becoming a hit, slightly curled on the front saddle, and tapered downward. There were numerous colour variants. Jeans with an admixture of elastane, making them flexible and close-fitting, became much sought-after. Jeans with a surface moon-washed finish, resulting in a reduction of blue colour and white remnant blotches also became popular, having been taken over from the West. A notable feature of women’s look in this decade was the massive hairstyle around the entire head, and the perm. Coloured headbands worn around the head modified the massive hairstyles, not just for sport. The look included large plastic earrings, and distinctive, even aggressive, make up.

In the men’s clothing of this decade, the suit was now only a formal type of clothing. For daily wear, trousers were preferred in combination with shirts, open shirts, T-shirts, pullovers in combination with a sports jacket, or windcheater jacket. The man’s silhouette was also wide, with the volume of the shoulders artificially increased on jackets. In the 1980s, the wearing of denim jackets and trousers with T-shirts bearing inscriptions, or the faces of music idols became widespread among some young boys and men. They complemented the hole with metal and leather details, with the hair often worn long. They were called heavy-metal fans, but fans of other rock orientations dressed similarly. In the second half of the 1980s, the streets were flooded again, this time with fans of the British band Depeche Mode. Dressed in black clothes with short hair gelled in height, they could not be overlooked even in the middle of the fashion mainstream. They sought out everything black, except for socks, which they wore white. They wore leather jackets all coats, on the head a classic black beret, black glasses, and also adorned themselves with metal accessories. Black shoes with a massive sole were an essential feature. The Western Doc Martens gradually replaced combat boots. Getting such alternative clothing in Czechoslovakia required considerable effort.

In addition to fashion clothing, clothing was also prescribed throughout Czechoslovakia in the form of uniforms for children and youths in the mandatory pioneer scouts organisation. These existed in boys’ and girls variants from the 1950s until November 1989. In the 1950s, at the time of the harshest ideologization of life, these uniforms were worn not just for political or school celebrations (as up to November 1989), but also for cultural events.

Another special phenomenon of the clothing culture of socialist realism in Czechoslovakia was the popularity of tracksuits in the 1950s. These were trousers for sport made from cotton or synthetic machine knit, complemented with a jacket. Due to their low price, availability and warmth from the training outfit, they became popular as daily leisure and work clothing among the broad masses of common people. For long they were a scarce commodity. Another trend among common people were work aprons, which women also wore as comfortable clothing around the home. In villages, women in also wore tracksuit trousers with them. In the countryside, such clothing replaced the traditional women’s work clothes, and this remains true to the present day. As in any period, people dressed in various ways, with even socialist Czechoslovakia being no exception. There was a significant difference between the mass and a narrow group of people who followed the hottest trends. Looking back at this period, it may seem to some that the clothing was awful or very unified. Yet, the reality was more varied, and this not just thanks to above-standard and high quality clothing, which while not available to the majority population, were a credit to self-production and self-sufficiency.

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Clothing at the time of the First Czechoslovak Republic

A new touch

The new state department that was created upon the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy – the Czechoslovak Republic – subscribed to republican ideals leading to the democratisation of society. The introduction of general suffrage put the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women all on an equal footing. Slovaks and Czechs after striving for many years succeeded in fulfilling their political emancipation by creating a separate state.  The young republic sought to apply modern progressive ideas in social issues, bringing many of Czechoslovakia’s inhabitants improvements the quality of housing, hygiene, accessibility to education, and possibilities for self-realisation. Clothing culture also contributed to spreading the new ideals of life. For the first time in history, more trendy clothing and fashion goods became available also to the manually labouring class, particularly in cities, whilst the Slovak countryside still remained “dressed in traditional costume” (except the families of teachers, craftsmen, notaries, or pastors, who, despite living in the countryside, nevertheless dressed in an urban manner, i.e. according to the fashion of the time).

The new woman

Despite the fact that, even after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic, interest in fashion events was focused on Paris and the pomp of the fashion world, the situation in the young republic began to develop also in other aspects. Intellectuals became the promoters of new fashion, and the new woman, mostly with democratic appeals, such as Milena Jesenská, who in her books Cesta k jednoduchosti (The Path to Simplicity) (1926) and Člověk dělá šaty (A Person Makes a Dress) (1927) highlighted in particular the practicality of clothing. Ideological reasons led to a defence and promotion of the elegant yet practical and moderate fashion. Modernity took on a very straightforward, functional form, for example the use of trousers, simple cuts, thanks to minimising unnecessary accessories and ornaments, or in short hair.  Nevertheless, this ideal was a minority current, closely linked with the urban environment, with educated intellectuals and bohemians. Alica Masaryková was one of the promoters of this no-nonsense approach in fashion and lifestyle, for example she liked shoes without heels, and quite austere clothes.

The ideal of a woman was also formulated by T. Masaryk: … today’s woman must be active, she must act in public, and in order to do so, she must stop being shouted at by old men and women, so that she has the strength of her own opinion”. This type of self-confident woman, engaged in society, was associated particularly with education, visibility, and openness. The exhibition Civilised Woman was held in Brno in 1929. Its authors Jan Vaněk, Zdeněk Rossmann and Božena Horneková sought to draw attention to the need for reform in clothing and lifestyle. Božena Horneková, (later Rothmayerová), was an extraordinary personality in the field of textiles; she was one of the first female graduates of the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art. For the Brno exhibition she designed women’s clothing for various occasions, based on combining trousers with other clothing elements. This promoter of women’s trousers and the new no-nonsense aesthetic in fashion was ahead of her time with her concept of fashion. Trousers found their place in the women’s wardrobe very carefully; in formal fashion only for sport and as home nightwear. They were very popular among young modern girls in the 1930s.

The Slovak magazine Živena also brought supportive opinions of the “new woman”. Its editor-in-chief, E. Maróthy-Šoltés, cited President Garrigue-Masaryk’s wife as a good role model, emphasising her education and nobility. Their daughter Alica Masaryková was described as an attractive role model for an educated and publicly engaged woman. Modern woman became an oft-promoted term in the new republic. It should be emphasised that the new republic created significant conditions for women’s development: women got the right to vote, had free access to education, celibacy for women’s teaching professions was abolished, they were engaged in society and financially self-sufficient.

Inspiration from folkcraft

Another ideological context for the new republic was provided by the promotion of folk clothing, particularly handicrafts. Alica Masaryková, from the position of the first lady, supported and initiated various activities aimed at deepening and promoting folk embroidery, fabrics, lacework. She was a collector of them, Božena Horneková Rothmayerová organised them and prepared them for display at the presidential apartments in Prague, where the Masaryk family lived.

In this spirit of national ideology, in Slovakia the production of folk-inspired clothing was taken up by the Lipa and Detva associations. This way of dressing was very popular in Slovakia and promoted right from the beginning of the 20th century. Lipa and Detva were participating associations, or cooperatives, concentrating on a wide range of products: fashionable women’s and children’s clothing, as well as toys, and home accessories. All products were handmade. An ambition of these institutions was to support and maintain domestic folk production. The products were made by experienced manufacturers directly in villages; it should be noted that in clothing production, the seamstress received the cut of the dress, which she embroidered in the marked places, and the stitching of dresses or handbags, etc., while the final work on the product was performed by professional tailors at central workshops. Experienced artists were also involved in designing products. The performance of the work was managed and supervised. In addition to this, the headquarters performed quality control, managed distribution and direct sales at the company’s stores, including sales abroad.

Clothes in “folk” style were widespread in the inter-war period in the Czech lands and Slovakia. The association Živena published a magazine of the same name with a fashion supplement, where fashionable clothes and accessories by Lipa were promoted.  Both associations had a network of stores. Detva was based in Bratislava (the headquarters were on Štefánikova Street in the former headquarters of the Izabella association), and had stores in Brno, Prague, Piešťany, Karlovy Vary and Olomouc. Detva also exported its products abroad. In interwar Czechoslovakia, Lipa also had stores in several cities in the country. In Bratislava it opened a store in 1927 in the Tatra Banka Palace on SNP Square (the building of today’s Ministry of Culture).

This type of clothing was not worn by a simple women from the countryside, but was widespread in the urban environment, particularly in nationally conscious Slovak families. At first glance, the dress was reminiscent of folk clothing. Pale, natural canvas colours were preferred for summer, with dark silk fabrics for evening wear. The cuts corresponded to contemporary trends in fashion.  It was popular to dress young children in such clothes; the associations made children’s jackets, capes, dresses, trousers, and caps for winter and summer.

Changes of silhouette

At the beginning of the new republic, the silhouettes worn during the First World War still persisted; in the straight one, a narrower long skirt was worn, and in the bell, the skirt widened downward, reaching the ankles. In the years 1920 – 1921, we see a shift of the waistline toward the hips, giving a change of silhouette. At the same time, the length of the dress moves even lower from the ankles. So-called “pocket” dresses became popular, with the waistline  lowered on the hips, and with the upper, loose, peace, they gave a free and comfortable look.

A bolder shift occurred in 1925, when the length of skirt shortened to the knees, and the waistline remained reduced. This style of clothing in Europe in the 1920s was termed à la garçonne. The waistline, lowered on the hips in a tall and slender figure, with a masculine flat bust became the ideal figure for fashion designers and photographers. This new ideal of beauty celebrated the boyish look. To correct their figure, women used a rubber band and bra. Androgenic shapes looked best in these dresses. You can see in the period photographs that this type of dress was not so flattering for more corpulent ladies. Fashion ideals and clothing reality often do not match.

The most popular type of clothing for daily wear became the knitted set, brought to the fashion world by Coco Chanel. In the variants: skirt, sweater (or kazak) and jacket (or sweater), or skirt and jacket were comfortable daily alternatives for going to work, but knitting of quality wool, or silk also fitted for more formal daytime occasions. They partially replaced the previously popular women’s costumes: a skirt, jacket and blouse. Two-piece suits were still worn, in the French version – with more refined cut details, or English – a rather austere look.

In autumn 1929, the silhouette and cut of dresses changed. The waistline moved from the hips to a natural place, the skirt length and, the cut of the dress followed the proportions of the body, and the silhouette of the dress took on a flowing character. The accentuation of women’s proportions won. There was also a marked change in hairstyle and make-up. The ideal shifted from boyish to “sweet” femininity. Perfectly fitting dresses for the figure were made possible by the “oblique” cut, made famous by the French designer Madelaine Vionnet. It allowed the construction of clothing on the basis of sophisticated symmetry causing adhesion to the figure. Moreover, dresses made this way are interesting thanks to multi-part cut fields that make them visually special.

Before 1936, there was beginning the trend to gradually emphasise shoulders on various types of clothing. The female silhouette loses flow, and the strong dominance of the shoulders adds rigour to the silhouette. Creases were introduced on sleeves, and shoulder pads were used. A narrow torso, and the flowing longer skirt optically added even more volume to the shoulders. 

Interwar fashion throughout Europe promoted a new perspective on elegance. Inconspicuousness, civility, functionality, even with strong masculine elements, prevailed for daily occasions, both formally and informally. For evening occasions, the aristocratic etiquette of nobility still dominated. In the 1920s, influences from the Orient still persisted in evening and daily social wear. This stabilised in the 1930s glamour, promoted by film stars and fashion photography. A novelty was the revealing of the back (exclusively) on evening dresses. The female character gets a new master, and that became sport. The body was to be shaped by physical exertion, various sports activities, such as walking to the Sokolovna gym, the swimming pool, or hiking. The state, besides solving the housing issue, was also creating conditions for the construction of sports centres.

Despite the fact that aesthetic forms were changing in the spirit of sober modernism, while simplifying and facilitating the way of life, social and clothing etiquette remained adherents following the “olden days”. An example of this is the prevailing convention from the 19th century, such as the wearing of gloves and headwear for women, or stiff collars for men. Clothing etiquette was binding for the middle and upper classes, and women’s and men’s clothing were strictly divided according to the section of the day and social occasion.

Thanks to Coco Chanel, which gradually gave courage to other seamstresses, the hats of the interwar period took on a more reduced form. She discarded massive Art Nouveau hats filled with animal and floral decorations. In the 1920s, ladies still wore wide-brimmed hats, but with more moderate decoration, and bell-shaped cloche hats prevailed, but also garrison caps and turbans. In the 1920s, evening caps were also popular, complementing the dress. A novelty in the women’s wardrobe world wool berets, until then having been an emblem of the proletariat, yet now fashionable in various colours, both in summer and winter. Fur products were very popular, long-haired fur coats and capes for the day, short-haired for the evening, or evening fur boleros and short capes. A trend were also fur gloves – muffs. Up until the 1940s, some species of whole animals were a typical addition, such as foxes, ferrets, minks, placed on one shoulder, or as a shawl, or as a long collar on day dresses, costumes, but also on evening dresses.

As skirts shortened, shoes became a distinctive and visible accessory. Elegant types had a higher heel; according to the etiquette of the time: the rule for heels was lower for the day, higher in the evening. Various types of pumps were worn, popular were sandals with a toe and heel. The general rule was that in winter, women from the higher classes wore high heeled pumps, not boots. These represented sport shoes, but also shoes for the working class. On summer days these were expanded also by open-toed sandals without a heel, and textile shoes on a low platform, similar to today’s gym shoots. Combinations of leather and textile also became fashionable. Thanks to the Baťa company, footwear of a more fashionable form also became affordable for lower classes of the population. In addition to Baťa shoes,there were also other ready-made shoes on the market, for example poperky, which in contrast to Baťa, were of a higher-medium standard. It was still true that elegant and more luxurious shoes were bought at smaller businesses. Shoemaking was also a common trade, where shoes were also tailor-made. In the 1930s, a fashion was pumps and sandals in a combination of black and white, or gold and silver for eveningwear.

Handbags were a necessary accessory for the fashionably dressed lady, chosen according to clothing and the social occasion. So-called leafless handbags, carried in the hand, became a novelty. Generally, handbags were smaller in form. They could be bought in departments stores, but they were also made by bag makers. In winter, those that could be worn as a sleeve (a muff) were also popular. The colours of the shoes and gloves matched the handbag. Gloves were a necessary accessory for the fashionably dressed woman / lady not just in winter, but also summer. They were worn in a length up to the wrist, but also with a higher cuff under the elbow, even the length of the arm for the evening, made of silk knit or tulle or netted with linen or cotton threads.

In the interwar period, parasols gradually declined in popularity as an essential accessory protecting porcelain skin. This is also related to the fact that suntans were becoming popular. Young girls and women had begun sunbathing. Parasols remained only as a remnant of aristocratic walks.

The basis of the man’s remains the men’s suit in a triple combination of jacket, waistcoat and trousers. Etiquette from the time of the monarchy still persisted, so for a day on official occasions a jacket or long suit skirt was de rigueur, will while a suit and jacket was prescribed for less official occasions. For daytime occasions, the waistcoat was high, with a waistcoat with neckline for the evening. The height of the collar on men’s shirts and the way the tie was tied also said much about the wearer: High rigid collars were preferred or prescribed in all offices, horizontal collars were more informal. In period photographs from the 1920s, our political representatives at daily working meetings are usually dressed in jackets and frock coats (redingotes). Tuxedos and tailcoats were prescribed for the evening. An essential formal accessory of men were: hardened hats, such as the top hat or bowler, with soft hats also coming into fashion. Caps (otherwise proletarian) were worn as men’s informal headwear. In the 1920s, new types of men’s clothing began to appear – jackets (similar to today’s bomber jackets) instead of formal jackets, or sportier forms of jackets with several pockets. In the 1930s, the silhouette of men’s clothing changed significantly, from a slim vertical silhouette to something broader. A new type of day suit gained ground: a jacket with two-row fastening. In the interwar period, similarly as with women’s fashion, knitted garments, particularly pullovers and waistcoats were popular among men; in a gentleman’s wardrobe for informal occasions and sport; among young boys and manually working men also for daily wear.

Fashion magazines and fashion advertising

Advertising for clothing products and firms producing clothing and accessories was present in the public space of cities, and most frequently in periodicals. In the interwar period there still was no fashion magazine published in the Slovak language. In Slovakia, therefore, women, as well as men, read mainly Czech and foreign fashion periodicals. They were also closely watched by editors of specialised fashion supplements in the Slovak press, so that readers were informed about world trends. An example is Anna Škultétyová, the editor of Živena, who prepared a fashion section, taking French, German, English, and Bulgarian fashion magazines. From 1928 there was also a specialised fashion section Móda a vkus (Fashion and Taste) in the Živena magazine. Other society magazines also had smaller fashion sections, e.g. the weekly Slovenský svet (Slovak World) (from the 1921 section Ženám slovenského sveta (To Women of the Slovak World)), the pictorial social magazine Nový svet (New World) (from 1928 the section Móda Nového sveta (New World Fashion)), the monthly Ozvena Echo (since 1931 the section Móda (Fashion)). From 1938, the women’s weekly Nová žena (New Woman) (section Fashion) began to be published.

In Slovakia, fashion magazines published in the Czech lands were available, such as Elegant Prague, Fashion and Taste, Salon, Prague Fashion, Eva, Taste, Fashion Show, the Month or Gentleman. Foreign fashion periodicals included, for example, Gazette du Bon Ton, Femina, Vogue, The Garden of Fashion and Harper’s Bazaar.

Notable firms

From among the prominent firms producing various clothing and fashion ranges on the Czechoslovak market, particular attention should be given to the firms footwear Baťa, clothing factories Nehera, Rolný, Sbor, Prvoděv, Moravia and from Slovakia Slovenka.  Still today some clothing companies slogans have not disappeared from memory, for example: Model Shoes Sewn by Rolný, or Nehera sews dresses well. These Czechoslovak firms offering fashion collections focused on the production of industrially and mass-produced goods, with their production and business strategy focused on the wider market. Acceptable prices meant that they became affordable also for manually working classes, for whom the possibility of dressing fashionably had previously been unavailable. The firm Marathon specialised in sportswear and supplies. It was established in 1918 and became the largest sportswear shop for Slovaks (its store was on Ventúrská Street in Bratislava).

The shoemaking firm Baťa targeted its products at the wider social market. In the interwar period in the Czechoslovak Republic, it was not above-standard in terms of fashion to have shoes from Baťa; the firm conveyed its products to the widest possible masses, striving to follow the fashion demands in footwear. In its product advertising, it promoted not just “folk” types of footwear, such as galoshes and sneakers, but also fashionable women’s snakeskin shoes. In creating its collections Baťa tried to respect the requirements of all age groups.

Department stores

Modern and progressive department stores were built in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s and 1930s, for example from 1934 the fashion store Schön (Obchodná Street, during socialism known as the Pionier Department store), as well as the S. Braun “Quality Fashion Store” (at the Suché Mýto crossroads). The most modern of its kind was the Brouk a Babka Department store (on SNP Square, today the Dunaj Department Store). It opened in 1936 as the first in Slovakia of this already well-known firm from the Czech lands. It was built in the space of five months. Functionalist architecture, together with modern sales methods (mail-order, sale on credit) and advertising (the firm published catalogues, mail order catalogues, advertising leaflets, fashion guides, etc.) all added a progressive, modern stamp to the company.

There were also other department stores with fashion goods in Bratislava: Sigmund Kohn (Laurinská Street),  J. Steiner (Hurbanovo Square),  Amschelberg (Sedlárska Street), Berger Adolf  (Mariánska Street). The most well-known company, Tausky and Sons, had an exhibition department store in today’s SNP Square above the Main Post Office building. This company had been operating in Bratislava since 1846. In addition to its fashion collection store, they also had a model salon for women, and, notably, also for men.

Luxury companies

The highest quality women’s and men’s clothing was always made to measure for the customer. This service was offered by women’s and men’s tailors, who often carried on their trade often in the centre of small towns. They also knew how to get quality fabric, or their customers brought their own fabrics to them. Clothing, tailor-made by a trained master tailor “sat” best on the figure, and this was an important requirement for the quality of the model.

There were also tailoring workshops, making tailor-made clothes, but the tailors not only sewed the clothes, but also designed them. Such tailoring was often referred to as salons named after the owner-designer of the clothing. There were several such salons in the interwar Bratislava, for example Christa Nase, Gita Nemešová, Dedeo and Löwy, or Jaroslav Kalvoda, Zsákovits, Rosenzweig. Smaller companies, specialised in the production and sale of clothing in higher quality than that offered by large-run production factories, were, for example the firm Tausky and Son or Buxbaum, Blau & Weinberger. The prices of clothes in these salons were greatly higher than custom made clothing at a tailor. Customers came from the upper middle class or the bourgeoisie.

The most renowned of their kind in the former Czechoslovakia were the Prague model houses, whose customers included the wives of Slovak politicians, e.g. Irena Hodžová or Maja Markovičová, as well as the wives of Slovak industrialists and bankers. Notable salons were, for example, Rosenbaum, Podolská, Roubíček. Some of them also produced clothes for the Barandov film studios. Czech film legends became promoters of their luxurious clothing production and, thanks to the films, they spread throughout Czechoslovakia as a fashion ideal.

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Between the Middle Ages and Modern Age

Despite the fact that in Italy the way of thinking was changing which has marked-down also the architecture, art as well the way of dressing; the humanism and Rennaissance were coming very gradually. In the first half of the 15th century the clothes of previous century persisted still; just in the courtly milieu they could have a more extravagant form. Especially the trails, shoes, hats and bonnets became the very objects of pompous representation and aesthetical whimsies. In milieu of aristocracy and nobility, which were coming into contact with the court, also more extravagant forms of clothes were incurring as we know them from courtly milieu of France, Italy or Bohemia.

Expansion of Osmanli textile and clothing culture by means of Venetian region but probably also the direct military invasion of Ottomans into the Europe were provocating also new trends in the clothing. Throughout the 15th century and in Hungary also 16th century a vogue of various headgears reminding some Oriental turbans and headscarves has being boomed.

Renaissance novelties were coming but in the second half of the 15th century and they coexisted still with the medieval clothing habits. A distinctive lacing on front part of the clothes but also on sleeves shows up gradually on the female clothes. In the 15th century also the way of constructing the dresses is gradually changing; they commence to be cut onto two parts, in particular, the upper part is formed by the cut– the bodice and separately the bottom part i.e. skirt and they are subsequently sewn-together into the whole of the dress. It makes it possible to manufacture a more close-fitting upper part of the dress and a more massive skirt. Fig. XX In Italy in the 15th century the production of soft cottons with the pile – of velours (of velvets ) made itself perfect in the contemporary sources form our territory being designated  as acsamites. They have been adorned particularly with floral motives of large-repeat compositions in particular with a motive of pomegranate or pine cone. At an official portrait of Sigmund Luxembourg, of Czech and Hungary King, of Roman Caeser we see that he has clothes of a late medieval type but it is sewn-up from already Rennaisance Italian fabric. He, as well as the crowned King of Lombardy, had possibilities to procure the famous velvets from Florence, Genoa or Venice.

From the 15th century we have the preserved more numerous written monuments bringing mentions also about contemporary clothes. They are documenting the fact that the clothes were inherited in the milieu of nobility on our territory. Namely the fabrics had the greatest value on the clothes, however, also embroidered clothes and clothing jewels have been appreciated. Also a clothing dictionary could be compiled on the basis of analyses of the written sources from the 15th century. With regard to the fact that especially the Latin language was the written language Latin names are prevailing; also the designations in language of the country from where they originate then Italian, German or French ones are occurring at the new types of clothes. The term tunic could designate various types of the clothes also outer dresses (marked as cotton or purple ones) but also bottom clothes (flax tunic). The outer dresses and also topcoats could be denominated as reverendas, stragulas (strangula). Mantles of pelerine type were steadily worn and they were probably called paenula, toga, palium, mantel; pellicium (fur pelerine). The greatcoat overcoats then with sleeves could be reverendas, long sleeves sheepskin coats , dolmans. Some camisia, camisa terms could designate bottom shirts, tunics. The belts with metal components were used to be designated as cingulas and textile bands as baltheum. The notion sotulares denominated the all-shoes and calceum the sandals. In the sources the word capution is used, maybe a cowl, in many a case it has been necessary to use almost two metres of cloth for its consumption so as it could concern also an arranged turban-like headgear (chaperon). The cap was designated as cappa. Shorter coats were designated as ioppa, bambusium. The headbands were an important object of inheriting and they were designated as crinale. The velvet (aksamite) being interlaced with gold threads is denominated already in written sources as gold brocade and with silver threads as silver brocade. It was used to be described at the descriptions of precious fabrics which pattern is situated on the cloth, and so we learn that they used the fabrics adorned with flowers and lions or with letters and trees. It could be a question of not the velvets/velours but also of napless fabrics lampases, samitumes/hexamitumes, taqueté. They were produced in China,  in Central Asia countries, Persia, in Middle East, in Byzantium but their knowledge came also into the Europe, and namely thanks to Arabs, into Italian Luccy or into Maori Spain.

Some testaments are bringing information about the thing that the stragula had a sleeve of another colour. The liking to use another colour or also fabrics within one clothes is connected with expanded culture of family colours which were used in the escutcheons but also on the clothes. The clothes were segmented not only on the cutting surfaces but also on the coloured ones. So that the clothes on the left side have been of another colour than on the right one; it has being used on the outerwear, on basic clothes: on dresses, trousers also on headgears. The owner of clothes was demonstrating fidelity to the family tradition also in such way.  

Production of clothes with complicated cut which are close-fitting onto the figure, rise of typologically heterogeneous clothing accessories, their mannered extravagant form, sophisticated fabrics, handbags on the waist and so like have being asked for an existence of specialized craftsmen who could manufacture their products with processional skilfulness in the spirit of new trends from abroad. Within the craftsmen who in the  15th century took part in production of textiles, clothes and clothing accessories we know those for production of textiles: weavers, fustian weavers (production of „bakachines”), abroad „samitiers” (production of silk fabrics, lampas, samitumes) and „veludiers” (production of hair fabrics, velvets/aksamites”), drapers „pozamentiers” (production of narrow laces, cords, buttons, fringes); „tailors” became differentiated in big cities to producers of hats, coats, trousers; bag- makers and glovers were processing leather; hatters did the same as for the felt and textiles; shoemakers did so with leather but also with the textile for shoes; embroiderers have decorated the clothes by various techniques of embroideries ; goldsmiths manufactured the jewels on clothes. These suppliers were presenting an important basis for the history of clothing not only from the viewpoint of production of aesthetical forms processed fully professionally in a craftsman-like way but they have played-up an important role in accepting and handing-over the novelties then of changes which took part in the development of clothing habits and changes of fashion. Excepting some written sources from the territory of Slovakia from the 14th and 15th centuries we know also the monuments of the creative arts but particularly of religious character. It concerns wall and table paintings as well as sculptor´s decoration in sacral architecture. Thereby they present a certain, namely restricted source for a study of clothing culture but despite this also a period clothing culture is reflected undoubtedly in them. The important thing is to read” the clothes, textiles and clothing accessories from the point of view of their symbolic meaning on them. From secular environment we know already illuminated picture chronicles for example the Vienna chronicle from the 14th century or Chronicle of John of Turiec from the 15th century.

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Clothing in the 14th century in sign of making- perfect of cut and slim figure

In the development of clothing the 14th century presented a period of rise of many kinds of dresses thereby it was coming to a magnifying the variability their forms only in the 15th century when many of them acquired extravagant forms. In the 14th century more heterogeneous male and female coats have arisen; the scarves with women (till now chastely covering up the head, neck and nape) were getting more cunning shapes. Female bonnet-like high headgears have appeared and the hats of diverse shapes did so likewise with men. Since the half of the 14th century a change came about in the male fashion: the clothes were distinctively shortened and more types of short skin-tight coats (ioppa, “kurtka”) had arisen. So the men were leaving their legs being visible; up to then they have been covered-up under some long dress clothes.

Into the Hungary also other habits from courtly society have penetrated also by means of a new dynasty on the Hungarian throne, of the dynasty of Anjous. The contacts with Bohemians have equally mediated the Luxembourg and French courtly etiquette. Also the form of clothes has changed under an influence of making-perfect of production within the guild organization. Close-fitting clothes constructed on the basis of geometry of the cut have started to be manufactured; not as till now by a form of the even cuts and extending wedges. The Europeans familiarized themselves by means of the trade but also via Crusades with luxury goods of the Orient; not excluding clothes and textiles. Women in Arabic countries have worn skin-tight clothes, the long ground-deep falling sleeves, high rigid hat headgears and these were getting as a new fashion also onto the European royal courts. In the 14th century the skin-tight female dresses/tunics indicating the curves of female body were worn. A guillotine neckline was even favourite which discovered the neck, nape, till shoulders. The sleeves of the frock (lady´s dress) have reached up to the ground and they were stretched-away beyond the figure. On the heads some higher headgears were started themselves to form; sooner still like scarves under which some high laid-under hairdos and bonnets could be. A scarf was yet laid onto them. Wealthy women and men have worn laminated completes; their upper part has been cut-out so to discover the bottom layer (from Fr. cotte and sucotte or from Lat. tunic and supertunic) . Protruding corners, spikes, bands which made optically the owner higher and they lent majesty him.

Many Hungarian noblemen took part in diverse journeys where they became acquainted with exotic products and they got acquainted the period taste (“sophistication”). Also silk fabrics have been such luxury goods. In the 14th century their price fell moderately because the production centres from Front Asia were extended into the Northern Italy (Lucca, Venice) and Spain where the Moors have formed them up and maintained politically dominating to the Pyrenean peninsula. The silk fabrics with woven-out figural patterns with gold and silver threads have presented some of the most valuable period commodities.

On the territory of Slovakia only barchets and bakachines from the most standard fabrics were manufactured in guild of barchetars. Also the wall paintings from the territory of Slovakia are documenting them as well as the findings of the bakachines alone. The cotton has delivered a higher price on the market to these about 45 – 50 cm wide fabrics which has been an exotic material in Europe. Also Armenian merchants from Asia were bringing it onto the territory of Slovakia. Similar utility textiles we can see also on the wall also table paintings in other countries. The liking of white fabrics with dyed woven-out patterns has penetrated into the whole Europe from Italy concretely from Umbria Perugia or Tuscan Arezza.

Granting of city privileges made the status of townspeople stronger from which already a strong social class was becoming. Organization of craft and trade has been dominant domains in the towns. The economic and political development of the towns brought also a cultural boom manifesting itself in building activity and in lifestyle of townsmen. Rebuilding and rise of new churches were bringing a development of Gothic art. The clothing of rich townsmen of German, Slovak and Hungarian origin has followed the trends in nobleman´s clothes. The towns have presented also centres of production and sale of such clothes. The guild craftsmen who have collected experience from the European towns within journeyman´s errands have been mediators of new cuts, production procedures and of decorations of clothes. Although the rich townsmen but also craftsmen in the towns have imitated the fashion trends in clothing they could not dress as the nobility. They imitated especially new cuts of clothes as materials, however, some extravagant details on the clothes like trails, tails (or corners) and long sleeves have not been worn by them also from that reason that such clothes has been impractical. Excepting that fact”lordly” ordinances did exist, in which it was appointed what is forbidden to wear to the townspeople. The aristocracy has strengthened itself privileged status in such way.

In the second half of the 14th century it came to a more distinctive change in male clothes. It passed trough from the long tunic clothes onto a combination of short close-fitting coat (ioppa, kurtna) and pantihose  up to the waist (caligae). On these clothes the rich men have worn yet effect monumental topcoats, reverendas/stragulas, being sewn-up of expensive fabrics, for winter quilted and bordered by furs. They could be girded with distinctive belt in the waist or be only freely flowing ones.

With a favour of skin-tight clothes with men also with women an attention began to be paid, and namely to buttons, thanks to which the tight clothes got onto the body and they were closed onto it. The richest people had themselves entire garnitures onto their clothes manufactured: onto front fastening and onto sleeves.

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Forming the Hungary between the East and the West

The clothing on the territory of Slovakia found itself in period of the early Middle Ages under influence of more pagan also of Christian, ethnically Slovak and non-Slovak factors. Original Slovak population passed through a gradual Christianization which was bringing also a new view at dressing. The Christianized population also in other parts of Europe crossed through to long clothes then to long tunics, and namely especially the ruler´s male class which did not wear long clothes till then. Short tunics have been preferred by men for the fight but the long clothes were gradually becoming a formal dress. Women, particularly those married ones, have worn under influence of a new ideology the chastely being veiled head, neck and the bottom part of face. The Christianity brought in a prudishness manifesting itself by shrouding the body into the clothing customs. The reigning elite has been still steadily influenced by Byzantine culture. Luxurious items e.g. also cotton fabrics had their original just in Byzantium.

The ancient Hungarian tribes had other way of life also clothing in the time of their arrival on the territory of the Slavs.  It is possible to see a parallel to their clothes at other nomadic ethnic groups from Asia. They knew trousers protecting at riding; they have worn coats called kaftans girded in the waist with textile belts which strengthened the trunk at riding. The nomadic tribes have been joined also by the access to the property „worn on themselves” as various types of jewels. It means that their clothes have been sewn-up with metal appliqués, and these have been used, as the case may be, also as a means of payment. With regard to the fact that their way of dwelling in tents did not enable a distinctive social differentiation; just the jewels on the clothes became a symbol of the status from the social point of view.  Also massive necklaces with separate components had the equal sense but also appliqués on the shoes or caps.  Those in a form of too striking hats they had to wear at riding like a head protection. Because they had to „be a perfect fit “, they preferred caps deeply set-on on the head. The clothes of tribe elite of nomads especially the kaftans could be manufactured of showy cottons because they had immediate contacts with cultures where cotton clothes have been used: for example with Scythians, Persians or Sogdians.

The new state formation Hungary established on the part of territory of Great Moravia has been by power organized by Hungarian knights with support of Slavonic elite. Štefan the first as the founder of a new empire accepted the Christianity and the Hungary became a part of the West state wholes. Imitation particularly of the West Europe but also of Byzantium became a norm for lifestyle also dressing. By a transition to Latin language in official sources the names of the clothes and clothing accessories and of clothing accessories are found in Latin transcription. In spite of that the names of the clothes of Slavonic origin were maintaining in the colloquial speech and linguistic scientists consider them for such ones for instance garment, shroud, „riza, “grzno”, shaggy coat, blouse, peasant´s shoes. They are well-known up to today´s times although for the most part already only as dialect archaisms. Up to the 13th century only a limited scale of written sources bringing more content information about clothing and textile culture from the territory of Slovakia or Hungary does exist.

The form of clothes presented a very simple cut in this period. It was a question of plain clothes it has been cut in the direction of warp or weft and with straight set-in sleeves. They began gradually to disseminate in the basic cut as well as on the sleeves with side triangular wedges. It has been the most universal form of the clothes: menswear, women´s wear and children´s wear as well clothes for poor also rich persons. In spite of a simple cut the social differences have been visible on the clothes. In a practical usage it was differentiated between bottom tunic in function of bottom wear and top tunic as upper clothes. In this period also a number of equal pieces of clothes worn on themselves signalized a difference among particular inhabitants. Richer people have worn also three tunics every in other function or of other material. The simple inhabitants called their often the only tunic riza or shroud. The upper tunic of woollen cloth they called a skirt. In this period the skirt did not designate a clothing type of today´s female skirt but a dress clothes made of cloth equally the male also female ones . Not only a material, its treatment, decorating, colourfulness have been a sign of the social distinctness. The simplest classes of population then physically working people have worn clothes of fabrics manufactured in a homely way; for winter they have worn woollen especially cloth tunics; for summer flaxen or hemp ones. Also in the female as well in male form they have been girded with textile band or a leather belt.

However, dress long clothes covering up the entire figure have been not the only clothes used by nobility but also by wider population for example in the time of winter. For protecting the legs „trousers“ were used but not of today´s type. The leg has been protected from beneath similarly as in the case of today´s pantihose or of half-hoses i.e. it was shoed on the sole of the foot and it was pulled-out under or over knee where it was fixed-up with lacing i.e. suspender belt. The “trousers“ were sewn for winter of woollen fabrics for summer of flax, hemp; the more luxury ones also of cotton fabrics. The existence of knitted forms has been probably rather with the common people. Such „trousers“ could be fixed to the legs by straps of shoes (of sandals, by moccasins) or also by lacings and those could be also very decorative. Also foot-rags and tip bunches were used i.e. the lacings by which the leg was twined-around and it protected this one from the knee towards to the sole of the foot. Second type of the trousers has been presented by underpants, and these have protected the crotch and thighs. With regard to this that it concerned a type of underwear they were sewn particularly of linen and they were not tinted-with a dyestuff. They had a form of threading trousers with a slash in the front, with shorter or longer pipes onto the legs or a form of arranged triangular scarf tied-up in the waist.

The headscarves have been a substantial clothing part of women especially of the married ones. In the time of the 10th to 13th centuries the bonnets or hats did not still exist as a part of the European women´s wear. Also showy headgears well-known from monuments of plastic arts, particularly of illuminations and later also of table or wall paintings are manufactured of simple forms: of quadrangular textiles or with rounded-up edges. However, they are interesting by their way of winding-around, laying and fixing onto the head. More sophisticated procedures required two also three scarves or belts which were laid onto the head. The simplest scarf for use was the one placed onto the head towards from behind forward has been, as the case may be, from above fixed-up by headband. The more complicated thing has been a way of the head arrangement with the covering-up of not only of upper part of the head but also of lower one, of beard and neck. The beard finish acted more craftily with the leaving of a bare neck. The winding-up way of the arrangement of head and neck has beencommonly used in the time of the top Middle Ages also at royal courts and in the milieu of nobility. In the 14th and 15th centuries when a broader range of headgears based on the cut and hard form will begin to come into existence an enrolling the head will become an archaic form and this one will prevail in milieu of townspeople, countryside population and of nuns.

A cowl as a part of coat or as separate accessories has been the most widely used headgear with the men. It had a simple cut coming out equally like clothing components from a form of simple geometrical shapes. Also a cap fitting closely and bordering  the head was worn. They manufactured it of fabric or felt with the aid of wooden form.

Quadrangle scarves either of flaxen linen or of wool served in less wealthy milieu as an outerwear. Also woollen topcoats cut-trough in the front lengthwise were worn. It concerned an influence of Hungarian and later also of other Asian nomads which have settled-down on the territory of Hungary. Coats of pelerine type were probably worn by more wealthy inhabitants. They have been symmetrically laid onto the figure, in German called mantel; those that had a cowl they designated in Latin language also as pluvial or capa. Also asymmetrical coats still of ancient type have being persisted. In written sources from the 12th and 13th centuries they are designated like paenulas, pallium, toga. In winter they favoured fur coats, “krznos” of various forms; in the Latin designations it could concern pellisons.

The shoes were worn among higher class all year long. The more complicated forms particularly from decorated leather: of painted, stamped alternatively of gilded leathers have been products of shoemakers especially from Byzantium or Arabic countries. In environment from here the cobblers could work on, sew up and adorn the leather by the beating-in. The shoes could be also the textile ones.

Between the rural population but also inhabitants of towns a home production of the clothes also accessories have functioned.

Slovak elite and nobility, which have played-out an important role at forming the Hungarian Kingdom, knew also more luxury clothing products. Especially the men during military expeditions or as part of sovereign voyages have acquainted with exotic goods or products generating in the centres of their production. Slovak lineages (families) Hont, Poznan, Bebek, Diviacky´s, Dônč, Podmanický and so on, could afford not only the products of superior quality of local master tailors, shoemakers, weavers but also imported clothes and accessories. Up to the 13th century the Byzantine products also their cotton fabrics have been some luxurious imports. Also Persian and Arabic cotton fabrics but also from other Asian countries have been equally appreciated. The most luxury ones have been particularly those with woven-out vegetal and figural patterns. In foreign period sources they are designated like samitumes, taqueté, lampases. Manufacturing of entire clothes, tunic or coat of these fabrics could be afforded only by the richest noblemen. They were utilized also as decorative borders at the neck opening, on sleeves and on the bottom hem of various clothes. Also one-coloured cotton fabrics but also the French, Dutch, English or Italian cloths were highly appreciated. Also cotton fabrics being imported from Italy and Orient have been expensive cloths in this time. They were used for veils and headscarves.

Differentness between woollen and linen clothes has been caused by their colour, quality of tinting respectively. Homely tinted clothes had not such heavy and particularly not long-lasting hues as when the clothes have been coloured by an already professional craftsman, a dyer. The quality of dyeing has been connected with a type of dyestuff and with using the chemical natural fixatives. It depended on quantity of dyestuff used and on the length of fabric dyeing.  The depth of colour and its washfastness; fastness after sun exhibition and fastness to abrading have been important factors of quality of tinted fabric. The dyestuffs of vegetal or animal origin were used. Separate guilds of dyers came to existence until in the late Middle Ages because the fabrics dyeing has been secured by the guilds or workshops of drapers or weavers up to then. The fabrics were dyed for light (yellow, red, carmine) colours and for dark ones (blue, black, purple colours). Derived colours like green, orange, brown and black ones arose by their redyeing.  The green colour was achieved with redyeing the yellow fabric by blue colour and with redyeing of black-and-brown fabrics by blue colour sometimes yet also by red colour black colour shades were achieved again. The black colour shades were worn more rarely until the beginning of the 14th century rather on smaller pieces of clothes and as monastic vestments for Benedictines and Dominicans. The fashion of black colour is fused only with Burgundy court in the 15th century.

For achievement of red colour a more affordable dyer´s morena (Rubia tinctorum) or further imported more luxury carmine dyestuffs being extracted from exotic worms of insect: carmasine, crimson, carmine. Also woollen scarlets were dyed red, yellow and brown with them – also dyed purple but in the 14th and 15th centuries it came to transferring the meaning of word scarlet for marking the carmine colour.  The purple was the most luxurious dyestuff by which various colour shades of red colour are being achieved.  Sea molluscs are used for its production. The term purple has designated not only a dyestuff in the Middle Ages but it was used also for marking the colour of achieved colour shade of the fabric. However, a precise identification of such colour is not unambiguous because also various nuances from pink colour until dark reddish violet one have sprung-up according to quantity of the purple used and to the length of bucking in it. Dyer´s boryte (Isatis tinctoria), a plant growing in Europe, was used for blue cloth dyeing and with more expensive indigo plant (Indigofera tinctoria) originally from West Africa and South Asia was it so too. The white colour, which was being attained by decolouring, because natural vegetal or animal fibres in white colour did not exist, has been a special colour. Decolouring and bleaching have been processes requiring the skilfulness. Therefore white clothes for instance tunica alba or tunica  purawere very appreciated. Beige and pale grey colour shades of natural linen and hemp have prevailed in the current clothes, however, also in a simple homely procedure the cloths were bleached for example by sun drying which has pulled-out a coloured pigment from  them. So white colour has been the colour of above-standard clothes and it was used a few especially in a combination with other colours at which it has acted more whitely than it has been in reality: then with red, green, blue colours. Coloured scales differentiated for male and female ones did not exist in the Middle Ages. Only differences among social classes did exist, which were manifested in colour depth and quality of fabric colouring or in its colour matching.

Also embroideries have delivered a high value to the clothes. Cotton threads, gold and silver fibres and threads or also various appliqués, works of goldsmiths, which were sewn-to onto the clothes, were used for embroidering in that most elite milieu. The embroideries have been widespread because they imitated heavily available and expensive figured fabrics. They have been embroidered by professional master embroiderers but the embroidering has been also skilfulness which was fostered by upbringing among women of all social classes. Homely manufactured embroideries on the clothes and soft furnishings were implemented as linen, woollen threads and in noble milieu also by cotton threads. It was embroidered on frames according to a drawn-beforehand pattern whereby more complicated compositions and shapes but also „by guesstimate” according to a counted thread what has been more simply and particularly geometrical motives: circles, rosettes, swastikas, spirals, strips were used. It was embroidered directly on the clothes but the strips or also patterns appliquéd on the clothes either as hems or patterns. As it is backed-up by archaeological findings or museum artefacts in this period also the Hungarian nobility have worn the embroidered coats and tunics.

Jewels have been steadily an important part of clothing as well its functional element. Herewith that the arranged forms of coats have long persisted, for which it was necessary to fix up them onto the body by fasteners, the clasps have been constantly very widespread: hook and eye fasteners, fibulas, and scarf pins, pins for arrangement of head and scarves. Women have worn also their head decorated with jewels except for earrings also backecarrings were permanently in favour. Headbands with various ways depicted by end pieces became widespread for fixing the hairdos and veils. They have been worn by young damsels on the hairs but also by married women on the veils. And „parta”, a wider headband on head was a symbolic headdress which has been a sign of girl´s age.

They used to be more ostentatiously manufactured of precious metals and gemstones or of other materials but sepulchral stocks of archaeological findings are backed-up by also amber, bronze, horn, bone and glass. Some products of jewellers served also like appliqués onto the clothes; they have been decorating bronze small metal strips which were sewn-on onto the dresses or onto the belts: terminations, ironworks from belts, buckles. Rings and namely the shield- type ones with heraldic adornment or dome-like rings with an eyelet have been popular.

In the thirties of the 13th century the Hungarian king Belo the forth has received the Cumans, originally herdsman´s nomadic steppe nation of exotic appearance also of way of the getting dressed. It concerned pagans who, however, adapted themselves with support of king in the Hungarian kingdom. In the forties the Hungary was attacked by Tartars (Mongols) and they plundered this country. The popularity of Asian type of the dressing remained in existence thanks to Cumans settled-down in the Hungary also after departure of Tatars. They have worn slack trousers of today´s type ground-deep, coats with long overhanging sleeves in front being interspersed with from one side to the other one and fixed with large textile band. They were fond of caps of a conical shape with terminated tip. Their isolated appearance has been underlined not only by the exotic cast of features but also by the head arrangement: they were fond of the interwoven long plaits of hair.

Belo the forth has commenced to invite the craftsmen and miners from surrounding countries for a recovery of his country after Mongol invasions. Especially German colonists were coming who have brought with themselves not only a knowledge of new technologies of the extraction of ores but also craftsmanship abilities, new information, other way of the getting dressed. A new form of organizing the craftsmen into professional groupings – guilds was coming with the German colonists and also a new form of art: Gothic style started to spread. An important period of production of consumer goods came on. Also clothes, raw materials for their production, decorations and accessories were produced in the guilds. The topicality was guarded there; then certain fashion ability of form, quality of processing and materials. The guild products have been determined for more exacting population in towns as well for nobility.  We know written articles of guilds producing the clothes and textile until from the 15th century; they did exist already sooner. The guild production has played an important role in professionalization, diversification of producers and from this fact resulting quality and variegation of products. Also that contributed to the development of new clothing components in the 14th century.

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Clothing on territory of Slovakia in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages represents a long epoch bounded by the 5th-15th centuries. Many historians have identified this age of reforms and faith as the most creative of all because it has brought culture itself, and has also become the foundation for its further development. This multi-faceted epoch also influenced the development of fashion, which underwent many changes during this period.

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Clothing in period of Slovak State


The Nazi ideology being spreading via Europe brought gradually the curtailing and extinction of the first Czechoslovak Republic because of Munich Agreement, of which consequence has been the military occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by declaration of the Protectorate (Bohemia and Moravia) and rise of the Slovak State of which status has being determined by a protective agreement with the German Reich.

Dependence of the Slovak State on Reich´s decisions had far-reaching political, economic also cultural consequences. The Slovak army was taking part in military operations of the Nazi Germany; under the pressure of Germany racial laws were receiving on territory of the Slovak State and comprehensive changes were under way in economic life. Political and civic liberties have been suppressed.      


The Hitlerian Germany had for its aim to wind up more nations and ethnic groups and it had so to be proceeded equally also on territory of Slovakia.  Already in April 1939 a decree of Slovak government issued which defined the notion „Jew“. In September 1941 so-called Judaic Codex with 270 paragraphs has issued. The trade licences have been taken-away to the Jews; their agricultural property, industrial enterprises but also house property including clothes, jewels, furniture and works of art have been confiscated. Application of racial laws in Slovakia in the practice has meant a transfer of property of Jews into hands of non-Jews –i.e. of Arians. Except for deprival of property the racial laws have forbidden to the Jews to go out into the street; to take part in public life, to visit cinemas, theatres, dance halls or cafes. The Jews obligatorily marked with yellow five-pointed stars have been the everyday image of Slovak townlets.  

The Jews on our territory throughout the centuries co-created urban character and as members of the middle and higher class took actively part also in social and cultural life of our country excepting the economic life.  Aryanization then violent expropriation of property to Jews has at the most afflicted the small-scale industry (saw mills, liqueur distilleries, ready-made clothes houses) and especially shops.

Also some reputable clothing enterprises have been wound-up from the times of the first Czechoslovak Republic by aryanization. It concerned for example the famous Bratislava firms Fashion House Tausky, Fashion house Buxbaum, Fashion House Blau and Weinberger, the firm Weiss and Fürst, department store S. Braun,  Dedeo and Löwy, male tailor Rosenzweig and many others.


Economic life under the Slovak State has been strictly managed and controlled. The most important industrial enterprises and banks were subject directly to the German management. However, Slovakia was differed from surrounding states by the fact that the inflation has been moderate with relation to war circumstances and the Slovak crown was a currency in demand. During the entire war the government has defended itself to introduce a thoroughgoing rationalisation of supplying. Only sugar, flour, bread and several next goods were rationed while in surrounding states the rationing system was bound for instance also to consumption of textiles and clothes. However, buying power of majority of population has been low although the government strived to provide the employment in more ways and so to increase the living standard.

Cotton mills in Ružomberok were the largest textile industrial enterprises in those years and same here textile mills Danubius in Bratislava, wool mills in Trenčín, Žilina and Rajec, thread mill in Bratislava and flax preparing plant in Kežmarok. Enterprises in Bánovce nad Bebravou and in Martin firm Slovenka produced knitted and woven goods: knitted fabric and tricot underwear and yard goods have been made in Banská Štiavnica by the firm Tricota (later Svetro). In Bratislava the firm Dunaj has produced knitted goods (children´s clothes, womenswear and menswear).

Under the Slovak State textile factories and mills have been distinctively marked by war. Because the import of classical textile raw materials had difficulties, the production of artificial fibres began to supersede them. In Svit at Poprad viscose cotton (svit), artificial fibre of character of wool (slovina), artificial fibre of character of cotton (svitna), transparent textile (priesvit) and artificial-silk yarn were produced of cellulose. In Bratislava a progressive enterprise for production of artificial fibre of cotton type: vistra did corne into existence also with regard to the European circumstances. Substitute artificial fibres were made also in Senica. The increase of production of artificial fibres marked also the period fashion. The dresses, blouses, night underwear, scarves were sewn from artificial cottons and the artificial wool served for production of yardage suitable for suits and costumes.

Baťa was the largest producer who in 1943 was employing 3 115 people in production of shoes, in wool processing and in the production of artificial fibre. In Šimonovany (today´s Partizánske and during the war called as Baťovany) the Baťa´s works have being finished building the production halls and new residential quarter for employees. The Baťa´s works for production of shoes have prospered also at the expense of smaller enterprises. In that time the firms for shoes production had commonly 20 to 40 employees. The shoes began to be manufactured from various substitute materials for lack of leather and in that the Baťa´s works have been very progressive. The shoes with wood half-sole were produced; upper part was combined with wool, cloth, textile yarn but also with bast. The “rolled-about” boots i.e. felt boots, and plimsolls – as shoes from coarser cloth became so fashionable. Ladies´ pumps (or court shoes) and low shoes (e.g. bootees) were made also substitute materials and from them thanks to advertisement just the firm Baťa has made a fashion trend.

More clothing works survived the disintegration of Czechoslovakia and their production persisted also during the existence of the Slovak State. They disposed of network of shops in Slovak towns and they advertised in the period print. In spite of the fact that some of them have been taken-over by the German capital, the being become used brand names persisted and the firms were furthermore employing the inhabitants of Slovakia. In Trenčín in 1939 they opened a branch of the Czech enterprise Nehera which did have to be sold-off by its owner to the German firm Hanisch, but the trademark has functioned furthermore. It was presented like a Slovak firm in the period print; it had 300 employers. In Púchov at the end of the war ready-made clothes of Czech firm Rolný have commenced to sew which persisted in Bohemia still from the Monarchy. In Hlohovec a clothing enterprise for production of topcoats and suits Sbor did exist. In Prešov new clothing enterprise Magura has been established which has worked-out itself from a small workshop to a firm with many shops in Slovakia.

The ready-made clothes houses as Nehera or Rolný had for their aim especially the mass production and they did not compare to hand-sewn tailor-made clothes by their quality. The same was valid also for the shoes. The products of the firm Baťa have been determined for lower middle class.


The made-to-measure clothes were remaining steadily the most appreciated ones. Ladies and gentlemen have furthermore their suits, shirts, costumes, dresses and blouses made with tailor. In the period print it is possible to see that more kinds of services of this type in each region of Slovakia have been. Tailor´s shops did exist, in which the master and his helpers have sewn-up the clothes according to a model, they could advice in the cut they oriented themselves also in novelties. Major tailor´s shops were further a group which were manufacturing the clothes in major measure; these some small ready-made clothes houses have been. In case that the offered clothes did not sit well on they made promptly a repair. Except for this tailor´s salons did exist which have an ambition to be more „nobly“. Explanation, forms of advertisement in print, quality of cloths, finer working-up of  details, way of communication with client and, of course, the price have testified about it. Thoroughly snug clothes either with men or with women have been a manifestation of elegance, a norm of good taste.

Also therefore many families were employing couturieres regularly being coming into their household.  Excepting the running maintenance of clothes and quilting (alteration) they manufactured often tailor-mad e clothes. They enriched the wardrobe of a woman by simpler pieces whereas the better situated landlady had the evening dress, coat or costume tailor-made in tailor´s salon.


Militant atmosphere of Europe was projected also into the fashion silhouette at the end   of the thirties. Above all it began to acquire some distinctively angular shapes in shoulders as well as elements related with military uniform. Voluminous angular shoulders have delivered to the female figures a sternness and manhood. With favour they were accented not only on the coats and light jackets but also on the dresses and blouses. Angularity of shoulders was augmented with some more padding so as it never has been in the female clothing silhouettes till now. Bravery, force and courage had to be proved also by women in times of war, and namely not only by deeds also by the clothes.

Astuteness of fashion designers has been also despite this masculinisation visible on the details of the cut of top parts of clothes – blouses, pullovers and upper parts of dresses. The elegance has been delivered to the clothes particularly by heterogeneously designed yokes of dresses and blouses for instance by draping (or shirring), asymmetry, knitting-through, knotting and the like. In contrast with shoulders they were helping to form the effect of petite shank which infused a frailty to the female silhouette.

The skirt in bottom part made the entire silhouette in shape of X complete which has been shorter, approximately knee-deep, for daily wearing against the fashion of the thirties.

Costume was a very wide-spread type of ladies´ clothes which could remind a uniform by some details (distinctive buttons, pockets, epaulettes). Ladies´ jackets alike as the men´s ones have been completed in back part with a decorative small strip; jackets with inverted pleat in dorsal part have been popular. It was differentiated between English costume which has been more modest in the cut of jacket and completed with a simpler rather evener skirt, and French costume of which the design of cut has been more demanding and striking,  in total.

The costumes were a suitable daily dressing either already to work for current but also for more nonstandard daily occasions (visit of exposition or a more formal  encounter). The dresses were worn for current daily opportunities at the most from spring to autumn. Shorter dresses in a spread from a knee-deep length to calf-deep were worn for daily occasions. The dresses had a more social character against costume. Into the dance hall or onto the promenade the elegant ladies have worn the dresses not a costume. For evening opportunities have been reserved the long dresses; a length up to ankles prevailed in more modest models. Silk was the most luxury material which was substituting also by viscose silk. The evening dresses have been always distinctively low-necked.

The furs were effect complements on the costumes, completes, dresses and topcoats in the forties. Their liking has persisted still from past times – the furs of foxes, polecats or minks on one shoulder or two have been negligently thrown-over on the hand, with their heads, with their small paws.

Blouse as a complement into the costume or in combination only with the skirt already was a current part of wardrobe of women of all social classes. Cotton blouses, viscose blouses and the silk ones with long or short sleeves, with printing, the embroidered ones, without patterns – they used to be worked-into the skirt or into trousers. Also smock was popular which have being remained fully rolled-up and it was girding-round in the waist by a belt.


The war silhouette will capture one´s interest at first sight especially by two types of clothing complements – by worked-up, striking elegant hats and by shapeless up to rough shapes of shoes. The headgear became a substitution for scaled-down and simplified elegance of dresses. The hats vested by their resourceful up to bizarre forms to the figure of woman a seclusive elegance inducing an impression as if the head had dream t those most relaxed dreams. (The female clothes is thankful for this playfulness to Else Schiaparelli – to a fashion female designer who has designed unbelievable, extravagant and out of mondaine world of Paris up to „nonwearable“ clothes and complements).

So far unparalleled forms of shoes in fashion clothes characteristic rather for traditional or working dress were worn on feet. Shapelessness and massiveness of shoes such being unusual in history of fashion, which have preferred elegance of subtle foot and shoes, have been a real novelty. Moreover lack of leather caused using of materials up to then being wide-spread only in rural or labour environments: wood, felt, textile as the case may be. Fine „(small) lady´s slippers“ have superseded rougher shoes often with robust platform. Slim ladies´ legs have lost their charm and gracefulness in them. The hard reality of the days has required also rigid, stabile and course shoes.


A suit with shirt, necktie and headgear were constantly the basis of men´s wardrobe. The gentlemen have dressed not other formal shirt than a white one; the jacket has been always fastened; dinner-jacket, tail coat or jacket have been still steadily in compulsory wardrobe of a gentleman. Into the suit a tie or butterfly hand-bound were always worn.

The suits had in the wardrobe of gentleman various looks: daily working suit, daytime formal one (also the morning coat was got used still steadily to be worn), formal evening black suit (especially the communist intellectuals were giving up dinner-jackets or tail coats), further the lounge suit and the sports one.

The head of a gentleman but also of a man physically working has been always covered-up – with a hat or by a cap with visor (this was rather a proletarian complement suitable for gentleman only for golf or other sport). Among working class also something as tammies (also as berrets) called „berets“ were popular.

In the period journals a great attention to physical arrangement of men and to the men´s fashion was not paid. If a gentleman wanted to inform himself upon that what is just fashionable he had to rely on Czech or foreign men´s fashion journals.

A man was considered for the “well-dressed“ one to who a suit was a perfect fit on his figure. This was attained by bespoke tailoring. Length of sleeves and trousers, height of collar, well-tied-up cravate (or necktie) or bow- tie and suitably inserted handkerchief in breast pocket of jerkin got to know who can to dress oneself or not.


Adult mature woman has been the ideal of beauty. French fashion magazines brought constantly a fashion ideal in clothing. Although the war is lulling all muses, to the fashion it remained only nevertheless to be permitted to leave the women to dream a little also despite difficult times. Everyday reality, however, was other one. Prevailing Nazi propaganda presented the woman like brave, modest, German woman being steadily working. German but also Slovak nationalistic wave propagated the clothes in folk style particularly the dresses and blouses have been decorated with embroideries. Also a fondness of German dirndls, of dresses typical for some German regions, was spread to us from the German period fashion magazines.  

However, the women were inspired at the most by elegance in gloom of cinema halls where the stunners of silver screen have presented to them the unattainable robes manufactured by top designers. In Slovakia especially Czech and German movies were available. Renowned Prague fashion house Podolská and Vlková were manufacturing the clothes for Prague film studios at Barrandov where were arising also many German movies. Those women were dressing Czech movie stars also in their private life.

The news from the world of the Czech or German movie have being brought also by the main period periodical with us –  New Slovakia (monthly journal) and New World (weekly paper). Women of all social classes could see and cut out their idols, be inspired by their hairdo, dresses or make-up.             Separate „female“ columns did exist in every edition of the New Slovakia and New World. They have been dedicated to the fashion, etiquette, clothing, self-manufacturing the clothes: advices and tips how to be elegant also to the children´s clothes got used to be variegated also with information from abroad. A separate fashion magazine, however, was not issuing in Slovakia. It was possible to procure especially the Czech, German and Austrian fashion magazines.

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