Rozhovor s Klárou Tománkovou

1. 4. 2020


We always take pleasure in the poetic beauty of the moments that step out of the strict rules that command the manufacture of our cosmetics. The moments when we get to finish a new product and the time comes to capture its final shape. Which is when our favored Klára Tománková puts in an appearance; our set decorator, stylist, creative soul and friend who helps us give life to product compositions. So we questioned her a bit about her childhood, distant travels, latest inspirations, and the honest work and impressive projects close to her heart which you may (unwittingly) be familiar with...

What was it like, growing up in Klatovy?

I was a busy bee when I was little; my parents put a lot of activities on my plate so I wouldn’t run around goofing off. So after school I’d be going to art classes, English classes, gymnastics or piano lessons. I have great recollections of my holidays in Strážov, with all the swimming, mushroom picking, gardening, riding my folding Eska bike to the swimming pool, the delish home-made meals, and the incredibly upbeat attitude my grandma Růženka had towards life.

What did you want to be when you grew up…?

A back-up… vocal singer that is. You know, an extra standing in the back of some famous performer. Not for the singing, though, for the dancing. I’d drill my special routines, moves I’d seen on TV, every day in front of our polished unit furniture. I would play Abba LPs on our gramophone, dancing it away like crazy and coming up with my own choreography. And this stuck with me for a pretty long time.

Ever since I was little I was drawing and doodling, so it was only natural for me to go to an art school, and thanks to the life journey that I had picked for myself I moved twenty-three times in total!

How about the journey from school to your current job?

Ever since I was little I was drawing and doodling, so it was only natural for me to go to an art school, and thanks to the life journey that I had picked for myself I moved twenty-three times in total! I’ve lived in many places, many cities across two continents. I left home when I was pretty young, I was twenty and freaking out a little. My marriage took me to Montreal in Canada. First things first, I plunged into learning English and French and was waiting to get my permanent resident status. It was all so new for me, going to school, babysitting children in Jewish orthodox families. My husband and I were strapped for cash, and since I loved garage sales and Salvation Army charity shops, I got furniture and decorations for our apartment there. I dare say I am a person of taste, and I have an eye for detail and colors, shapes and space - which is something I did not know back then - but I was really good at furnishing the house. Being able to see the potential lying locked in old things - that the armchair could be reupholstered, the cabinet repainted and the old cashmere sweaters could be turned into awesome pillowcases - that was my knack. And I haven’t lost it.

In Montreal, I first worked for one fashion brand, creating setups for shop window displays and catalogs. Which came in handy back home in Czechia, when I was preparing catalogs for Pietro Filipi or window-dressing for the Hermès boutique store (into the beautifully amazing scenes by Marek Cpin). I will just note here that it was especially Leïla Menchari, the creative director of the House of Hermès and queen of dreamy shop windows for this brand, who was my role model. Some time long ago I had read an article about her and wished to do things like her ever since. I found inspiration in her, the way she could dream and sustain craft and skilled people, which is something I’ve been trying to do as well.

I consider a longtime friend of mine, photographer Robert Vano, to be my mentor. He is an incredible man of character, someone who always has an answer ready for my questions. I love his platinum photos, his Buddhist take on life, and the fact that he gives people second and even third chances. Having said that, he always gives me a talking to whenever I show up late for our meetings, though.

What kind of influence did your travels and life in foreign countries have on you? How did it affect you?

If we’re to split hairs here, I think you need to realize that the times were just different back then. I left this country in 1990 for Canada; before that I had only been to Lake Balaton in Hungary. That was it. In Canada, it all left me breathless at first, but what really is a deep memory burn for me are the landscapes turning all kinds of different during all seasons, and the vastness of space, the endless horizons. Up north I felt like I could almost reach out and literally touch the stars over my head. Later we moved to the United Arab Emirates, to Dubai, which I did not really think of as a particularly inspiring country, but I gave classes in one private art school run by a very able English painter. I taught kids there how to paint and draw, so that gave me a feeling like I was doing something useful. We’d often take trips to France, my favorite country, and I love pretty much everything about it, mostly the people, some of whom are like second family to me.

Where do you draw inspiration?

From crafts, nature, traveling, and meeting people who can actually make stuff with their hands. And good books and Monday classes in Art History that my friend and I are taking. Also classical music; Bach’s cello Suites rendered by Jiří Bárta can really give me peace of mind, and I actually come up with some really nice stuff while listening to these six pieces.

What stuff do you like online?

Hard to say, I find some inspiration on Instagram pretty much every day. And it kind of makes me torn - on the one hand, knowing how much time I spend on social media is vexing, on the other I am pleased whenever I come across something that I would not have otherwise laid my eyes on. Here goes my TOP ten list on IG:



How can you tell which IG profile posts quality lifestyle content? How do you recognize the artful people online?  

The thing with influencers is that they sometimes tend to lack modesty. But that’s up for another discussion. I love it when a post delivers a smart message, and the visual lands me to places I’d probably never visit. When I can sense the person’s hobbies, likes and dislikes, and when the profile gives the impression that what they are posting is actually really important to them. But who knows, right? And as for being able to put my finger on artful people behind the profiles - I‘m afraid I cannot say. It’s already happened to me a couple of times that I thought I had a good hunch, but it turned out different when we met in person.

Any cultural events that stuck in your memory lately?

I love going to the movies, a lot, and as often as I get the chance. From the recent pieces, I really enjoyed Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi, it was shot in the Czech Republic and won a dear friend of mine, set decorator Nora Sopková, an Oscar nomination for production design. I thought the movie was great, and not only visually. I also went to a new album release by the world-renowned French horn player Radek Baborák and his Orquestrina, it was in atypical line-ups and the album is dedicated to the music of Astor Piazzolla, traditionally a carrier of the Argentine-tango sound. The gig was also hosting, an organization that assists families with preemies. It was a splendid evening. For a good cause. My last theatre visit was to see Bridges of Time in the National Theatre, featuring choreography by Jiří Kylián, which I absolutely adore, to be honest. His take on modern dance, laced with a touch of the classical, simply fills me with happiness. And of course, the last exhibition I enjoyed a lot was On Flying and Other Dreams by Petr Sís in the Centre for Contemporary art, DOX. 

Your favorite photographers?

Irving Penn, François Halard, Paolo Roversi a spousta dalších.

One of the crucial projects I did was decorating the Monastery of Nový Dvůr, reconstructed by John Pawson, along with some photoshoots for Fresh cosmetics from the U.S. we did there.

How about some major projects, turning points in your career?

One of the crucial projects I did was decorating the Monastery of Nový Dvůr, reconstructed by John Pawson, along with some photoshoots for Fresh cosmetics from the U.S. we did there. Not only did I get to see places where people aren’t normally allowed, but I also worked for three days in silence and got to do the shoot with the admirable still photographer Christopher Baker.

Like I said before, I’d looked up to Leïla Menchari ever since I was a kid and I wanted to work on the Hermès shop windows with her so bad - which also happened for me, and it was an unforgettable experience. I also had a great mentor in Berlin who gave me a good deal of valuable pieces of advice.

For more than thirteen years I’ve been working for American Macy’s on their commercial shoots. I have lots of brands in my portfolio, like Nespresso, Bulgari, Hermès, Preciosa, Lasvit, Moser and others.

I prepare editorials for Czech and foreign magazines alike, mostly Dolce Vita, Elle Decoration, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Proč ne?!, Esprit Lidových novin, FHM, NYT Magazine. And last but not least, I am extremely happy I get to work on beautiful projects like the editorials inspired by and dedicated to such personages like Josef Sudek, for instance, that I did for Dolce Vita:

What does your work involve? How do you prepare for projects?

I come up with a project, draft the mood board and call up the photographer to see if they are interested to do the gig with me, and if they say yes and we get the green light from the client, a serious hustle begins. I hunt for stuff, run errands, shop around, constantly do some selections, have the props made, objects and backgrounds, other times I am scouting locations. I have others do it for me on the big projects, but on the small ones, like magazine shoots, I see to everything myself. In these cases, a big emphasis is placed on the advertisers, so you need to make sure that you don’t skip anyone and that all the necessary products are shown in the editorial. And then, during the shoot itself, I set up the compositions and still backgrounds from the stuff I put together so that I could watch the master photographers at work and be amazed. 

Three at-least-once-in-a-lifetime must-see places in the whole wide world for you?

Paris is my beloved place, always inspiring, season in and season out.

Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, I’ll never forget the precious morning swims in the crater with the volcano towering up above.

Bornholm, the Danish island, where all is so pure, genuine and pristine.

And for the most beautiful place in the Czech Republic:

My parents’ cabin in Šumava, tucked away in the forest, boutique hotel Mezi plůtky, all buildings by Jan Blažej Santini Aichel that you can visit, and a lot of other places.

Photo courtesy: from archives of Klára Tománková, Benedikt Renč, Filip Šlapal, Christopher Baker, Michael Dvořák, Robert Vano.