Konstantin Grcic talks London, design and that bicycle

When my editor tells me I will have 20 minutes for an interview with Konstantin Grcic, I kind of freak out. Only 20 minutes with this super famous designer? That’s not enough. Apparently, I learn, I’m lucky. He hardly ever agrees to interviews and when he does, you need to strictly adhere to the little time given, precisely announced prior to your meeting. And 20 minutes, by his standards – I’m told – is a lot. So, when I finally meet Grcic during the London Design Biennale in September, I already feel under pressure, given the time constraints. And I soon learn he’s not after the small talk – he gets straight to the point and rushes me into the questions I prepared. During our conversation, I am super aware of the timing, and keep looking at the minutes ticking away on my iPhone Voice Memos app but as we carry on, Grcic gets more and more relaxed and switches over to a rather talkative mode. To the point of me getting slightly wary of the time already passed and warning him that I’d only have one last question to ask. At which point his PR lady gives me a very clear sign I am running out of time. – That’s OK – says Konstantin – we are wrapping up. And we are. I check my recording – we spoke for exactly 29 minutes and 51 seconds. Mr Grcic gifted me with 9 minutes and 51 seconds extra time. Not bad, given his German tendency for precision and exactness. Not at all bad.

Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 17/18 (currently on sale).

London is where it all started for you. How does it feel to be back?
It all started for me in England, then London played a role in it. I was a student at the Royal College of Art, many years ago, like a quarter of century ago. I have very strong, very vivid memories of it. It was a great time of my life and London was where I wanted to be then. I left for different reasons and it’s this thing that always gets through my mind: what would I be, where would I be now, had I stayed in London 25 years ago. But I don’t know and it’s boring trying to answer that now but it is definitely kind of sentimental me coming back here. I love it and I hate it. When you live here, you get used to this crazy city but if you’re coming from the outside, from a city which is a little fraction of London [Grcic lives in Berlin] then you really have to be conditioned to live here. London is loud and sweaty. London is intense. (…)

What has changed since the time you founded your own studio?
I think over the years my practice has changed in size, in equipment, in clients that we have. My team has changed – it is now six people, 25 years ago I was alone. But I think it’s not completely different to what I started with. I think in some way I find it almost frustrating to think that it’s not that different to what I wanted to do originally. But at the same time I could also say it’s quite reassuring and it’s beautiful, it’s seems like I did find something in my life, something I really want to do, something that makes me happy, that makes sense of my life. And I feel that way, we’re doing things today that I couldn’t have thought about 25 years ago. The problem was really to decide on where I wanted to stand on design. Is it a promise of always the new, the next project, a bigger project, a faster project, a more crazy project, a more utopian project? Or, is there something in the quality of design, which in the end is so simple, so beautiful, so effective, so economical. I think that my installation here, at the Biennale, tries to speak about that. Utopia is what happens in your head. We’ve created something, which of course has a technological aspect to it but it is also very real and has the sound of crackling fire.

I sat in that room, closed my eyes and felt like I was sitting by the fire. Only last week I went to the countryside and sat by a real fire, watching the stars.
And that’s what it is about, still today, in this world. With all the technologies we have, the simplest little things and moments are the most powerful, and so strong. And it’s beautiful that it still works for us. We’re used to the most incredible stuff, but sitting by a real fire is unbeatable. And then the real fire is free to anyone, to people from all cultures around the planet and that’s where I think you have the utopia. Isn’t that nice that utopia is not that incredible future being manmade? We can all be part of our own mental utopia just through this simple thing that comes for free. People, in the most primitive cultures, as well as the most sophisticated cultures, they all go back to the fire. And that was our way out of this. Of course, we’ve designed the space, but in a way I would have even preferred we hadn’t designed anything and tried to just create the atmosphere. Surely, it’s not true for every visitor but if we get 10 out of a 100 to sit down and do what you did, close your eyes and relax, it’s fine. It is one installation out of forty, people will come here with their heads already crammed with other things they’ve seen at the Biennale, so it’s difficult to get their attention. But I think that difficulty is always part of our work. Every project is a challenge. That’s why I’m passionate about my work and I want to face the difficulty that comes with it. (…)

There was a time when you suffered from the major success of Chair One. You yourself said that it took a while for people to grasp Chair One and understand what it was about. Do you have the patience to wait for people to understand your designs?
I wish the things I design were understood or liked more immediately, but it’s not something that I do intentionally. I don’t make things difficult. It’s just something I’m not able to change. I do the things I strongly believe in. We worked on Chair One for four years, so I had four years to get used to it. How could it be that someone who sees it for the first time gets it immediately? It took myself four years. It’s like that with a lot of things. Do I have the patience? I haven’t even thought about it in that way, to be honest. That’s the way it goes, I can’t change it. But I’m not doing it on purpose. When we design things, we do the best we can at that particular moment, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The failures and the problems form part of the solution that we find in the next project somehow. But there is one thing I started to accept, which is different to when I was young and at the beginning of my designing career. At at that time my generation wanted to be successful designers, not successful in stardom, even money, but successful in designing popular products. Working for Ikea – we thought that was great. The generation before us thought it was horrible. Now I have to accept that in the end, I’m not an Ikea designer…

But you work for MUJI. Although it has a slightly different philosophy.
You’re right, probably MUJI makes an exception. I think that maybe I’m the designer who is better at designing Chair One, rather than designing a chair that sells and works for everyone. If I’m the designer of Chair One, anyway, I’m happy with that. There used to be this idea of avant-garde, and it was always something that is exclusive, and understood by a very few people. But generations later, years later it changes – Bauhaus was avant-garde, now it’s a common reference to a lot of what we do. Certain things that were so exclusive, but powerful, have that power to trickle into much broader consciousness, and in the end something that is exclusive turns into, not a mass product, but a mass reference. Think of Memphis design, it was so powerful it changed everything we thought about design, but not because Memphis products were all over the place. They were produced in prototypes, but the imagery, and the reference, the knowledge, the learning from it has influenced everyone. I think that’s also something that I find a valuable contribution to make. As a designer you have a voice to say something, say something strong, something that polarizes people or even offends them. And I still believe it is necessary to do that. I believe it would be horrible if design became the one thing for everyone, made everyone happy.

Last question – have you designed a bicycle yet?
[Grcic laughs]. No.

So you dream hasn’t come true.
No. It’s still in the pipe line, which means in my head.

 

Photo credits: Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design. Photo of Konstantin Grcic on the cover: Markus Jans.

Monitor Magazine Konstantin Grcic Magda Bulera-Payne

REMO chair with tubular legs

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Chair One public Konstantin Grcic Landen Grcic Vitra REMO chair Konstantin Grcic VAL Konstantin Grcic

VAL washbasin

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Porky Hefer and his delicious monsters

I heard about Porky Hefer from a South African interior designer whom I met on a holiday in Sri Lanka. As soon as we planned a trip to Cape Town, I knew Hefer was a must-see on our itinerary. And so I rang the door bell in the Southern Guild gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town’s thriving art district, ready to enter the beautiful world of Monstera Deliciosa.

The delicious ‘monsters’ really moved me, not just visually but also in a very sensory way. I was allowed to crawl inside the beautiful mantaray M.heloise, and it was one of the most amazing experiences. I felt like a little insect inside a flower, or a caterpillar inside a cocoon. But this is just an attempt at describing at how I felt. It was pretty surreal, in the most beautiful way. The softly lined up interior of M.heloise provided such comfort, peace and seclusion, amidst the hustle and bustle and the heat of Cape Town. I immediately wished I had one made for me. I hope one day I’ll be able to live in a place big enough to provide room for such installation. But before that wish materializes, I had a chance to speak to the man behind the lovely monsters, and it was truly a delicious conversation.
Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 16 (currently on sale).

Did you know from the start what effect would your underwater creatures have on people?

The more you believe in an idea, or rather focus energy on it, the more you perfect it and complete it, the more effect it will have. I have been focusing on the concept of environments. Each of the animals is an environment of its own on the inside. They differ with the amount of the environment and your senses that they control. Most affect your hearing and disconnect you from the world outside. They also limit your view of the outside world, with the manta giving you only a small porthole of view of the outside world that is also always changing and beyond your control. The swinging effect also takes you off the earth and into another sensation which is which most likened to the feeling of being in the womb. They also smell of an animal. Giving you a feeling that there is something, or even someone, else present. (…)

Your first nest was made in 2009. What has been your biggest challenge since then?

Thankfully, there will always be challenges. But I guess the biggest one was coming up with the idea for the first nest – convincing everyone that it was a good idea and then – convincing someone to make it. It’s got easier from there. I have been lucky to focus on one idea and just explore different executions of it. The one naturally evolves from the other, as I find I learn so much through the process – you learn the boundaries and thresholds that you can then push yourself to the next level. It would be boring if it wasn’t challenging. Improvement only comes from making mistakes that you can learn from, I am sure every young male bird has felt like this. (…)

Working in an advertising agency you came to a point where you didn’t want to take briefs from clients any more. How does one make a turn like this and become a designer of objects?

It was all about the object actually, or more correctly, the product. I found that in advertising the process became more important than the product. It was about keeping marketing departments busy and happy, keeping the systems going, rather than doing good work. Politics and democracy took up way too much time. I wanted to do more than just a good job – the product was so fleeting and really didn’t make a difference. I started Animal Farm in 2007, inspired by George Orwell’s concept of ‘all animals are equal’ and wanted to get humans out of creativity, so instinct would rule rather than ego. I want clever people to rule, not powerful ones. (…)

Your pieces are not just about the aesthetics. There is also the steel construction, the weight distribution, the suspension points. How big is your team of co-workers?

The process starts with me drawing the object from numerous angles and focusing on the details such as nostrils, fins, feet, how the mouth opens etc. This is to fully understand the object and to try find problems before they arise. I am not very technological, so I don’t do 3D drawings or anything like that. I then work with a welder who helps turn the drawings into reality. I don’t make small models or maquettes, as I find I need to work at actual scale to get it right, rather than a simulation with other materials or gauges. It’s during this stage that I work out the weight distribution and the suspension points, the engineering. The final weight of the leather or cane has to be considered but this gets easier with experience. Then it goes over to the team at Woodheads. They are a leather merchant in Cape Town that has been around since 1867 and still believe in good old fashioned craft, although they have moved with the times and updated the machinery, so we can achieve incredible results. (…) I then work with a team of marine rigging specialists who do the splicing for the ropes. I use old splicing techniques which are both strong and beautiful to look at. They just stink of hand work. None really unusual but I guess most of them unseen. We have ignored the art that goes into hand crafted objects and the skill of the craftsman. They have been downgraded by machinery, mass production, modernization and disposal. But they are making a come back. (…)

Human-size nests. That’s such a great idea. Please tell me you sleep in a big nest instead of a regular bedroom?

Unfortunately, I still sleep in a square bed in a square room. But it must be a good bed, it’s where I have dreamt up some wonderful things. We will build our own house soon and that’s when I will inhabit my own nest.
Thank you Porky, for the thoughtful conversation and a wonderful time in London!

Photo credits: Adriaan Louw; photo of Porky: Justin Patrick.

MUST SEE: If you are in London before September 27th, do go to see Porky’s work at the first London Design Biennale in Somerset House. You will be blown away!

 

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Throw back to South Africa

It’s been our second trip to South Africa. We travelled around the country, did 3 thousand kilometers in 3 weeks and got back 3 months ago.

And I honestly don’t know what took me so long to share some photos from that journey. My guess is that first I was digesting all the emotions that arose during the time spent in this amazing country. Then, reality kicked in, and I got busy with work-related projects, which always keeps me away from the blog.

But SA is always on my mind. I recently started noting down some ideas for our trip next year. In case you wonder, it is going to be South Africa again, for the 3rd time. There is so much to revisit and so much more to discover…

But before we go again, and come back with hundreds of new photos, here is a handful of snapshots from our most recent Southafrican trip. Enjoy.

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PS. I also have an extra treat for my Polish readers – a little feature I wrote for the Polish edition of Harper’s Bazaar. It’s been published in the June issue (currently on sale – until June 20th).

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La vita e bella for Punkt.

The founder of Punkt. is on a mission. He doesn’t plan to take over the world of technology but he has a pretty clear vision of what he wants to achieve with his brand. And that is … taming the technology and putting it right back where is started – at the service of human beings. I talk to Petter Neby about his life after Punkt. was launched, the fundamental role of his stepdaughter in the whole story and, in the process, find out that he really isn’t after material possessions. It is the idea that possesses him. Read on.

Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 14 (currently on sale).

(…)

Let’s talk about Punkt. Did you have an „aha” moment that led you to Punkt.?

It’s been a long journey but there was indeed a clear moment which led me to Punkt. I have a stepdaughter, who is actually turning 26 now. But when she was a few years younger, in her late teens, and being of the first generation born into the internet, I noticed that she was always on a smartphone, always connected. It was difficult to make her understand the importance of not always being “on” and that was certainly the kind of an „aha” moment for me.

But we are told that the generation Y cannot function without smartphones and being always connected. Their whole world revolves around being “on”. Their smartphones are their most valuable possessions. 

It is not just the generation of young people. I learned how poor we are, our generation. We think we are better at controlling technology than we actually are. Yet some of us are as bad as the teenagers or 20-somethings – in many cases the central element of our lives is a smartphone. So our generation has been caught with our pants down, thinking to be in control, but in fact, every so often we see ourselves in restaurants having dinner with our partner, and we are both in deep conversation with … our devices. Of course, the advantage is that we have some anchor of knowledge about what it is like to live and to be present “in a moment”. However, the younger generation also sees what is happening and they are able to see some damage, see friends having anxiety problems. I really understood this when some of them came to me (after I already launched the cordless phone) and said – “Why don’t you make just a simple mobile phone”? These are some early signs that people are getting a reality check.

(…)

How do you market your mobile phone?

We certainly market it as ‘take your life back’ or ‘get the conversation back’ device. But we don’t want to say how and when people should use it, there are several different options. I use it to make calls and a phone that can be always on, even after office hours. The phone helps me define when I work and when I don’t.

Does that mean that only your friends and family have access to this phone?

This is where the next step comes in. I have one number for my professional life and one for my private life. What I do is take my smartphone when I travel and forward that number to my Punkt. phone. So all my calls will go there, but during the weekend I will just switch off that call forwarding, so I don’t receive professional calls over the weekend. I try to keep a balance between my working and private hours and my phone helps me do that. The nice thing about the phone conversation is that you get things done, because you get an immediate response and understanding. Meanwhile, when you email someone, your message will just sit there and only when it comes back, you understand how people understood you. A spoken conversation makes a big difference.

I do believe in conversations. A lot of people though don’t know how to talk anymore. 

It’s true. We are very fond of the writer Sherry Turkle and her books, in which she touches upon technology and conversation. Her first book was about technology, the greatest thing on earth, in the the second one she was starting to see that maybe there are some issues with the importance of technology, the third was about what is really happening with the way we communicate, from toddlers to teenagers. She notices how so many young people don’t know how to talk. I do lectures at universities, which I like a lot, and the first thing I say to my students is „Switch off all your phones”. If you want me to travel from Florence to Milan or to London to have a lecture, you might as well respect me by switching off your phone.

So, do you feel like you are launching a revolution or like you’re a part of an evolution?

Well, there’s the business side of course, but the bigger picture is the purpose. I feel it’s not a revolution, it’s too big a word, but I’m a preacher of an important issue. And I’m just one of several preachers, except rather than writing books I make products. I love technology but I’m in disagreement with the current evolution of technology. For me it’s all about making a public dialogue about the issues we are facing sociologically. Technology is a serious sociological issue.

(…)

My last question to you is what is your most valuable material possession and why?

I don’t know. You know, my father is a collector – as a result, one of the things I really don’t want to happen to me is to be owned by objects. There’s nothing really that I would have to rescue from a burning house.

And it wouldn’t be the phone?

I couldn’t say that, could I? You know, these phones are my children, so I’m so fond of them. We only make things that we think are important, we don’t make crap. We only design things that we believe add value and are something that should lasts for a very long time. I’m very fond of my fixed line phone – every time I come to the office and I see the phone, that was launched already 4 years ago, it continues to grow on me how beautiful an object it is.

So, La vita e bella for Punkt., si?

La vita a veramente bella, salute!

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Special thanks to Petter Neby, for an enjoyable and inspiring conversation.

Photo credits: Punkt.

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Za kulisami sesji: Louis Vuitton x Esquire The Big Black Book

Już dawno miałam opublikować zdjęcia ‘backstage’ z sesji Louis Vuitton do pierwszego polskiego wydania przewodnika The Big Black Book, ale przy archiwizacji zdjęć właśnie ta foto-relacja gdzieś się sprytnie ukryła i dopiero teraz ją odnalazłam. Uff. Przeglądając raz jeszcze dokumentację tego pięknego sierpniowego dnia poczułam, że to była jedna z najbardziej magicznych sesji, w jakich brałam udział. Dopisała nam i ekipa i pogoda. Nawet wrzosy zakwitły w odpowiednim czasie. A specjalnie wypożyczony na sesję kudłaty zwierzak spisał się na medal. Na obecność psa, a konkretnie wilczarza irlandzkiego, nalegał naczelny Esquire, Filip Niedenthal. Przyznaję się od razu, że nie jestem wielbicielką psów, choć doceniam chęć użycia takiego żywego ‘rekwizytu’ na planie. Łobuzerski urok naszego modela Adriana, w zestawieniu z niepokornym charakterem ‘wilka’ Bingo cudownie oddał swobodny duch jesiennej kolekcji Louis Vuitton zaprojektowanej przez Kima Jonesa. A o to właśnie nam chodziło. ‘Dla wędrowców. Dla podróżników. Dla niespokojnych duchów’ – taką zapowiedź prezentowanej kolekcji przygotowała redakcja. A zatem – w drogę…

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Skład ekipy: ZDJĘCIA Bartek Wieczorek / MODEL Adrian Włodarski / STYLIZACJA Paweł Wybański / WŁOSY Łukasz Pycior / ASYSTENT FOTOGRAFA Wojciech Affek

Dodatkowo na planie obecni: REDAKTOR NACZELNY ESQUIRE POLSKA Filip Niedenthal / MOJA ASYSTENTKA Ola Krystosiak / PIES Bingo.

Kolekcja MRTW LOUIS VUITTON jesień/zima 2015/16, zaprojektowana przez Kima Jonesa, inspirowana twórczością Christophera Nemetha.

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Excellent choice, Mr Bond

As SPECTRE hit the theaters, lots of brands were celebrating their partnership with the highly anticipated 24th Bond adventure. I had the pleasure to attend a few private events in Warsaw, among which the evening hosted by Belvedere Vodka was a truly enjoyable experience. The after-party was kicked off by DJ Trent aka He is Dapper and graced by the beautiful voice of artist Elle Cato, who flew from London especially for the occasion. In the case of both performances, it was an Excellent choice, Mr Bond.

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If you want to feel like James Bond, here is a recipe for BELVEDERE SPECTRE  007 MARTINI

60ml Belvedere Vodka / 10ml Dry vermouth / 1 Sicilian green olive / 5ml Sicilian green olive brine

Gently muddle olives in base of mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients and shake hard with ice. Double strain into a chilled martini glass. #ShakenNotStirred

Photos / Moet Hennessy

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The color of October

As I am admiring the beautiful products that make up the limited edition launched this year by Estee Lauder Companies in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, I can’t help but think about the real cause that brings us all together on the back of it. Me, you, our friends, the founder of BCA Campaign Evelyn Lauder, its longtime Ambassadress Elizabeth Hurley, and so many other women out there that support the campaign, have been through or are prone to be diagnosed with the most common cancer in women worldwide – breast cancer. And, as we learn from recent studies, it’s not just women being affected but men too. I have an aunt diagnosed with breast cancer, everyone I know knows someone that has been, and it seems that today there is no one left not affected by cancer in this way or another.

Yes, you can argue that it is only one month in the year when we wear our pink ribbons and publicly talk about breast cancer. But because we do, I feel like the rest of the year is charged with this positive energy, which spreads the awareness across the other 11 months. Pink is the color of optimism, Barbie, cupcakes, girls, proms and … one of the most trending words on instagram, with nearly 69 million #pink tags. In comparison, #BCAstrength hashtag has only been used 10 thousand times. Estee Lauder Companies will donate 25 dollars to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation for every instagram or twitter post tagged with #BCAstrength. You do the maths.

There is so much more to be done to create the awareness about the cause. So, next time you think about doing something good in your life, pin a pink ribbon to your jacket, donate to Breast Cancer Research or simply have yourself checked up on a regular basis. And, if you’ve done something, however small, to spread awareness about breast cancer, you can share it on the BCA Campaign website (click here). For the first time, BCA Campaign are launching a multimedia project that will be shared globally on World Cancer Day, February 4, 2016. All actions submitted via BCAcampaign.com between October 1 and December 31, 2015 will be eligible for inclusion. The initiative is meant to serve as an inspirational platform and I am sure it will grow over years. You have a chance of being enlisted in its pioneering year and leave your mark. It’s cool to do pioneering things. I just have.

IMG_5082 IMG_5083 IMG_5088 IMG_5099 IMG_5100 IMG_5102 IMG_5103I am proud to have inspired my client, L’enfant terrible restaurant in Warsaw, to include in their menu a dessert in support of BCA Campaign. Proceeds from the sale of yummy Plum in Chocolate created by Chef Michał Bryś, will be donated to support research towards a cure for breast cancer, conducted by the International Hereditary Cancer Centre at the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin, an organization supported by the Polish division of Estee Lauder Companies. If you have a chance, visit the ‘Terrible kid” in October, it has just been caught by the radar of the UK Michelin inspectors as one pushing the boundaries. Just sayin’.

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London Fashion Week: David Koma SS16

As the Paris Fashion Week goes into full swing, I am still reminiscing the time spent in London. Courtesy of He is Dapper, who in turn won the tickets in an instagram competition announced by Penhaligon’s London, I had a chance to attend the presentation of the spring collection by a London based, Georgian born, fashion designer David Koma. I have to say, I absolutely loved the pieces from his new collection! There were at least a dozen of outfits from the catwalk I could see myself wearing. And that does not happen very often.

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For a different take on the show, see a post by He is Dapper – click here.

To explore the universe of David Koma – check out his website.

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How pink is your heart?

Every year, for more than five years now, I have had the privilige and the honor to be amongst the guests invited to the Estee Lauder Polska breakfast inaugurating the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. Every year Ela Borsuk, responsible for the campaign, can’t stress enough the importance of us working together, collectively, towards the world WITHOUT cancer. The more of us believe it is possible, the more of us don’t ignore disturbing symptoms and take a test, the more of us talk about it, the better chance we stand. Together. Together we are STRONGER.

My heart is pink inside out and it reaches its pinkest shade in October, when I proudly wear my pink ribbon. It is then when I think of all these women – and men – who are, with dignity and courage, fighting their battles against cancer. And I feel part of their story, by simply wearing my little pink token of solidarity and faith. Beacause it matters, beacause I can, because we are stronger together.

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With Ela Borsuk from Estee Lauder Polska and this year’s campaign visual

 

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