Imagine you’re taking a stroll around a park in Prague. It’s late summer, almost autumn, and the weather’s pleasant. The sun’s shining and you’re lost in your thoughts, reflecting on how much you’re enjoying the day. Suddenly, something jolts you out of your reverie, pulling you back into the real world. Around you, sitting on the grass on crocheted blankets, are people in strange costumes. The women carry lace-covered parasols and wear corsets together with long, billowy skirts. The men prefer black, with waistcoats, as well as top hats or bowlers. Before you start to panic about this time travelling experience in the capital of the Czech Republic, just ask. It might be that you’ve stumbled unawares upon a Victorian steampunk picnic.
“It all started in 2011 and, after a couple of changes, we ended up at Petrin Hill park, close to the funicular station and the observation tower,” says Victorian Catherine, one of the organisers. “The truth is that the first time I did it, the idea was to promote my clothing brand which, at that time, I’d only just launched. Now, though, it’s about making the Victorian era more popular in the Czech Republic, where people aren’t so aware of this period.” Picnic goers are, in her experience, members of other subcultures such as goths, steampunkers and re-enactors. Steampunk is science fiction about a world in which steam-powered technology is still predominant, a kind of futurist nostalgia; the last group, meanwhile, are fans of recreating historical events.
Every year, Victorian Catherine organises a couple of similar events. They normally start around three o’clock in the afternoon and officially wind up at eight, although most people stay on a bit longer. She arranges it all with Dark Vision studio, who are in charge of taking the official photos and making sure that everything is in place at the right time. With each new edition of the picnic there’s something new. Last time around, it was Mark’s Panopticum, a steampunk museum with a range of objects and curiosities on display.
What’s undeniable is that the city of Prague — part of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire during the Victorian era — inherited an impressive collection of architectural gems from this period. A good example is Výstaviště Praha, an art nouveau exhibition centre founded in 1891. This style is reflected in many residential buildings across the city, which have only grown in character with the pass of time. One of the pioneers of steampunk’s visual aesthetic, the Czech film-maker Karel Zeman, is honoured with a museum in the city too.
But why is this historical period so important to Victorian Catherine? So much so, that she set up a clothing brand and annual picnic? “I feel that this era was omitted, or at least is not well known, in the history of the Czech Republic. And to me, that’s a shame,” she explains. “I love it, I’m fascinated by those old paintings of palaces and mansions, the period costumes, a time when women were charming and men were well-mannered.”
And so, through her brand, she provides everything that a Victorian or steampunk woman could need in her wardrobe. Apart from footwear, that is. There are accessories too, like brooches, necklaces, gloves… She also gives talks about fashion, etiquette and lifestyle in Prague during the second half of the 19th century. And organises picnics. In an example of genuine Victorian manners, she cordially invites anyone who happens to be in Prague on 19 September to take a constitutional, visit her at Petrin Hill and enjoy her traditional afternoon event.
Photos by Dark Vision Studio