i fell in love with prague and wrote about it.
a travel journalism article that focuses on the men's fashion culture in the eastern capital. the process taught me about being discrete when photographing handsome strangers, how to confidently walk into gentlemen's club barber shop, and very minimal (but useful) Czech.
36 hours among the peacocks
Prague is not Paris, nor Milan. It is a cluster of culture, history, and new beginnings that are translated in the way most Czechs present their Czech and global identities. Traditionally, fashion in the Czech Republic is depicted as the infamous red socks and sandals combination that most foreigners associate with a backwards style. In the booming Prague capital, things have changed.
Initially, the female focus dominated fashion, but menswear has become a revolution, sprouting roots in markets around the world. Prague is no exception. From the simple streets creviced in Old Town Square to bustling cafes and designer boutiques on Parizka one can spot the peacock of Prague.
He parades along the cobble stone streets of Prague, with his silk/linen Corneliani tailored suit, sienna colored patent leather oxfords, buckskin Prada computer bag, and vintage Ralph Lauren half-rimmed sunglasses that rest upon chizzled checkbones.
10 a.m. | CANTINETTA FIVENTIA (Vino e Cuncia Foscana)
The café Cantinetta Fiventia is nestled behind the Old New Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Prague. With its vaulted ceilings (tall enough to encompass the largest of egos), this café proves a distinct and fulfilling spot for the observation of perched tailored suits, expensive Italian shoes, and family encrusted wristwatches.
It is 10 am. The day begins with a Café Viennese. A man to my right sits down at a table near the window while he unbuttons his suit coat. His charming wink at the waitress makes her blush and stumble over her two left feet as she watches him pull out a leather bound pocket book, today’s agenda. His recent manicured nails are scratching on the small wooden table as he taps his fingers to show his annoyance. The figure of the delicate waitress glides over to his table and rests his coffee in the place where his sleeve rises to show bronzed cufflinks. With a strong belligerent hand, he runs his fingers through his freshly trimmed hair. “Monsieur, your temper is showing,” I whisper under my breath.
Moments later, an Armani suit enters the café with a demanding stride. Without hesitation, he walks over to the table where his fellow peacock remains seated, up until the opportune moment, when they both face each other standing, button and straighten their cashmere jackets, and shake hands with coy smiles on the surface of their clean shaven faces. Whose feathers are more vibrant? Business per usual.
11 a.m. | CORNELIANI
Jakubská 648/6, 110 00 Prague 1-Old Town
The Corneliani boutique in the Old Town Square of Prague holds its strategic place among Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Richard boutiques. The old Corinthian columns frame the window and tailor suites in the display, as the morning rush of patent leather briefcases and monk strap shoes spring from one cobblestone to another. It should not come as a surprise that the majority of fashion in Prague comes from Western Europe. Although this may be true, the Corneliani brand has morphed itself to match the symbolic Prague male, making it a true statement of men’s fashion in the city.
The golden uppercase letters seem inviting, CORNELIANI, it reads and rolls gracefully off the tongue. Through the glass door you can see the delicate white flowers set on a dark oak display table, you open it and the fresh scent of linen and leather enters through your nostrils and passes down your fingertips as you glide your palm along cashmere sweaters and cream pleated pants.
A salesman paces the store, trying to preserve his cool. In the far right corner a tall broad shouldered man looks at the stitching of his soon-to-be new Monday ‘s best suit, while an obedient sales clerk storms the boutique for a ivory bowtie. Not cream — there is a difference. “Yes, of course, Monsieur.” Typical ruffling of feathers.
12 p.m. | PANSKA PASAZ
Na Příkopě 23, Praha 1
Pánská pasáž, or “Gentlemen’s arcade” is a new “men’s only” shopping mall in the center of Old Town Square dedicated to the renaissance of male fashion. This fashion playground encompasses 155 square meters of every gentleman’s custom suit, cigar, fine spirits, designer shoes, grooming, and accessory needs.
Being the only male-focused shopping center in Europe (surpassing London, the male fashion capital of the world), Pánská pasáž, created by Ivan Chadima, took inspiration found in foreign magazines and economic analysts who estimated increased sales in men’s clothing by 20 percent. Ironically, this development is a direct response to the global recession. “The global crisis” has created a surge of male competitiveness in the marketplace", states Meir Statman, a professorat Santa Clara University. Fashion is no longer just a method to attract women but a tool to “impress future employers or (abash) a rival.” Statman also claims that fashion continues to grow in psychological significance to men: “New shoes can change your view of the world.”
Entering Pánská pasáž is like falling down a rabbit hole. A grey suited peacock lounges on a luxurious brown leather coach. Ron Medellin scotch on the rocks. A slender woman and a high-strung old tailor showering him with attention. He waves his hand, and they disperse.
As you walk through the glass corridor, you can hear the muffled footsteps of platform Nubuck longwings as they strut out of the English shoemaker boutique, Loake. You can sense the intoxicating aroma of Tom Ford Classic Wood cologne tastefully blended with musk of a Stadivarius Churchill cigar lingering in Cigars&Wines.
1 p.m. | THOMAS BARBER SHOP
Navrátilova 16, Praha
Tomáš Kožíšek, owner of Thomas’ Barber Shop, made his lifelong dream of a traditional barbershop in Prague a reality after a tedious 20 years. Today it stands burrowed on a quiet street between Karlovo and Wenceslas Squareand holds the title of first classical barber shop in all of Prague.
Kožíšek invites all self-respecting gentlemen of Prague to travel back to a time when barbershops were places of social importance. He wished to create an atmosphere equivalent to the old gentlemen’s clubs. An atmosphere of sophistication, professional precision, and relaxation, where men can be men without being cluttered with curlers, aluminum foil, and the latest gossip found in ladies’ parlors. Thomas’ Barber Shop takes its business with its wealthy and image conscious male clientele seriously. The straight-razor shavings ($26), hot towel and hair treatments ($43), manicures, pedicures, and hair styling ($26) mirror the methods once used by generations of barbers dating back to the mid 1800s. The highly recommended Exclusive Experience ($80) includes hair washing, head, shoulders, arms and hands massage, a “hot towel” přeholení, an exfoliating facial massage, hair treatment, treatment contours, scalp treatment, facial treatment after shaving, paraffin hand, a glass of whiskey and a cigar. Beware, in order to uphold its standards of a “gentlemen’s club,” Thomas’ Barber Shop has a strict “women are forbidden” policy.
With the first step into the crimson decrepit building that houses Thomas’ Barber Shop, Frank Sinatra and the smell of poignant aftershave floods the air. Four black leather barber chairs stand on polished wooden floors, behind them are black and white portraits surrounding large framed mirrors. A cabinet, containing hair and skin products in tin bottles, ornate bottles of French Absinthe, and antique barber tools, lies to the left, overlooking the leather chairs. The air is thick, as if the walls ooze cigar smoke.
Two tall young men, dressed in black slacks and black button down shirts, sit by a small table smoking cigarettes. They remain at ease, but a stout handsome businessman interrupts their afternoon coffee break as he strolls through the threshold. In one elegant motion, one clerk takes his Dolce & Gabbana raincoat while the other sweeps the man’s oversized Hermes bag and sets them both in a wardrobe in a joining room. The peacock strides over to a leather barber chair and tilts his head back into the chair, allowing the barber to drape a black cloak to cover the wool navy sports coat, the pretentiousness flaring from his elevated nostrils: “Watch the tie.”
The eccentric sharpening of the straight razor blade drowns out Frank Sinatra, then the hushed grainy sound of blade against skin resumes the rhythmic motions … “Come fly with me/Let’s fly, let’s fly away.”
4 p.m. | MUSEUM OF DECORATIVE ARTS
Listopadu 2 110 00 Praha 1
The Museum of Decorative Arts brings a mélange of old Czech historical artifacts and modern artistic expressions. On the second floor of this striking mosaic building, lit by the combination of Byzantine stained glass and French Gothic windows, you stumble upon a permanent exhibit called “Prazske Modni Salony” (Prague Fashion Houses), which contains artifacts dating back to the beginning of the 1900s.
The old cherry wood floors creak, while the original musky wallpaper of the building gives off an air of ancient cigar smoke and brandy. Glass sepulchers house delicate lace dresses and emblem handkerchiefs tucked into thick wool overcoats. A Frantisek Barta & Co. silk faced dinner jacket (1931) is draped on oversized vintage mannequins, while Barta & Co ascot tie (1928) rests to the left on top of a old moleskin suitcase.
In a lofted area directly above the fashion house exhibit sits a collection of ceremonial garbs dating back to the 18th century. The spread open and winged cape of Benedictine Archabbey of St. Vojtech is bathed in soft light to showcase the silk brocade, lace, and passementrie.
As you return to the second floor, a slight ticking noise catches your attention from a joining room. The following exhibit, simply translated as the “Clock Room,” contains timepieces dating back to the Renaissance. In relation to historical men’s fashion, the “Clock Room” holds a pocket watch collection from Central and Western Europe in the 1800s. These ornate timepieces portray a signature element to the development in men’s fashion.
Tick Tick Tick Tick. The room is quiet other than the gentle strokes of the grand clocks hanging in gilded glory over you head.