Up Close and Personal with… Alena Wilson, Prague’s Queen of LBDs

Alena Wilson is a 37-year-old fashion designer from the Czech Republic. She has two kids, a girl who is six, and a boy who is four. Her husband is American and runs his own business in Prague. They live in a household with two cocker spaniels, black and gold, and two goldfish that were recently bought behind her back by her husband and children… Alena sighs with a smile.

Fact box:

The LBD or little black dress is an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. Coco Chanel was the first to make it ever-present in an edition of American Vogue in 1926. It was presented as simple yet elegant and Vogue predicted that it would shape the future.

The Bridge: What motivated you to start your company?

Alena Wilson: My passion for fashion. Originally I studied economic foreign trade but I always had a huge passion for creativity since I was 15. I think this is one of my strong positions that I have 16 years of experience in PR and business. I absolutely love the creative process. I did nine years of art school beside my study. That helped me also.

TB: What makes your business unique?

AW: The concept of using real women. I don’t agree with the top fashion world using underweight or photo-shopped models. People misunderstand, I don’t mean fat people; I mean healthy women. My models are size 38+.

TB: What does fashion mean to you personally?

AW: I think that fashion is something that should support who you are. I want women to see the options and choose what suits their body type and personality. For me, fashion is a really strong tool that can help introduce other people to your personality. People always first judge you based on your looks.

TB: Who is your favorite designer and why?

AW: I like elegant, sexy and romantic stuff so I really like Valentino. I really like the detail that he puts into his dresses. He is someone I really look up to. He creates his own materials and patterns. I think that he’s the one. I look at many designers and they inspire me but he’s above all what I really love.

TB: What is an LBD and why is it so important to have (at least) one?

AW: A little black dress is something that I first started with because it was missing from the industry. An LBD is simple and can be worn for many occasions because you can go anywhere in it. Especially in Prague, it is normal to wear an LBD not just for a special occasion. It’s good to have two LBDs in your wardrobe; one very simple dress to combine with a variety of accessories, and a more unique one that’s more fun or sexy.

TB: What did your first LBD look like?

AW: The last kick to starting my own brand was when I was in Boston with my husband at a Harvard black-tie reunion. I always create my own dress for parties so I created a unique LBD. I used lace with Swarowski stones in the back. I got loads of compliments and several ladies asked where I had purchased the dress. That was when I decided to start drawing my first LBD collection.

TB: What inspires your designs?

AW: It’s mainly women’s curves and strong women. A strong woman in the terms of giving birth and managing everything. Their curves inspire me to make them more beautiful in my dresses. I always think of how to show the good things and hide the flaws and that’s what really inspires me.

TB: What is the best place to people watch in Prague?

AW: At night you see what people like to wear when they try to look their best. You can just sit on a bench and watch the chaos. If you really want to see the average cut of what people wear day to day, the best place is to sit in a mall. Pastacafee Lamborgini on Vodičkova in Prague 1 is my favorite café to people watch over my cappuccino.

TB: What is the best accessory?

AW: Hmm trick question. There is one thing that women forget about the most. They go to any big or small event wearing the most fantastic outfit but they have absolutely miserable hair, hanging with no concept to it. Hair is a very important accessory. You should always do something with it, even putting it in a ponytail to give it style.

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100th Anniversary of WWI – DOX Front Line Exhibition (PHOTOS)

“In 1914 the Great War began… and has lasted ever since.”

This quote can be found at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague the capital of the ‘heart of Europe.’ August 4th 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The Front Line exhibition tells the stories of several Czech men from all over the country who had to leave their home and went to fight at various war fronts. Many powerful quotes written by Czech soldiers cover the walls of the exhibition:

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings…” – Aldous Huxley from the Austrian front.

“… we could write anything, just not the truth.” “What is fear. Fear is man. Man fears only man.” – Frantisek Seda also from the Austrian Front.

“If the soldiers were hungry, the town’s civilian population was hungrier still.” – Jan Vit from the Russian Front.

The quotes written by Czech soldiers reflect the hardships that war inflicts on the soldiers, their families and on the human psyche. But there are also quotes from famous global figures who touch on the cause and nature of wars:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderes are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” – Voltaire

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein.
The total number of civilian and military deaths during WWI is estimated to be around 40 million. The war devastated Europe and tensions lingered long after the war. The drive of each country to rebuild their economies and recreate normalcy in a post-war society led to mistrust and political unrest — the second world war began only 21 years after the first ended.

The exhibition includes bits and pieces of the belongings of the Czech soldiers. The letters they wrote, the medals they won and the photographs they took; all reveal the horror of war. But the stories that the soldiers and their families pass on are more than memories of the past — they are a warning message to our generation and those that will follow.

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition:

“(So) that some recollections of these ugly and horrible days be preserved for future generations, so they guard well against the ambitions of ‘dangerous lunatics’…” – Josef Lacina

For more information about the exhibition visit: http://www.dox.cz/en/exhibitions/the-front-line


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The Politics Behind the Chinese Exhibition in Prague (PHOTOS)

The beautiful and renowned Prague Castle in the Czech Republic is currently exhibiting the “Treasures of Ancient China” — including two statues of warriors from the Terracotta Army. There are over 90 exhibited objects that show the development of China over 5,000 years, starting with the Neolithic period and going through the very last ruling dynasty. The pieces for the exhibition come from several different museums in China that loaned them out for the exhibition, which opened Aug. 8 and will run through Nov. 9.

I attended the exhibition and found the art breathtaking and the history fascinating. However, recent developments in Chinese-Czech relations are even more interesting than ancient artifacts.

The Czech Republic and China began their diplomatic cooperation 65 years ago. Milos Zeman, who took office as the president of the Czech Republic on March 8, 2013, has been trying to improve relations with China. Zeman met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 7 in Sochi during the Olympics. They spoke about beginning a new relationship and cooperating in a variety of fields, from manufacturing to medical care. They also spoke about potential investments.

Zeman wants to cooperate with China “on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity,” which includes not interfering with internal issues of the other. According to the Prague Post, Lubomir Zaoralek, a foreign-affairs minister, visited Beijing and stated that the Czech Republic doesn’t support Tibet’s independence and believes it to be indivisible from China. Zeman will be visiting China again in October.

Karel Schwarzenberg, the former foreign minister who ran against Zeman in the 2013 presidential election, had said that the Czech government traded the protection of human rights for money. He said this due to the human rights that are violated all over China. He is not the only one who has this opinion. It is undeniable that cooperation with China and Chinese investments could do wonders to the Czech economy, but the price might be steep.

So although the Chinese exhibition — located in the most important building in Prague and the entire Czech Republic — is wonderful and educational, there is a bigger picture here. The Chinese loan has deeper meaning than just sharing their culture with Czechs. The presence of China will remain even after the exhibition is over, and as the relationship develops, their influence here will intensify.

Looking at the two mighty soldier statues evoked respect and admiration for Chinese culture and history. It is clear why Zeman hopes to gain economic insight and profit from cooperating with China. But adopting some great ideas can lead to also adopting less desirable ones — and if Czech respect for human rights ends up traded for money, then more people will begin looking at both statue and flesh-and-blood soldiers in fear instead of awe.


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Prague LGBT Community Supports Ukraine (PHOTOS)

The fourth annual Prague Pride Parade, held on Aug. 16, ended with a festival in Letna Park. What made this year’s event special was the Ukrainian flags spotted in between the extravagant costumes and rainbows. The largest LGBT event in central Europe chose to share their special day with Ukraine.

Just recently, on the night of Aug. 14, Russian military convoys were seen crossing the border. Some thought that this would be the official beginning of a war. This happened right in the middle of Pride week in Prague, and although the conflict in Ukraine didn’t escalate as much as people had feared, Ukraine felt a jolt of vulnerability.

As a Ukrainian citizen I was extremely touched by the gesture. This meant a lot more to me than seeing foreigners supporting my country. Although the world is becoming increasingly more open toward the LGBT community, there is still a lot of legal and social discrimination. I was honored that the LGBT community decided to spend the one day a year dedicated to celebrating their own freedom by showing their support for the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory.

Today they showed that they truly believe that freedom belongs to everyone.


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Czechs on Water – When Ahoj Means Ahoy

Floating down the Vltava river I encountered many interesting personalities. An elderly man canoeing in solidarity with his big brown dog occasionally leaning over to lick the water. Smiling strangers roping their canoes together to chat while the current moved them along. Families with laughing children splashing each other and hugging their inflatable water toys.

Canoeing is the epitome of Czech culture – the Czech republic is known as the most atheist country in the world but Czechs treat weekends, holidays, sports and spending time outdoors in an almost religious manner. Czech families have cottages in the country side which they abandon city life for at every chance they get. As soon as it gets too warm for skiing they begin preparing their canoes and tents.

Living here for most of my life compelled me to finally join in on this traditional Czech pastime. So earlier this August I bit the bullet and traveled north of boisterous Prague to a camping ground in a small town. Roztoky isn’t easily accessible without a car so I had to hitchhike from the train station. I wasn’t used to the friendliness of town people and was taken aback when an off-duty train conductor offered me a ride.

I was greeted warmly at Kemp Višňová and I set my tent by the river alongside many others. People were swimming in the river fighting joyfully against the strong current. Later in the evening campfires popped up all over the campsite and everyone gathered to drink beer and roast sausages. The pubs around weren’t allowed to sell raw meat but the friendly campers were more than happy to share. You could recognize the experienced campers in the positioning of their tent and balanced a string across paddles to dry laundry.

Next morning I had arranged to be driven down the river to canoe for 10 kilometers. The weather was perfect and the current was strong enough to float me down the river without paddling. At the beginning all I saw were houses along the bank but I slowly left civilization behind me. I passed fishermen on little boats; children swimming in calmer areas; and other people canoeing and kayaking.

I passed mountains and bent over trees whose leaves grazed the water. I had to carry my canoe to avoid a serene man-made waterfall where people sunbathed and dragonflies were in abundance. Right before reaching camp I stopped by a sign beckoning hungry water travelers with promise of refreshments. The cheap food stand sold cheap meals and cold beer. Feeling refreshed I paddled back to camp around six hours after beginning the trip.

Experiencing what the Czechs do every summer brought me closer to understanding them and their wonderful culture. I only went for two days but some Czechs spend weeks traveling from camp to camp along the river. The best part of the trip was seeing strangers express friendliness and trust and hearing strangers exchanging ‘ahojs’. ‘Ahoj’ is the word that Czechs use to greet friends and family. Tourists frequently joke about this small landlocked country using a word meant to signal ships and boats. But observing their love of water makes this phenomenon a little less of a mystery.


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