IA – The Romanian Ethnic Blouse & Fashion Icon

The brief story of how the Romanian IA turned from an ethnic blouse into a fashion icon. Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, Oscar de la Renta, Emilio Pucci, Philippe Guilet, just to mention a few, found a genuine source of inspiration in the Romanian traditional folk costume. Truth to be told, it all started with Matisse’s paintings and French Designer Paul Poiret.

What today we know as the IA or “La Blouse Roumaine” represents the main element and for sure the most representative clothing piece the Romanian traditional ethnic costume. The first type of Romanian blouse is considered to have been born in Cucuteni Culture starting as early as the 6th century BC.  

The Romanian ethnic blouse

The detailed and colourful hand-made embroidery always bore the weight of numerous popular Romanian motifs, patterns, sacred geometry elements and mystic symbols. No element was left to chance. Each one of them was embroidered for a very good reason as by itself or all together they were telling a story. A story of the women who wore the ethnic blouse. They were directly linked with the traditions and specificity of the region the IAs were made. The cut, the embroidery and even the colours on the IAs had a direct connection with the region of Romanian where they were made. One might say the IA comprises the life and history of the people living in that region.

Paul Poiret – opening the doors of tradition

It is only fair to say that it was Paul Poiret, the most fashionable dress designer of pre-World War I Paris, who got charmed by the beauty of the Romanian folk costume. Queen Mary of Romania, herself one the main promoter of the Romanian folkloric costume enjoyed wearing Poiret’s gowns.  Most likely it is through this connection that the French designer got to know the Romanian traditional costume. Paul Poiret made some of his the most beautiful designs for his wife based on the elements of Romanian folkloric costumes.

Poiret opened the Romanian doors of inspiration for the world’s fashion elite. Many years later the beauty of the handmade embroidery of folkloric costumes captured the attention of designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Tom Ford, Emilio Pucci, Isabel Marant, Joseph Altuzzara etc. So, it’s no wonder that many actresses, singers and TV stars were spotted wearing blouses inspired by the Romanian IA: Gwyneth Paltrow, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch, Ali McGraw, Emma Stone, Halle Berry, Jennifer Garner, Kate Moss, Katie Holmes, Kirsten Dunst, Adele, Khloe Kardashian or Rita Wilson.   

Yves Saint Laurent’s “La blouse Roumaine”

Yet, despite Poiret’s efforts, it was Yves Saint Laurent, the world’s first famous designer, to officially introduce the Romanian blouse into a fashion his collection back in 1981 in Paris. Almost 50 years later after Henri Matisse finished his painting La blouse Roumaine”, Yves Saint Laurent launched his autumn-winter haute couture collection. It was as homage to Matisse’s famous painting and as you can below the resemblance is astonishing, yet you can easily spot the designer’s personal touch.

“A Romanian blouse does not belong to any period. All the peasant clothes are passed down from century to century without going out of fashion.”

Didier Grumbach, Dean at the French Institute of Fashion, said that for his Romanian collection, Yves Saint Laurent “had inspired from something that he loved most”. Yves Saint Laurent, also reimagined a stylized skirt inspired after the Romanian folk skirt fota that is usually worn by Romanian women…  and it’s probably by chance that Yves Saint Laurent’s Romanian-inspired pieces made the tour of museums around the world, arriving also in Romania in 2009 at The National Art Museum with the occasion of Fashion Festival “Pasarela”

Oscar de la Renta, Tom Ford & Co

Oscar de la Renta

According to Vogue magazine, Oscar de la Renta, one of the most elegant fashion designers of all times and 1990 winner of Lifetime Achievement award, found inspiration for few of his collection in the  “ethnic costume and the folkloric—European peasant embroidery”.

The creations inspired also by the Romanians folk costumes of Oscar de la Renta for spring 2008 were a great success. A unique collection, inspired by the peasants’ clothes but full of royalty grace to the richness of motives, the attention given to details, natural materials, handmade stitches of the Romanian folk reinvented with the genius of a great master.

Tom Ford

Tom Ford’s 2012 spring collection was one of the most well-kept secrets in the fashion industry.  Critics and fashion lovers had to wait for 2 months before seeing a glimpse of the mesmerizing collection. There were lots of pencil skirts with tops, raffia, lace, beading, intricate embroidery, fringe, leather and sex appeal, but also many folk-inspired pieces. Spain, South America and Romania were the main sources of inspiration. Hamish Bowles mentioned in her Vogue article dedicated to Ford’s 2012 spring collection that “there was a thread of Pre-Raphaelite romanticism in embroidered peasant blouses (of the type Matisse loved to paint)”.

Singer Adele made Vogue magazine’s cover photo (2012) wearing Tom Ford’s outfit inspired by the Romanian folkloric blouse from Sibiu area (Transilvania). What is representative for the peasant blouse of Sibiu is the harmony of the white and black colours; the thin and intricate embroidery is mostly done with black threads. In rare cases, it has some red, green, blue, golden or silver threads.  

Emilio Pucci

As already mentioned, Tom Ford, YSL or Oscar de la Renta were not the only ones to found creative inspiration in the Romanian ethnic blouse. Peter Dundas injected a Sixties’ vibe into his pretty Emilio Pucci 2015 resort collection. Inspiring and feminine at the same time! Yet, what caught my attention was once the incredible resemblance of certain patterns and motifs he used with the Romanian symbols of the hand-made embroidery from Muscel area. To see for yourself, I’ve put together some examples of such Romanian authentic embroidery next to Pucci’s creations.

When fashion does not give credit

Isabel Marat

French fashion designer Isabel Marant, known for her bohemian aesthetic and fervently coveted creations, caught the attention of the public eye with her c collection. What she failed to mention was the fact that some of her most representation pieces were inspired by the Romanian folkloric costume. Some of her pieces are identical with the modern folkloric blouses you can buy anywhere in Romania. The starting price in around Euro 50 for less embroidered IAs. For those handmade IAs that long sleeves and are almost entirely embroidered, the price can go up to embroided goes up to Euro 250-300. In Marant’s case, the retail price is USD410. If you loved it, definitely you should try finding some authentic IAs. There are plenty of online Romanian shops that sell and deliver them abroad!      

Joseph Altuzzara

French-born, luxury women’s ready-to-wear clothing designer Joseph Altuzzara, launched his brand, Altuzarra, in New York in 2008. The patterns from some of the pieces of Altuzzara’s  Pre-Spring 2014 collection are not similar or inspired, but quite identical! No personal touch, no real contribution of his own. The gallery below illustrates quite well, I would say, this resemblance. I was really happy to easily find great quality online resources documenting Romanian traditional embroidery. Ioana Corduneanu’s Semne Cusute blog is just one of them.

Yet, Altuzarra told Vogue magazine that this collection he designed this supremely elegant collection “in the heat of summer—in Greece,” and the clothes certainly seemed ready to waft into an Aegean island wardrobe.

Don’t get me wrong, Greek traditional embroidery is amazing, yet has nothing to do with Romanian tradition. You will never see a meander (aka meandrous), the so well-known Greek decorative motif on a Romanian IA. Oh, yes, I forgot, when it comes to marketing, Greece or Aegean Sea sound much better than Romania!

Philippe Guilet – 100% Romanian

In 2012 Phillipe Guilet, Phillipe Guilet, a French designer based in Romania launched an entire Romanian-inspired collection called Bear with you Romania’s beautiful reflection100%.ro. It was a special project aiming to show the world a different face of Romania.

In love with Romanian, the former research director for Jean-Paul Gaultier who also worked with Jean Paul Gautier and Karl Lagerfeld brought together 50 craftsmen from Romania, including Virginia Linul, a Romanian artist well-known from Bistrița Năsăud, well-known for her traditional clothing pieces. It is worth mentioning that people had the chance to see some of the amazing craftsmen and women walking on the runway along with the models presenting the collection. Chapeau, Phillipe Guilet!

Back to Matisse and the ethnic blouse

My stories about the Romanian folkloric costume started with Matisse’s La Blouse Roumaine, so I guess it’s only natural to go back to him as he continues to inspire fashion designers all over the world.

“Seek the strongest color effect possible… the content is of no importance.” Henri Matisse

Over time Matisse’s style has evolved and so did the Romanian-inspired paintings. This is can be clearly seen in his late ’40 and ’50 pieces. Just the same, more fashion designers found their inspiration in Matisse’s paintings. Laird Borrelli-Persson, Vogue.com‘s Editor, mentioned in one of her articles, that it was also Matisse’s “La blouse Roumaine” who inspired designers such as Tata Naka, Issa London, or Aquilano Rimondi.

Romanian fashion with a folkloric touch

The tradition of manufacturing the blouse is still kept among artisans across Romanian villages. They kept the tradition alive over centuries and passed on their inheritance to the younger generations.

In recent years, more and more Romanian designers are looking for inspiration in the traditional folk symbols and reinterpret them in their own personal style, while adding a modernist touch. Adrian Oianu, Dorin Negrău, Corina Vlădescu, Ingrid Vlasov are just a few of the Romanian designers giving credit for their Romanian folkloric inspiration.

PS. This article was originally published on July 4, 2015. 

Posted by Ana-Maria Bogdan

  1. Foarte frumos articolul, frumusetea iilor noastre este ceva greu de descris in cuvinte, toti trebuie sa le vada pentru a intelege valoarea pe care o au, nu vorbim numai despre minunatia care sunt, ci si despre valoarea lor spirituala pentru noi, Românii de pretutindeni. Trebuie vazute, mângâiate cu privirea si cu sufletul. Trebuie purtate. Cu orgoliu ca sunt românesti si marii creatori de moda si-au gasit inspiratia in ele sau chiar le-au copiat in intregime. Bravo, Ana-Maria Bogdan!


    1. Ana Maria Bogdan August 3, 2015 at 8:37 am

      Multumesc mult pentru feedback, Carmen! Intr-adevar, IA este una dintre acele mosteniri pe care acest popor le are si ar trebui pretuita ca atare. Pregatesc de ceva vreme o continuare, dar de aceasta data, subiectul va fi simbolistica elementelor brodate pe iile romanesti. Din pacate, astfel de materiale necesita multa documentare, sper insa ca atunci cand il vei citi sa-ti placa.


  2. Super! Abia aştept continuarea!


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