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Dec 1, 2008 1:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

A frugal view of fashion, with roots behind the Iron Curtain

Dec 1, 2008 1:33 PM

When Sag Harbor-based fashion designer Alitza Piatchkova was growing up in the small town of Trnava in Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, she was once beaten up in a movie theater for wearing a pair of red bell bottoms that her mother had knitted for her.

It’s that notion of fashion as rebellion that has guided much of Ms. Piatchkova’s life, and that notion is also in the background of her thoughts as she prepares to start a new discussion series for women in Bridgehampton this weekend.

Ms. Pia, as she refers to herself, started Le Salon Piquant as a plan to bring together women on the East End for monthly tea-time conversation. Though she hopes the primary discussion will focus on how participants can create an affordable and elegant personal style, she hopes that the dialogue will be as broad-ranging as her own concerns.

“I don’t believe only fashion will make us feel confident,” she said. “Socializing, wine tasting, love are such important things. I want to be able to discuss any issues important to today’s woman, to better our women.”

She hopes that the group will eventually expand its concerns to include guest speakers and occasional trips to New York to take in the city’s rich cultural offerings.

Ms. Pia’s focus on women’s self-esteem is rooted in her matriarchal family upbringing. Her mother had been an attorney for the Minister of Culture in Czechoslovakia, and was also a dancer, singer, harmonica player and organizer of underground literary movements.

When Ms. Pia decided to leave Czechoslovakia in 1981 at the age of 21, it was a risky undertaking. She was married and had a 1-year-old daughter at the time, and her family arranged with two other families to receive passports to Yugoslavia. Though she was permitted to travel to Yugoslavia because it was another Communist country, her group then crossed the border into Italy under the guise of a shopping expedition. They immediately went to a refugee camp in Latina, Italy, where they waited for four months for entry into the United States as refugees. While in the camp, she was surrounded by Romanian criminals, soldiers with machine guns, food lines and mothers who resorted to prostitution to feed their children.

“I was still smiling through all of it,” she said. “I put on my leopard vest and fishnet stockings and went to work in a bar. I was always very curious.”

In retrospect, she sees her family’s escape from Communism as a crazy, risky endeavor, but at the time, she said, she was too young to see the danger of what she was doing.

“I wanted to eat more watermelon. Watermelon wasn’t readily available there,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Nobody wants to leave for that reason.”

Once she arrived in New York, Ms. Pia took classes at the French Fashion Academy and later began her own clothing line, Alitza, New York, which was featured in seven showrooms in New York, including Takashimaya. She also designed a series of Christmas ornaments for Barney’s.

Though she quickly realized some professional success, life in New York proved to be a real shock for a woman who’d been raised with such Old-World values.

“I came from a society where relationships were the most important thing, not work,” she said. “I understand what pressure women are under here to perform, but it’s very hard for a woman to perform as a male and feel as a female.”

Ms. Pia hopes that Le Salon Piquant will help women here become more comfortable with their femininity and that, maybe, at a time when Americans are feeling an economic crunch that Eastern Europeans know so well, they will learn to see fashion as a reflection of personal style and not of a consumer culture.

The workshop series will premier with a discussion titled “Le Salon Piquant—Holidays,” on December 7, from 4:27 to 7:27 p.m. at Photo Op, 1 Tradesman’s Path, at the corner of Butter Lane in Bridgehampton.

Ms. Pia will discuss the difference between fashion and style and give participants one-on-one instruction on discovering their body types and defining their silhouettes. She will also provide champagne and cookies from Pierre’s restaurant. She is requesting a $25 entrance fee, to cover the costs of materials and space rental. Ms. Pia plans to donate funds raised during future discussions to local charities and is asking each woman who attends to bring one piece of gently used clothing to donate to local women in need.

Ms. Pia is encouraging women who attend to wear black, close-fitting attire under their clothes for the body type analysis and to bring their favorite outfits for advice on re-designing and altering their wardrobe.

For more information on the program, e-mail info@lesalonpiquant.com.

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