Friday, January 21, 2011

Romanian designers aim to ditch reputation for ostentatious fashion

By Mary Lane (AP)

BERLIN — Romanian fashion has had a reputation for being ostentatious ever since communism's fall in 1989, when colour-deprived designers used garish shades in over-the-top attempts at haute couture.

Yet at Berlin Fashion Week, which wraps up Saturday, Romania's top designers have shown more mature collections — still colourful and affordable — which may finally sell in the Western European markets they long to break into.

Irina Schrotter, whose label was founded in 1990, was the most established Romanian designer at the show and created the fledgling Romanian Fashion Week in 1998. But her 2012 winter collection was far from old-style, starring black flapper-style fringe dresses and skirts, and fluid jackets made of suede or crinkled leather subtly combined with chocolate brown or black jersey.

"I try to dress women like I would love to see me," she told The Associated Press.

Romanian fashion expert Octavian Coifan credits this strategy for Schrotter's success, saying she has captured "a classic style."

Schrotter grew up under despised Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose wife Elena bought the latest European fashions while average Romanians regarded even denim as an illegal luxury.

The designer's passion for fashion required early creativity, such as scrounging for smuggled, tattered German fashion magazines. When, at 14, she bought black-market jeans she said she "was so happy and wore them for six months straight."

Designer Alina Botea shared similar memories of life under Ceausescu, but has created a much more colourful fashion label, a fantastical fusion of 1960s retro and science fiction styles. The 38-year-old's recent collection featured shifts and shorts made of a snowflake print silk in pink, green, chocolate brown and grey. Many dresses even combined the busy fabrics with brown or pink sparkles.

The collection was loud — but not gaudy — resembling American designer Lilly Pulitzer's colourful frocks. It met with audience cheers in Berlin.

"I just like different colours and different fabrics. They make a good statement when you know how to put them together," Botea said.

Berlin Fashion Week defines itself as a springboard for smaller labels that seek increased exposure before jostling for attention with bigger fashion brands in Milan, Paris or London.

The show also featured the "Alice in Wonderland"-inspired collection of Romanian Andreea Musat, and the abstract, artistic designs of Lucian Broscatean.

For now, said Coifan, Romanian designers struggle with an "awful" distribution network and a reputation for producing cheap products for chains like H&M — and designers like Schrotter and Botea remain the toned-down exception.

"The bling-bling era (will) last long in emerging countries, where ostentatious displays of wealth is a rule which we call 'glamour,'" Coifan said.

But Schrotter was optimistic.

"We are here at Berlin Fashion Week to show that Romanian design has made the step to another level," she said.

Schrotter's pieces are all made from start to finish in Romania. It's a technique associated with expensive Italian labels these days, but most of Schrotter's original, handcrafted pieces only cost between US$67 and $400.

"Price is the strongest point of our collections," she said.

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Alison Mutler in Bucharest contributed to this report.

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