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A Conversation with... Marianna Oklejak

Don’t you sometimes wish you lived inside a storybook? Have a life based on one of your favourite fairytales where a happy end is always around the corner followed by a happily-ever-after? I know I do. But fret no more - Chmurrra Burrra, a Polish kidswear brand is here to give your kids their fairytale!

Inspired by children’s imagination, which is consistently limitless, Chmurrra Burrra is a well-planned dream of Natalia and Katarzyna. Made in collaboration with best Polish illustrators, Chmurrra Burrra’s collections are filled with creative illustrations on one side followed by witty text on the other. Each collection also comes out with a funny, illustrated book.

This season, Chmurrra Burrra has collaborated with Marianna Oklejak. Inspired by Polish folk arts and crafts, her collection is a balance of intricate yet simple folk designs. With vibrant colours of ultramarine blue and bright red paired with a subtle honey brown, the pieces bring together intricate crafts of embroidery and cutouts. The folk-clothing silhouette of baggy pants, knee-length swirly skirts and puffy sleeves bring in a rustic vibe and combine the past, the present and the future to not only entertain kids but also teach them about the world around them.

Marianna, tell us about yourself. Why did you become a children’s book illustrator?
I was raised in the 1980s in Poland reading Polish kids magazines available at the time and books published in the 50s, 60s or 70s that my parents bought at secondhand bookshops. They were illustrated by masters of Polish illustration. I loved watching those illustrations and always checked who their author was. They immersed me into many different worlds, and since I was always drawing a lot, the decision was natural. But I never thought separately about children’s illustration and illustration for adults, there’s just book illustration.

Is it easier or more difficult to work on children’s books?
They have their differences, but generally I don’t like to make strict distinctions. I’m certain many typically “childish” things (joyful, colourful pictures) are well liked by adults; on the other hand the things children like are frequently so much different than our expectations. This is why I try to stick to what I enjoy myself and what I do best. And it’s incredible to work with someone who trusts my sense of style and my choices.

What inspires you?
I have a pin board in my toilet (yes!) where I pin various pictures — there’s always a lot of traditional art, not only Polish, there’s Matisse, some medieval art. I like everything simple, striving for synthesis, full of pure, audacious colours and beautiful designs. I always —since I was a kid —admired Bohtan Butenko, a Polish book illustrator known for simple design and great sense of humour, and Zdzisław Witwicki for his fairy tale quality. Also nature itself is an infinite source of inspiration! The shape of leaves, colour of flowers — these are miracles!

What inspired you while working on I LOVE FOLK! collection for Chmurrra Burrra?
When we started discussing working together a word “folklore” appeared so I was immediately hooked. I drew inspiration from Polish folk art of paper cutting (especially animals in simple colours cut out of paper) and multicoloured stripes incredibly popular in traditional Polish attire (both female and male). I wanted to give them a new life and make them present in contemporary fashion again. Nature inspired me as well — frost flowers on windows reminding me of ferns (I’m so sorry they are so rare now), and forest animals, not limited to Europe (including rare species such as lynx). The choice of colours is also a tribute to my childhood memories — I loved the mix of ultramarine blue and vivid red, and the fur of my favourite teddy bear was exactly this kind of honey gold.

How do you like creating designs for clothing collection? How is it different than illustrating a book?
There are a lot of similarities. Just like with books you have to think about the whole collection, even though there are separate designs for each article of clothing. However when you work on a book you have to remember the reader will see and interpret the illustrations page after page, whereas the clothes can be mixed and matched in many different ways.

Everything has to fit.
You have to remember people have different complexion
and it would be perfect to give everyone something they can feel comfortable in.

The whole team at Chmurrra Burrra was very supportive and always ready to explain how my visual idea would translate to clothes. They introduced me to the secrets of clothing trade and I’ve learned a lot during our collaboration. For me it was all completely new.

A lot of your illustrations and books are inspired by the past, by your cultural heritage. Where is the reason for that? Why do you like Polish folk so much?
It’s difficult to explain. Probably it has to do with what I liked as a child. Polish folklore is something very personal for me because I was raised in Poland and this is the tradition I know best. But in every folk art, whether it is Inuit art or crafts from Burkina Faso, there is always the same honest simplicity that I find most inspiring.

You’ve created a book accompanying I LOVE FOLK! collection. What is it about? And did you favour any of the characters?

The story is simple: once upon a time a strange animal appears in the forest. The mysterious guest is first treated with fear, but it all ends with a complete change of attitude towards the stranger. You can read it as a simple story about tolerance, about not being afraid of what’s different and unknown. And, about the importance of talking with each other. I like the old Hare the most — he was a full time superhero once, but when he retired he changed his methods… and the new methods do not require superpowers!

What are you plans for the future? What can we expect?
I’m working on a project that is again inspired by folk art. But I cannot give you more details!


Chmurrra Burrra
We want to create a world for kids, where imagination is the most important, even the craziest ideas can be realized, and adults listen to children because they are their inspiration. - Chmurrra Burrra