The best fashion magazines are often the ones that transport readers to other worlds. It’s not just about the clothes or their price tags, but where the photography, the layout, the words, and the styling can take you. When the illustrated monthly Ty i Ja, meaning “You and I,” first appeared on the newsstands in Poland in 1959, its novel design and flamboyant, cut-and-paste aesthetic offered readers a new form of aspiration previously unimaginable in a country impacted by years of Stalinist scarcity. For many women at the time, dreams were spun from its pages.
Published by the In Women’s League—a subset of the official Polish United Workers’ Party—and founded by the fashion journalist Teresa Kuczyńska and socialist intellectual Roman Juryś, Ty i Ja emerged during a moment in Poland when it was newly possible to draw cultural inspiration from the West despite the country’s lack of a free market economy. Cafe culture was flourishing in Warsaw, as was art and design, and new trends were bubbling amongst what Justyna Jaworska, a professor of Polish Studies at the University of Warsaw, refers to as an emerging “socialist middle class.”
“The standard of living was still not very high,” continues Jaworska, “but Polish industry was producing goods like modern household appliances, state-owned factories offered some fashionable clothing choices, and young married couples had the chance to live in their own small apartments.” Life there was still very different from that of Western consumer society—but, as Jaworska says, “people finally had the ability to own something nice and modern, and to celebrate the joys of private life.” It was the colorful, unexpected pages of Ty i Ja that offered many a bold glimpse of what these joys could be—and in spite of its own modest size, which was restricted by the government’s slim paper allocation (the title was 80 pages in 1960 and only 56 pages from 1963 onwards).
Inside the cult monthly, collections by Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent sat alongside designs by up-and-coming Polish labels like Moda Polska; translations of Doris Lessing, Simone de Beauvoir, and Ernest Hemingway texts similarly appeared next to articles on how to decorate an apartment with style, as well as what to read, cook, and wear. To help its readers dress themselves fashionably yet affordably, paper patterns for home sewing were also included inside—they seemed far more practical than the title’s unattainable images of American celebrities in their glamorous homes. For its readership of educated women, Ty i Ja’s articles and designs were a revelation: “Even in difficult times of scarcity,” Jaworska explains, “Polish women did try to follow new trends. Taking care of themselves and how they looked was a form of everyday resistance.”
As is often the case, the restrictions imposed on the magazine led to creative problem solving. Ty i Ja became famous for its wild photomontages that recycled material from the likes of Elle, Marie Claire, and Harper’s Bazaar—the editors couldn’t afford to purchase the actual rights to shoots from these magazines, so they simply cut them up and rearranged them. “Models were cut out and pasted on top of absurd, contrasting backgrounds,” says Jaworska. “This ‘creative plagiarism’ was completely understood and tolerated by the Western magazines though, given the circumstances.”
Ty i Ja’s collaged irreverence was the direct influence of its first art director Roman Cieślewicz, a graphic designer already established as part of the Polish School of Posters, a movement known for its arresting colors, painterly strokes, and bold succinctness. It was Cieślewicz that introduced art to the title’s covers: each was simple, clear, and economical in form; striking like a poster, and informed by the eye-catching aesthetics of both Russian constructivism and Western pop art. Cieślewicz drew many covers himself, while also commissioning other masters of the Polish School like Henryk Tomaszewski, Waldemar Świerzy, and Jan Młodożeniec, alongside artists like Andrzej Dudzinski and Tomasz Jura. It was cheaper and easier than photography—and it packed more of a punch. As Jaworska says: “While magazines with photos on the covers were published in Poland at that time, graphics looked better and were more effective on the porous, matte, poor-quality paper.”
The covers were simple, clear, and economical in form; striking like a poster, and informed by the eye-catching aesthetics of both Russian constructivism and Western pop art.
After Cieślewicz left the magazine in 1962 to set up his own studio in Paris, its subsequent art directors, Franciszek Starowieyski and Julian Palka, upheld his vision of taking common, cheap materials and transforming them into something seemingly luxurious, avant-garde, and powerful, just as its readers were inspired to look at its pages and transform their own everyday surroundings.
Ty i Ja’s attitude towards consumerism was often wry and satirical, as its editors and designers were deeply aware that much of what they showed was out of reach to the ordinary citizen. They regularly adopted a “light, jocular tone,” says Jaworska—almost parodying the luxury aesthetics of adverts for brands like Rolex as found in Vogue by dressing up their own adverts for humble, state-produced kitchen pots with “humor and panache—as if it were a dadaist ready-made.” As David Crowley wrote in Dot Dot Dot, Ty i Ja “struck a strange balance between fascination with the spectacle of the consumer society and its critique.”
Ty i Ja offered an aesthetic resistance to a harsh socialist realism, while simultaneously supporting Polish industry with its pragmatic, instructional content. Ultimately, it may well have been its own contradictions—and the space it carved out for dreaming beyond one’s limited means—that led to its fall. In 1973, the Polish authorities closed the title. “It was probably thought to be too snobby, too detached from reality,” says Jaworska. “The sober The Family Magazine that was established in its place went on to promote a very Polish, pragmatic approach to everyday consumption for the home.” Decades later, in an interview for the online culture magazine Dwutygodnik.com, founder Teresa Kuczyńska surmised that Ty i Ja was shut down because it “wasn’t suited to the economic realities of the country, as it gave people unrealistic aspirations.” It was a feat to create such a beautiful magazine from so little, one that inspired its own women readers to dream big despite constraints—Ty i Ja did this so successfully that it led to its own demise.