Commie Couture

March 25th, 2013 10:00 am


The fashion industry in communist Romania was a far cry from the glamour, artistic freedom and creativity we associate with the biz. Like all under businesses in communist Romania, the fashion industry was run by the state. Clothes were sold at one store, Romarta, which only stocked clothes made by craftsmen’s unions such as UCECOM (The National Union of Craftsmen’s Cooperatives) and UCMB (the Bucharest Union of Craftsmen’s Cooperatives). And these unions only sourced used materials from one state-owned supplier.

Still, a core of government-employed models and a few designers managed to carve a memorable niche for themselves in very forbidding circumstances. In a fascinating interview with Vice magazine reporter Lorena Lupu, model Romaniţa Iovan shared her experiences during the 80s under the Ceaușescu regime. Here are a few snippets from the interview (photos by Dinu Lazăr).

Getting hired as a model was a rather subjective selection process by a jury consisting of the committee’s chief accountant, its economic manager, and the editor-in-chief of Moda magazine, who was the only person who had anything to do with fashion.

They were interested in your social status and your relation with the state security—you could only travel abroad if you had a clean file. We were part of an international Socialist system and we worked a lot in former commie countries, like the Democratic Republic of Germany, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia.

ON THE SELECTION OF DESIGNERS:

Even if there was a selection scheme, it was never applied. As far as I know, the designers were the same throughout the Communist years. They launched two collections annually, made from fabrics produced exclusively by Romanian suppliers. The clothes were not meant for consumption; they were samples made to promote next year’s trends to cooperatives that were then free to select what they wanted to produce for the mass market, which would then be sold at Romarta.

No one acknowledged a specific designer. A cooperative team included several designers and the fashion show was presented by the union, which placed no importance whatsoever upon the individuality of the designer. They all had precise roles: some only designed garments, others designed knitwear and others focused on shoes.

ON BEING A MODEL:

As there were only 25 of us throughout the country, there was no modeling school. We were basically self-taught. We practiced the runway walk, learned how to style our hair and do our own makeup and smuggled in professional products from abroad through someone who knew someone who had a relative who had an arrangement somewhere. But it was a real profession; my union card said “Model—fashion presenter.”

ON FASHION SHOWS:

They lasted for three days and were held at Bucharest’s only luxury hotel, the Intercontinental Hotel. It was the only hotel that accommodated international tourists. There were morning shows for fashion experts and then evening shows for special guests. The shows lasted for over an hour and always started with folklore-inspired stuff. Foreign music was prohibited; they mainly played Aura Urziceanu.

Read the full interview here!


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© Anne Kroul, 2013.