Style Talk | Meet Marcela Palek

The genesis of MONOCLE's sister publication Konfekt, bringing modern energy to a Swiss luxury darling, and meeting the greats from Jean-Claude Ellena to Serge Lutens and Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby

The first encounter with Style Director Marcela Palek happened during a video conference on a hot mid-April afternoon. We were in Paris, in a semi-shadowed room protected from the bright sun by closed shutters, and she was in Zürich, in MONOCLE's offices. 

The order of the day was setting the tone of a collaboration project initiated by her team at newly-launched MONOCLE's sister magazine Konfekt, a quarterly magazine launched by the makers of MONOCLE in December 2020 and edited between Zürich and London. Aimed at women - though not exclusively so -, it features residencies, recipes, interviews and in-depth reporting with strong narration, print knowhow and the finest craft being central to its DNA. Completed by a fortnightly newsletter, Konfekt Kompakt and a monthly podcast, Konfekt Korner, Konfekt is "The magazine for sharp dressing, drinking, dining, travel and design" as the Media Kit we received a few days earlier was reading.

Excited by the outcome, we couldn't wait to discuss with her all the ideas we had in mind regarding the co-creation of a capsule collection of scarves that would embody the mindset and overall aesthetics of such a carefully curated print publication. Printed in Germany and edited between Zürich and London, the magazine has a natural bias towards Central Europe and most specifically Germany, Austria and Switzerland with sleek aesthetics, minimalism, and understated elegance being at the forefront of its visual expression. 

After presenting the preliminary creative directions we thought interesting to develop - all related to the utmost inspiring German and Swiss traditions in graphic design - we instantly knew, even if through a computer screen, that we spoke the same language and had the same references in mind.

The conversation followed very smoothly, nodding to each other to imply our total alignment in the creative vision for this project, from our unique colour development process - watercolour studies, scanned and then fine-tuned with our textile printers in Italy - to our graphic design approach - basic, geometric shapes, plain color swatches, thick portions of white to frame it all - and our textile savoir-faire - all pieces from the collection being 100% hand rolled from luxury silk cotton blend.  

Beyond a creative alignment, Marcela's unique sense of elegance and vision made us wanted to dig further into her creative journey through one of our now regular Style Talks. We asked her if she was interested in such a project as part of the launch of our Les Belles Heures x Konfekt collaboration. She immediately said yes. We were thrilled.

Born in Prague, raised in Zürich, Marcela worked as a journalist for leading Swiss media and as a marketing and communications director for various Swiss luxury brands conveying a high sense of style and aesthetics. She started her career writing for fashion magazines Annabelle, Bolero and finally about beauty for the Sunday edition of NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) interviewing people like Jean-Claude Ellena, Serge Lutens or Tom Ford, then led all-things marketing at Swiss luxury brand Fogal, including high profile campaigns and costumes development for Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby. She is now Style Director at MONOCLE and Konfekt magazine since its launch in December 2020. 

Marcela Palek is in the Journal today, to tell us her side of the story.

Dear Marcela, we're very happy and honored to be able to have this little chat with you. Thanks a lot for taking the time. Thank you dear Sylvain for the invitation to the Style Talk, I feel very honoured to be included in the line-up of such interesting guests.

As you might know, we like to get back to the very beginnings of our inspiring guests, that is the roots and foundations of the creativity they convey today. In your case, we're talking Prague, Czech Republic then Zürich, Switzerland within a pretty artistic family. What was growing up in such an environment like? My first role as a baby was as an extra in a Czech TV series - all joking aside. My parents worked at the Barandov film studios in Prague - Milos Forman was still in Prague at the time - so I grew up surrounded by Czech films, literature and music, and that hasn't changed much with my new life in Zürich.

What are the aesthetic memories you keep from those times? Well, I only lived in Prague for a short time, the photos and stories of my parents and the house where I was born make up my memories more than anything else. My grandfather's delicious cakes and strudels from Vienna. My father once went to Poland for a pair of off-white Wrangler jeans - they didn't have them in Prague at the time -, I loved these jeans on him and wore them later as a teenager.

How would you say it influences how you approach what you do today? I think the fusion of the two cultures has always influenced me, after all I love them both and I always wonder where I would be today if my parents had not emigrated. In this sense, emigration is very enriching.

Your interests in all-things fashion led you to collect magazines at an early age, then write for them. How did you first break up into this magazine world? Beside my studies at the University of Zürich - literature, social psychology and art history -, I applied for an internship at a then chic French-Swiss fashion magazine. I admired the editor-in-chief and she encouraged me benevolently.

How was writing about beauty different from writing about fashion? For me, it makes absolutely no difference to write about beauty, fashion or even design or travel. The way of looking at things and reflecting is the same for me.

What have been the most memorable interviews/people from the industry you met during those days? One of my most fascinating encounters was certainly with the likeable Jean-Claude Ellena, who was the nose of Hermès perfumes at the time. I met him for the first time at a perfume launch in Aswan, Egypt, and later I visited him in his studio near Grasse for an NZZ interview. Serge Lutens is another magical, and at the same time enchanting personality I will never forget. And Christian Astuguevieille, then at Comme des Garçons, is also an incredibly creative and impressive person.

Is there something in all those highly inspiring, creative people that could connect them on some level, some similarities that would go beyond their professions and industry and be some kind of foundation for greatness? I think the incredible passion and the resulting energy they have for their medium, and the fact that they all have a very unique, personal creation process through the expression of this medium.  

How did it influence your approach to creativity? A liberated thinking, no fear of contact, not compromising - for as long as possible - and following one's instinct.

Going back to your journey, you then joined Swiss luxury brand Fogal. Would you tell us more about the rich heritage of this brand, and what exactly did you do there? Fogal was a love story. The Swiss - family - company was founded in 1921 and was one of the world's leading luxury hosiery brands. It became famous for its colour selection, 120 shades were once available from a single model. But Fogal also became famous for its artist collaborations, at a time when no one was talking about marketing strategy. Rather, the owner at the time - a true patron - loved art and knew how to combine his passions. In addition to the collaboration with Allen Jones - huge murals on house walls at Zürich and Basel railway stations - there were projects with Nicola de Maria, Sandro Chia and George Condo, among many others, whose works were reproduced on posters and shopping bags. Fogal was a very sophisticated and attractive luxury brand with boutiques from Sao Paulo to Beverly Hills to Tokyo. I started as PR Manager and was soon appointed Marketing Director. I was responsible for all visuals, catalogues, collaborations - including fashion shows and celebrities -, packaging and had an influence on the design. The most attractive catalogues during my time were created in collaboration with Creative Director Beda Achermann of Studio Achermann in Zürich. We worked with Walter Pfeiffer, a Swiss photographer and artist who now shoots for Bottega Veneta, among others. We created unique campaigns that made a blast in the USA and Asia, which we photographed in locations such as Carlo Mollino's incredible villa in Torino, Gio Ponti's Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento, Villa Necchi in Milan - known amongst other things for the film "Io sono l'amore" with Tilda Swinton wearing Jil Sander, and directed by Luca Guadagnino.

How was, in creative terms, working for the production of such a highly detailed and refined project as Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby? When Catherine Martin, the costume designer and wife of Baz Luhrmann, called me from L.A. early one summer morning and asked for a stocking collaboration for the remake of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo di Caprio, Carey Mulligan and directed by her husband, I did not think twice... Since business - contracts! - and creative work were strictly separated, the collaboration was a lot of fun. In a lively exchange via Fedex - stocking samples - and e-mails, a capsule collection was created that perfectly matched the Prada costumes in the movie.

Then there is the Konfekt chapter. How did it happen, and what is your precise role there? The question had obviously been around for a while: what could a sister of MONOCLE magazine, founded by Tyler Brûlé, look like? Last year, a good six months before the launch of Konfekt, I was called on board by Tyler and was naturally thrilled to be involved in the founding of a new international magazine.

It was a very impressive and moving moment, when all the 200 pages of Konfekt Nr.1 were laid on tables and the floor at Midori House in London for last changes, shortly before going to print. Tyler and the core team went through the whole magazine and shared their thoughts, Sophie Grove, the editor in chief of Konfekt, Richard Spencer-Powell, the longtime creative director of MONOCLE and Konfekt, Andrew Tuck, editor in chief of MONOCLE and many more... We have now published four issues.

As Konfekt Style Director, I am responsible for everything that has to do with fashion and aesthetics in the broadest sense, starting with briefings from stylists for the fashion spreads, tracking down stories and brands, visiting fashion weeks and, amongst other things, product collaborations such as the one we just launched with Les Belles Heures.

How is it to be part of the creation of such a thoughtful publication, with such a talented team and a real vision for print? It is incredibly exciting to work with such a successful and talented MONOCLE team, to discover subtle cultural differences but also cross-cultural similarities. It's amazing when two women with different histories and lives discover a shared love for Raffia when they first meet. I discuss the next topics with Sophie Grove, the editor-in-chief - often in hour-long telephone conversations, now increasingly in person again - and the visual language and covers with Richard Spencer Powell, the creative director.

What's your vision for Konfekt? An intelligent, cultivated, positive magazine for women, but also men, that celebrates beauty, beauty of life, craft, creativity and nature. A progressive title that stands for timeless, understated style and relaxed luxury.

How is addressing the DACH audience different from any other European, or global audience? What are the cultural markers that make for that unique identity? The Central European mindset of Konfekt is intelligent, elegant, cultivated, understated, independent, enjoyable, appreciates quality, tradition, but also innovation, loves nature, fascinating personalities and appeals not only to European female readers, but to a community of likeminded people that transcends countries. 

We just released Les Belles Heures x Konfekt. Would you tell our audience the story of this very specific project? We are constantly on the lookout for brands that have similar values to Konfekt. Les Belles Heures is a perfect match. Since there was already a cooperation with MONOCLE, the search didn't take long; LBH's style appealed to me immediately, even more so after I held the first sample in my hands.

What's your relation to scarves? For me, scarves are a kind of jewellery for every day. A scarf makes it easy to reinterpret a look.

How would you define your own style?  It can be a hand-woven bag from the Andes, a kaftan from Tangier, an Italian navy jacket, but also a coat from Jil Sander. I think my style is the sum of all the influences from travel, films and art, and is therefore dynamic.

Are there any style icons - famous or not - in your personal pantheon that have influenced your own approach to style? I don't have any style icons, but there are always film characters or women I meet who inspire me.

What's elegance to you, and why is it such an important thing?  Elegance makes everyday life and the streets more bearable.

What's your relation to colour? For example, I don't relate to grass green, I don't like the colour. Until I saw a hand-woven irregular green carpet in a gallery. Fantastic, the carpet looked like a meadow. I think any colour can be beautiful, it always depends on the material and the object.

What we do here at Les Belles Heures is highly influenced by travel and the inspiring places we go, both physically and mentally. What's your take on travel? I feel the same way, travelling is vital for me, without travelling I wouldn't be who I am today. Urban culture with its architecture, art, restaurants, bars, streets, shops, markets and encounters are always enriching and fulfilling. But also unique landscapes like the remote Bergell valley in Switzerland or the high plateaus in the Abruzzo region leave their mark and have a lasting effect.

What are the places with which you connect the most, and why? Tangier - because of its contradictory soul and unique location. Paris - because of its elegance, even the sky looks elegant in Paris. Zabriskie Point / Death Valley - because of its wild breathtaking beauty - and Michelangelo Antonioni's film of the same name. Engadine - because of its mountains, powerful nature and fresh air, for me the best wellness oasis.

What is your favorite Mediterranean island? The Aeolian Islands, because each island has its own character.

How would you describe LBH in 3 words? Five words please: Les Belles Heures is sympa, chic, fresh, relaxed and luxurious.

Who would you like to read in our next Style talk series - someone you could introduce to us? I would love to read a style talk with Vincent Ribat, the interior designer and founder of the french bag brand Rue de Verneuil. Also a kindred spirit when it comes to style.

Thank you so much Marcela, it has been lovely both working with you and this little chat. It was a pleasure to answer your questions and I look forward to the upcoming Style Talk.

All photos courtesy of Marcela Palek. Photos showcasing Marcela courtesy of Jessie Goldsmith.

Les Belles Heures is a young Maison revamping scarves as a cool, daily accessory through savoir-faire, craftsmanship and minimalist design focused on color. 

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