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Meet the locals: Europe's creative minds

Artists, craftspeople, designers — Europe’s cities are brimming with creativity. Meet some of the people behind the ideas, from those pushing boundaries to the ones keeping traditions alive

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 5 Apr 2019, 17:04 BST, Updated 19 Jul 2021, 15:57 BST

Europe has long been a nucleus of creativity: thinkers and theologians mused over coffee in Vienna; the greatest fantasy novels were born in Oxford pubs; masterpiece were forged in the palaces and churches of Tuscan cities. Still today the continent simmers with ideas and innovation, albeit with a more contemporary twist. We meet seven of Europe's creative minds to hear how their home towns inspire their work, whether it's fashion design in Warsaw or photography in Stockholm.

Ania Kuczyńska

Ania Kuczyńska 
Fashion designer // Warsaw, Poland 

My designs are often described as ‘ornate minimalism’ — I guess that’s the best way to describe what I like and do. I studied in Rome, and minimalism is at the essence of my work. I think it comes from my father, who was an architect. Watching him work and seeing him express himself so freely steered me towards the world of fashion. As a designer I see the world through shapes and colours and Warsaw is full of them — concrete, brutalist architecture; monumental post-Soviet buildings; wild parks of black, navy, and green — they all dominate my work. I love this chaotic architecture that mirrors the difficult history of Poland. I can feel its vibe, a sort of vibrant and intense aura, every time I drive through the city. It’s a unique energy that’s very different to that of other European capitals. For me, Warsaw is a wild and unpredictable city, inspiring and vibrant. It’s a great place to live, be inspired, and get creative in.

Ania's tip
There are so many great restaurants and museums — the National Museum and the Foksal Gallery are worth a visit. When it comes to food, I love patisseries from Lukullus or Odette, and the best Polish fare at Opasły Tom. 

Tommaso Semenzato in his shop

Tommaso Semenato
Goldsmith // Venice, Italy

Every day I’d visit the workshop of my grandfather, a brazier, to learn his craft. Fascinated, I enrolled in metalwork and goldsmithing courses and finally opened a shop of my own. Every day is a challenge, both to recover old jewellery and create new pieces that reflect the time-honoured Venetian styles. It’s also why I work with Venezia Autentica, to promote traditional, local businesses like mine. 

Tommaso's tip
Don’t be swept along with the tourists — get lost in the streets and the campielli, the little squares hidden throughout the city, and discover the city’s high-quality arts and crafts  

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström in Stockholm

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström
Travel photographer // Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm feels androgynous to me — very denim jacket with white trousers. It also keeps its best secrets to itself yet remains bright-eyed about the world. But that’s how Stockholm inspires me: by showing me new nooks and crannies every time I explore the city. It’s this love for cultures and their nuances that continually drives me to tell stories visually. I started out as an oil painter and photography was a means to capture an image I wanted to paint. After a while, I got more and more into photography. Hints of my past as a painter can be seen in the way I edit my photos — lots of vivid colours with tons of contrast.

What I love about living and working here in Stockholm is the incredible quality of life. This is
one of the most egalitarian cities in the world: it’s continually bridging the gender equality gap, and decisions often revolve around making sure you’re getting adequate work-life balance.

Lola's tip
Nothing beats Stockholm in the summer. Take a Stromma brunch cruise to see the city from the water. It’s relaxing and you’ll enjoy a typical Swedish smörgåsbord featuring cured salmon and pickled herring.

Hannah and Mika in their workshop
Photograph by Hannah Perner Wilson

Hannah Perner-Wilson
E-textile tailor // Berlin, Germany

I can’t imagine doing anything other than making technology. In December 2017, Mika Satomi and I opened KOBA, an electronic textile tailor shop where we make bespoke wearable technology for everybody. It isn’t a business, but rather an artistic experiment; a place where we can learn about the perils and possibilities of new technologies. By offering to make bespoke tech in a small shop down the street, we’re sneakily tickling people’s brains to see what unspoken desires such projects could fulfil. 

What I love about Berlin is that it feels like a giant living room. People are themselves here — it’s a city that accepts people and their ways of living. Berlin’s architecture is quite bland compared to many European cities, so people here are more into exploring the wilderness of human relationships and how to live well in an increasingly crowded space. The city is full of people organising events in everything from art to philosophy, too — these events inspire me. I know that day or night I can find an event that interests me, even if I only ever manage to go to a fraction of them. 

Hannah's tip
If you’re here in summer, picnic in Görlitzer Park or Tempelhofer Feld. If you’re here in winter, check out one of the city’s excellent local saunas to warm up.

João Brandão in his studio

João Brandão
Graphic designer // Porto, Portugal

I was educated to appreciate art from an early age, but as a student I began to appreciate vintage posters from the 19th and early 20th centuries. One day I started to draw posters inspired by buildings and points of interest in my hometown in an art deco style. Everyone loved it — so I ended up creating Giveit with my brother, Diogo. I was fascinated with trying to recreate the city’s iconic landmarks and skylines in a different style, but for me, what really distinguishes Porto from other cities are its inhabitants. Their hospitality and directness are two of their most characteristic aspects — I don’t think you’ll find it anywhere else. 

João's tip
Head to the neighbourhoods of Bonfim and Campanhã — they’re the trendy areas at the moment, full of new cafes and bars as well as art galleries and artists’ ateliers 

Adina Marin

Adina Marin
Product designer // Bucharest, Romania

My work isn’t just one thing. I imagine, design and manufacture objects in different areas, from toys and games to jewellery made of metal and wool. I studied architecture here in Bucharest, where, in my first year, thanks to a great professor, I discovered function. I learned that my drawings could become real objects that people can use. And this idea of other people living in, playing with, or wearing my designs sparked a new passion in me. 

I like the familiarity of Bucharest — it’s the city where I was born, where I grew up. It’s my family, my memories; it’s like a fifth limb and will follow me all my life. In a more general way, the myriad influences here really excite me: the architecture, food, clothing — you find both West and East. 

But it’s the people here that inspire me most: the young and old, the beautiful, awkward, strange, friendly, intriguing, sad, playful...

Adina's tip
Take a walk through the streets, especially in the central and northern parts of Bucharest with its elegant architecture — there you’ll really feel like you’re in a beautiful city.

Jamie Milestone

Jamie Milestone
Umbrella designer // London, UK

What I love about working and living here is the multiculturalism. It’s by far the city’s greatest attribute, and having grown up with all races and cultures around me here in London, I think it’s an incredible thing to be a part of from an early age. And it’s the contrast of the old and new that I love in this city. It’s the movement and progress and understanding of the past in order to move further forward. I wanted to make umbrellas that were desirable and considered; a must-have accessory. It’s cold and wet here in the UK, so umbrellas should be as important as a good pair of shoes. But although the umbrella is a quintessentially English item, the market was very stale and uninspiring. There was little choice for higher-end umbrellas unless you wanted something plain — so I thought I could have some fun with it.

Jamie's tip
Just walk. Explore London for yourself and soak up the history. Look like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t) and oh, there’s much better curry outside Brick Lane and graffiti doesn’t warrant a tour guide!

Interviews by Connor McGovern. 

Published in the European Cities Collection, distributed with the April 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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