As soon as I held the knits of Marija and Andrija Subotić, the immediate thought that came to mind was “luxurious.” The rich texture, traditional colors, and indulgent weight create a feeling of rare quality.
Marija and Andrija are originally from a small Slavonian village. Forty-five years ago they moved to Vinkovci and opened their business, “Valens” (named after one of two Roman Emperor brothers who were born in Vinkovci). They started out making all kinds of knitwear for men and women—sweaters, dresses, shirts, pullovers, and skirts—which sold in big stores around Yugoslavia.
Among their goods were traditional cardigan sweaters, called rekla or špencle, decorated with regional designs. Still in use today, the colors and patterns are said to go back to 1700, when Austria–Hungary established a military border after 150 years of rule by the Ottoman Turks; local residents were recruited for the military and dressed in their regional folk wear. You can often spot these sweater designs in photos of traditional Slavonian costumes. Among them is the traditional cherry design that is found on many of Marija and Andrija’s knit pieces, a pattern which also graces the colorful umbrellas at the outdoor market Tržnica Osijek.
Marija and Andrija still create the traditional cardigans for men, women, and children, as well as dresses and accessories, all from their home workshop. Their daughter, Andrijana, is an accomplished fashion designer and collaborates with them on new ideas based on the traditional designs. Andrijana started her own label, Etna Maar, 15 years ago; she opened a boutique on Ilica in Zagreb and exports her collection to Europe and America. Sharing a strong family bond, she chooses the knits produced by her parents as her primary material, then incorporates other fabrics and textures into her avant-garde designs.
We are happy to bring you some select accessory pieces from Marija and Andrija’s workshop. The time I spent there was as warm as one of their thick knit scarves, and I think you’ll agree their mix of modern and traditional—from lined crossbody bags to folkloric torbas—captures the spirit of Slavonia, past and present.