MISBHV, the Polish streetwear brand that's popping up at some of the world's coolest stores, began when designer Natalia Maczek realized studying law just wasn't for her. "I came to London for a summer job, and I really fell in love with clothes, the music, and the new experiences here," she says. "It was very powerful for me because we didn't have that scene at the time in Poland." So she started making parody designer T-shirts for friends, who wore them at the parties her friend and co-designer Thomas Wirski was throwing in Warsaw. "It was just a fun project I started during university, and we got a lot of support from our friends in the music industry, skaters, artists — it was very organic. I decided I wanted to give it a chance, so we started selling pieces online."
This was a bold move for the pair at the time. "Basically because of Poland's history, before 1989 this field did not exist whatsoever," Wirski explains. "Then, after 1989, people had bigger problems than how they dressed. Growing up in Poland, being a designer didn't really register in people's minds. This only really started changing a few years ago." Despite having no design experience, making clothes was a domestic skill embedded in the culture of the time. "I saw my mom and grandma making dresses, or my dad tailoring pieces — that 'do it yourself' spirit was very current for me," Maczek explains. "And we didn't have access to Western stores or Western brands," Wirski reiterates. "If you saw a glimpse of that life in the form of a record cover or in the movies, you'd have to replicate that look yourself. So for our parents, it was normal to buy a pair of jeans and tailor it — you would have to make it yourself because you didn't have access to anything else."
With no outside help or financial investment, the duo took this attitude to Paris. "We did that all very intuitively," says Maczek. "We went to Paris Fashion Week, went to clubs, we had fun, and we felt this new energy coming from streetwear-oriented people. So we set up a showroom and just sent out emails to people to come and see the pieces." That was in January 2015, just under three years ago, and the first retailer they were approached by was Browns. How did such a small brand cope with the demand for higher production from luxury outlets?
"That was a really big challenge for us in the first two years," Wirski admits. "Before, we'd have an idea on Monday, design a T-shirt on Tuesday, screen print it on Wednesday, shoot it on Thursday, and sell it on Friday. Over the weekend, you'd see kids wearing it at clubs. Going from that to designing collections in advance, shooting a high-production lookbook, and delivering it on time...for that you need a big structure." But given these origins, are they worried about losing their authenticity as the brand grows?
"When we started — and I remember this very clearly — the only criteria for me personally when finishing up a piece was, 'Would I wear this to a club, and would I feel good in it?' This is still something that's very, very important to me," Wirski states. "But on the other hand, I've also grown up. I'm 30 now, and I'm looking for more quality in clothing. So I think it's only natural to marry the two, to get this effect of a city's coolness, that it's only cool if it's real, and then to have great expertise and craftsmanship in the way a piece is finished."
Luxury streetwear has enjoyed an industry-shaping revival over the past several years, with brands like Vetements and designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy ripping up the rule book and forming their own aesthetic. Due to geographical generalizations, MISBHV is often grouped together with the Russian Rubchinskiy and Georgian Demna Gvasalia, with writers and buyers often assuming a similar aesthetic from the brands. But you'd be remiss to overlook the intricacies of Maczek and Wirski's vision.
"It's a huge, huge compliment to be compared to those designers," Wirski says. "But culturally, we're very different. Something that comes from our history and our socialism is that our woman is very strong. Women were never weaker than their husbands and they always worked, too. That translates into our brand — she's always strong and stands for herself." This is also apparent in the materials they use: With raw denim and canvas cotton, motorcycle-ready leather and reflective fabrics, it's clear the MISBHV girl doesn't sit around waiting for the action to happen.
From an aesthetic perspective, it's not just facets of eastern Europe that run through the brand's veins. With monogrammed denim, motocross tops and jackets, and, of course, oversized hoodies, you can't ignore the '90s element of MISBHV. "I think people go back to the age they grew up in when they design," Maczek muses. "I remember the first video tapes I rented were Kids and Clueless — those two movies really shaped me." "I'm emotionally attached to that era — I was getting into music, I kissed a girl for the first time," Wirski says. "When I design collections now, I think of what would a 16- or 17-year-old version of me wear at that time." And it's today's 17-year-old who MISBHV cares about now, too. "Obviously there are more and more famous people wearing our stuff, but we still prefer to post the real girl that has 1,000 followers on Instagram, the one who has a unique style — we're inspired by those people."
In just three years, Natalia and Thomas have gone from dressing their friends to showing at New York Fashion Week. Their second presentation was a highlight, with friend Yulia Klintsevich shooting it on film: "It was a very demanding thing for us to do, but when we look back at the movie, we're so moved — it was really beautiful." What are they excited about now? Wirski is going behind the camera to shoot the next campaign, and they're taking things back to their homeland. "We want to work with Polish artists and host parties again. We want to show the world our DNA, and we now have the opportunity to do that."