Paulina Ołowska, Vitebsk Station (2018). Oil and acrylic on canvas. 78 3/4 by 55 1/8 inches. Courtesy Metro Pictures, New York.
VOGUE POLSKA debuted in February 2018 and was instantly embroiled—perhaps by design—in heated debates around Polish national identity and self-image. When Condé Nast announced the magazine's forthcoming launch in 2017, the news was received by many in Poland as confirmation that they had truly arrived as equals in the eyes of the West; a Vogue of their own meant that Poles were now recognized as worthy targets of the magazine's aspirational glamour, taken seriously as luxury consumers. They were, in other words, finally out from under the shadow of post-socialism.
But when the inaugural issue appeared, the cover told another story. Photographed by Juergen Teller, with his characteristic disregard for conventional compositional symmetry, the models Małgosia Bela and Anja Rubik—two of Poland's most successful fashion-industry exports—pose in severe black couture against a vintage black Volga, the car of the Soviet elite. Looming over them in the background, shrouded in Warsaw's notorious smog, is the Palace of Culture and Science, a domineering Stalinist wedding cake constructed in the city center shortly after the official establishment of the People's Republic of Poland in 1952 as a "gift" from the Soviet people.