Interview with Mr. Jan Górski the great grandson of Adam Herse. Adam Herse together with his two other brothers Bogusław and Ferdynand established the most iconic Fashion Company and Fashion brand not only in the history of Poland but in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. Mr. Jan Górski together with his wife Ms. Anna Dobrowolska decided to reactivate the brand www.herse.pl
Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska: Herse House was established in 1868 by Bogusław Herse (1839-1880). One year later his two brothers, Adam (1850-1915) and Ferdynand (1845-1905), also joined the company. Herse family moved to Warsaw from Poznań in the first half of the nineteenth century. Herse Fashion House was first located at Senatorska street and then moved to 150 Marszałkowska street in Warsaw and was extremely unique. It occupied four floors of an Art Nouveau building and consisted of a fitting room, an area for collections and presentations, a tailor’s studio and a living space for the owners. Additionally, the building had lifts, four towers, its own power plant and central heating. Among customers there were mainly aristocrats, diplomats, politicians, actors and singers. Can you share with us a few famous names of the unique clients and their professions?
Jan Górski: There were actually multiple love stories involving Herse, but allow me to remain discreet. Some of our guests were: Marja Mościcka – the wife of the President of the Republic of Poland, Mrs. Laroche – the wife of the Ambassador of France, Countess Beata Branicka from the Wilanów Palace, Countess Maria Potocka (Brydzińska) – actress, Maria Majdrowiczówna – one of the most popular actresses, Countess Tyszkiewicz, Hanka Ordonówna – the most famous Polish actress, singer and dancer, Stefania Grodzieńska – model for Herse House, actress and writer, Zofia Batycka – miss Polonia 1930, Emilia Komorowska-Zaleska – the wife of the CEO of the Commercial Bank, later the President of the Republic of Poland in-exile residing in London (1947-1954) and the relatives of the ruling Queen Mathilde of Belgium.
What was Herse so loved and admired for? What made Herse so unique?
Herse brothers were firsts designers in Poland at that time and Herse was the biggest Fashion House in Central and Eastern Europe. Herse’s dresses, hats and suits were the most admired and desired. Women would always say that they would do anything for a Herse dress.
Herse family was creative, innovative and courageous, and Herse House was the most elegant and luxurious place to buy dresses. More than 700 employees were ready to serve and satisfy the customers in this magnificent place located at the most prestigious street, in the building created and constructed especially for Herse. Finally, thanks to Herse, any woman could become a princess and feel like Alice in the Wonderland.
Herse brothers had also a fantastic feeling for what we now call PR and marketing. The wife of the French ambassador in Warsaw, Jules Laroche, officially said once that it was impossible to find the right clothes in Warsaw and therefore she had to buy them in Paris. And what happened next is a real masterpiece. Can you elaborate on that?
Mrs. Laroche, the wife of the French Ambassador Jules Laroche (he was posted in Poland during the years 1926-35), in one of her official speeches declared that “in Warsaw, there is nowhere to get dressed and for this you need to go to Paris”. Herse reacted immediately. He wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, indicating that “Warsaw is a beautiful and modern city, and one can get dressed in the Bogusław Herse’s fashion house”. Bogusław Herse first received an official apology, and a little later – the French légion d’honneur. And Ms. Laroche? The Ambassador’s wife became a loyal guest at Herse’s fashion shows.
Herse House became even more iconic after its building was used as a set for the film “His Excellency, the Shop Assistant” in 1933. The film tells the story of one of Herse’s clerks, played by Eugeniusz Bodo, a famous movie star How did the cooperation with Eugeniusz Bodo come about?
In the 1930s Bodo was the most famous actor in Poland and Herse House was known as the precursor of new ways of business promotion. Therefore Bogusław Herse Junior made the House available for filmmakers and the place became the film set for a true love story in which the impossible becomes possible.
Why did the company cease to exist?
It was not the first time when the company survived a crisis. The war disrupted everything in Poland. After WW2 there was an attempt to resuscitate the brand, however under the communist regime it was not possible.
You are the great grandson of Adam Herse. Why have you decided to reactivate Herse brand together with your wife? Is it about keeping the dreams of creators of beauty alive? Or is the love for beauty rooted in family tradition?
Yes, it is all about beauty, passion, emotions and dreams. Brands like Herse are timeless and actually last forever.
Furthermore, the memory of Herse House is a part of the history of Poland, the history of Warsaw before WW2 and the history of Polish society.
Today such people as Adam Szczepan Herse truly inspire us. He was a man of an unmatched strength of character, uncompromised morals, amazing perseverance and hard work, inexhaustible energy and artistic talents. He loved his country and until his death he believed that Poland will regain its independence. Moreover, Herse House was a true institution thanks to its unique success in the business of fashion and innovative approach to customers and marketing. Herse family was patriotic; they were art promoters and donors; they actively participated in cultural, social and economic life of Europe.
What were your beginnings as a company?
We have started with a B2B business and offered corporate gifts for VIP Clients. Herse brand, not very well known at the time, but with a huge history and Polish origins, quickly started to be a desired brand. Everyone fell in love with us ;-), with our story, and had an impression that he or she is participating in the revival of something big, which is of course true. We realized quite quickly that the brand’s foundations are in the everyday relations with customers and since that moment on we have started the exciting process of building customer relations.
You cooperate with international family companies? Why and where do they come from?
Our goal is to manufacture in Poland, however the most important criteria are values: the quality, the family and the hard work. We cooperate with small businesses that have existed for 100+ years in Europe and in Asia, they have been family-owned for generations, have unique know-how and respect for traditional methods throughout the entire process. All of our products are handmade including boxes. All this means that we need to spend a significant amount of time searching, visiting and, what is the most important, building human relations, which we did even before we started the business. We are very demanding, just like my great grandfather; moreover we believe that it is the only way that we can act as Herse and we believe we will achieve a success!
You intend to keep the brand a family-oriented company. Can you elaborate on that?
We wish Herse to remain a family company. Today this is what motivates us the most. We bring Herse back to life for the tradition, the memory and what is the most important: we save this Herse world from oblivion.
But this is not enough. We take up the challenge to combine family tradition, values and modernity in order to create the destination for Herse, its development and position in the modern world. Tradition is important and will remain so, but we build our image every day through our actions: service, products, decisions and strategy.
What are your products now and what makes your brand unique?
We are very much unique, we are unique thanks to our customers, thanks to what we feel when they are wearing our products.
As I said before, we take up the challenge to combine family tradition, values and modernity. This is something you will see in all of our actions and products. Our products are fashion accessories handcrafted in a unique individual way.
It is about the combination of quality, style and elegance with unique designs, so that lifestyle becomes art.
Herse is a heritage. Since the first days of its existence it follows the same rules.
The memory of what once existed, allows us to better understand what is happening around us.
What is your ambition for the future?
We are dreamers and believers. Herse dream is to awaken the ability to dream, give and live. Open up to the world around us and perceive the beauty in it, hear the sounds, feel the scents, distinguish flavors, touch. Herse senses are about art, eternal beauty and lifestyle. We dream about creating a space with the passion for life where customers use all their senses. This could be food with all its colors, scents and flavors. The rest shall remain a mystery.
Your decision to reactivate Polish beauty from the past: elegance, style and uniqueness is perfect for the international image of Poland. What would you like to say to the international audience about Poland and about your brand to persuade them that Poland and Polish style has so much to offer?
When talking about Poland and Polish beauty we can’t leave out such icons as Adam Mickiewicz and Fryderyk Chopin. For Polish people they are both legends, they constitute the foundation of national culture. Herse’s role is to contribute to Poland’s international activity within the exchange of ideas, values and cultural goods of the highest quality.
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Photos: Herse and NAC
Photos: Herse Collection 2016
Photos: Warehouse and the catalogue
Poster: “His Excellency, the Shop Assistant”
Bogusław Władysław Herse (right) with the President of the International Chamber of Commerce, Mr Fentener Van Vllssingenem (left)