For some time now the buzz around ‘handmade’ and ‘traditional’ products has been growing in popularity with seemingly no signs of abating. The internet offers an infinite source of advice from blogs about DIY clothes customization to youtube videos explaining crochet stitches. Handmade and vintage market are springing up across the world as a trendy shopping pastime, and young people are rediscovering the crafts practiced by their grandparents through craft groups such as ‘Stitch n’ Bitch.’
The trend fits in well with a growing global awareness and concentration on sustainability and environmentally friendly products. People who are passionate about crafts enthuse about the value of knowing where the product comes from, having a relationship with the person who made it, buying something with a story or connection to local history behind it. Romania, a country with a rich history in artisan and craft trades, is an ideal breeding ground for this kind of trend, and is being picked up both nationally and internationally.
Last year, Philippe Guilet, a French fashion designer who has worked under the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Paul Gaultier made headlines with his collection ‘Prejudice’ which borrowed heavily from the traditional clothing and symbols associated with eastern-European peasants. It features elements such as Romanian dolls, elaborately painted Easter eggs and patterns taken from traditional textile embroidery.
His idea was by no means original. The ‘folk/boho’ trend has been getting regularly recycled in fashion since the 60’s. Boho is an abbreviation of bohémien which in French translates to Gypsy or Roma people: the original bohemians were travelers or refugees from central Europe. Romanticising gypsy or traditional folk clothing dates back to the bohemians and Bloomsbury Group in the 20’s and beyond that the pre-Raphaelites and Arts and Crafts movement of the Victorian era.
Folk Romanian outfit inspired by Queen Maria
Dorothy ‘Dorelia’ McNeill: lover and muse of Augustus John and regarded as the examplar of bohemian fashion
By it’s very nature, the catwalk has always relied on endlessly reinvented and recycled trends, usually at prices totally out of reach to the average person. Fashions filter down to the high street and we buy knock-off versions that fit into the latest trends. It seems somewhat of a paradox that traditional Romanian crafts, heavily imbedded into the history and culture of the county, has gotten mixed up with fashion, an industry which contributes so much to ‘quick fix’, throwaway consumerism. By titling his collection ‘Prejudice’ Guilet proclaims that it is possible to affect long-lasting social change through fashion. But surely the fickle nature of the industry would lead the Romania trend to be picked up, used and dropped all in the space of a season.
However, Guilet approached the collection and his investment in the Romanian culture quite seriously. After falling in love with the country during a visit, he decided to create a collection that would combat negative stereotypes of Romania and open up this often overlooked country to the wider fashion community. As he told Associated Press, “we have produced something beautiful … It’s a passport for Romania.” Working with 100% RO, an organisation which promotes Romanian heritage, he created the collection with the help of 5 Romanian designers and over 50 craftsmen from across the country. It was premiered at the French Embassy in Bucharest and was eventually featured on the Paris runways at the Haute Couture Fashion Week. Oana Marinescu, who headed the 100% RO project said “The objective of the collection is to show designers and trendsetters [in Paris] they can work with Romanian artisans.”
One year later, and has the collection made any lasting difference to promoting Romanian culture? It’s hard to shake off the ‘Dracula and gypsies’ stereotype that dominates the country’s international reputation, however Romania is receiving more and more attention as a unique tourist destination. With its romantically wild countryside and seemingly untouched rural communities, Romania draws visitors who are nostalgic for a traditional way of life that has been lost or forgotten in many Western-European countries.
Matthew Williamson 2012 collection
Jean Paul Gautier & Yves Saint Laurent’s interpretation on traditional Romanian blouse
Tom Ford featured in Vogue
But just as importantly, the interest of outsiders such as Guilet perhaps helps target Romania’s negative perception of itself. I am often approached by Romanians who ask me why I chose to live in Transylvania and my answers often surprise and delight them. That is not to say that Romanians aren’t proud of their national heritage, of course they are. But seeing your country through the perspective of an outsider helps you recognize things that you take for granted.As international interest grows, it encourages and supports efforts to preserve Romania’s unique traditional crafts and heritage. The increased interest amongst younger people in traditional Romanian culture, from the trend amongst girls for wearing traditional embroidered blouses to the number of young artisans and craftspeople practicing traditional crafts, is testament to this fact.
As Virginia Linul, one of the craftswomen working with Guilet on his collection puts it ‘Our tradition [sewing with beads] is presented in a new vision, fascinating and glamorous because of this French designer. I’m not an expert in fashion, but I am convinced that today’s presentation will be something that hasn’t been seen so far on the runways in the entire world.’
For more information visit the 100% Ro website