Queen Marie of Romania

The Suman – A Romanian Folk Coat Fit for a Queen

When I wrote When Fashion Designers Forget to #givecredit article, I promised I will come back with a story about “the suman”. It’s a piece of the Romanian traditional costume which Tory Burch used in her 2018 Resort Collection without giving credit to its source of inspiration.    

This article gives you a better understading of the history of the suman. Plus, bring to your attention few things that Tory Burch and many other designers probably have no idea about:

  • Almost 100 years ago, so, way they discovered the beautiful Romanian suman, there was an extraordinary woman who promoted it. Her name is Queen Marie of Romania! 
  • There are important museums around the world which have in their exhibitions for tens of years some amazing sumans, vests, coats and entire Romanian folk costume;
  • Few years prior to Tory Burch, Ioana Corduneanu and Alina Elena Iancovik, two Romanian designers, used the suman and its stylish intricated black embroidery as a source of inspiration. And they did all this not just by giving credit, but also but reinterpreting it. 

The Romanian SUMAN

“Suman” – that’s how Romanians call it for some hundred of years; it comes from the Bulgarian word “sukmanŭ”, meaning peasant coat.The suman was wore (and still are) by both women and men in various regions of Romania during autumn-winter time. In the old days, it was hand-made 100% by women of all ages. Passing the art of weaving and embroidery was done from generation to generation along with all the hidden meanings of the symbols and patterns.  

These were hand woven from wool and embroided by women. The embroided symbols and colors may vary depending on the region, yet black is the dominant color of the embroidery. 

Suman - Romanian folk autumn coat
Suman - Romanian folk winter coat

The Suman fit for a Queen

Queen Marie of Romania

Five years ago I posted a story — Falling in Love with My Romanian IA, depicting Queen Marie of Romania, the 22th granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She married Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Prince of Romania and followed him to Bucharest.

She came at a very young age to a foreign country, full of hopes and questions, not knowing much about Romanians. She fell in love with the people and their heritage. 

Yet, God gave some of His greatest gifts a Queen can enjoy. A country which became her heart’s home. Traditions, customs and beautiful landscapes which inspired her to write about and fight for Romania. The love a nation who honours and remembers her even today. 

On August 1924, Queen Marie of Romania became the 2nd European monarch ever to grace the cover of Time Magazine, after King George V. She was also the 3rd woman ever on the cover of Time, after the Italian theatre icon Eleonora Duse and the future U.S. First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.
"I came to this country at very young age, yet I became one of you."
Queen Marie of Romania
Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938)
The Queen of Our Hearts

And, if you knew her story, you would know that the above quote is an extremely accurate representation of the truth. Queen Mary found inspiration in our cultural heritage and in return she inspired us back. She was a queen proud to wear her adoptive country’s folk costume. And, as you can see Queen Mary and her daughters were extremely proud to wear the Romanian suman.

Queen Marie & The Suman
Queen Marie of Romania and Princesses Irina, Ileana, Marie, Mignon, and Helen (1923)

There are hundreds of pictures of the Queen wearing the out national costume. The picture above is just one proving how she passed on her love for the folk costume to all her daughters. It’s also shows you the sumans and the IAs made especially for the Romanian Royal family.  

In many of the pictures I have mentioned, Queen Marie appears proudly wearing a suman she had made for her. It was a much modern interpretation and cut of the traditional Romanian suman. 

The Romanian suman - on display for the world to see

Maryhill Museum of Art

Sumans, vests and other clothing pieces of similar type of embroidery continued to be made and wore without interruption for hundreds of years. Their beauty and amazing embroidery turned them into real treasures for museums around the world. And I picked two of these museums which started collecting various pieces of the Romanian folk costumes since the beginning of the 20th century. 

Not by chance, I shall start with Maryhill Museum of Art (Portland, US), one of the Pacific Northwest’s most enchanting cultural destinations. It is housed in a Beaux Arts mansion on 5,300 acres high above the Columbia River.

 The museum was founded Northwest entrepreneur and visionary Samuel Hill (1857 – 1931). Lawyer, railroad executive and “an eccentric Washington State millionaire with a passion for the Columbia Gorge”, as Oregon Portland Encyclopedia contributor Kristine Deacon calls him, Samuel Hill substantially influenced the economic development of the Pacific Northwest region in the early 20th century. He purchased the property and began building the house with dreams of establishing a Quaker farming community. When the goal proved untenable, Hill was encouraged by friends actresses Loïe Fuller, Queen Marie of Romania, and Alma de Bretteville Spreckles to establish a museum. And so he did, despite all challenges he had to face.


Queen Marie and Sam Hill, 1926 Courtesy Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Library, OrHi63563

An ambitious visionary and “inveterate globetrotter”, Sam Hill was a long-time friend of Queen Marie of Romania.  Besides being considered one the most beautiful royals of Europe, she was an influential monarchs and political figures of Europe at that time. Therefore, it is no wonder that her visit to the United States (1926), prompted a media frenzy like no other. On November 3, at Samuel Hill’s invitation, she presided over the yet-unfinished Maryhill Museum of Art’s dedication ceremony. Later on, in her diary Queen Marie called Maryhill:

“that strange uncouth cement building erected by the just as strange old Samuel Hill. ... I knew when I set out that morning to consecrate that queer freak of a building that no one would understand why; I knew it was empty and in no wise ready to house objects for a museum. I knew there were scoffers about me, even hostilities, but a spirit of understanding was strong in me that day and I managed by my own personality, by my words, by my spirit, to move all the hearts beating there this morning. ... I knew that a dream had been built into this house, a dream beyond the everyday comprehension of the everyday man”.
Queen Marie of Romania
Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938)

On this occasion, Queen Marie donated more than 100 works of art and personal items to the museum. This donation included 

For those who would love to explore the story of the Queen’s Marie Collection, I warmly invite you to watch this short video.

Queen Marie of Romania’s gift served as the basis of what today is an impressive collection of over 450 pieces of Romanian folk costumes, textiles, icons, paintings, manuscripts. 

Queen Marie Suman 1924

Last but not least important, in January 2020, Maryhill Museum of Art announced that it will open its 80th anniversary season on March 15 a special Romanian Textiles Exhibition.  

“A Particular Beauty: Romanian Folk Clothing” Exhibition features 20 fully dressed mannequins and numerous individual garments including coats, chemises, blouses, and vests. Visitors can admire a variety of Romanian embroidery techniques, mediums, and styles. According to Curator of Art Steve Grafe, “This marks the first time that we have mounted an exhibition of this scale of Romanian textiles. (…) It will give the public an opportunity to see many objects that we have recently acquired as well as pieces that were gifted to the museum when it was first established.”

The Romanian suman - on display for the world to see

Horniman Museum & Gardens

Sumans, vests and other clothing pieces of similar type of embroidery continued to be made and wore without interruption for hundreds of years. Their beauty and amazing embroidery turned them into real treasures for museums around the world. And I picked two of these museums which started collecting various pieces of the Romanian folk costumes since the beginning of the 20th century. 

Opened to the public since Victorian times and located in South of London (UK), The Horniman Museum & Gardens mission is to connect us all with global cultures and the natural environment. It’s on Horniman website photo gallery I found these amazing Romanian sumans, coats and vests. Photo credits belong to Horniman, I only put it together in these collages for you to enjoy.  

Romanian Suman @ Horniman Museum
Romanian Vests @ Horniman

The Romanian National Rugby Team

Ioana Corduneanu

Graduating “Ion Mincu Institute of Architecture” (Bucharest), Ioana Corduneanu is recognized in Romania as one of the most important contributors for preserving the tradition of the national folk costume. Many years ago she launched Semne Cusute project where she meticulously started documenting the symbols and patterns embroided by the Romanian women from all corners of the country on their family’s folk costumes.

The reason I mention has to do with the fact that she was one of the first to bring back to the attention of the international and local public the Romanian suman. And this is the story of how she did.  

Ioana Corduneanu
Photo: Ioana Corduneanu Facebook page

On December 17, 2013, the Romanian Rugby Federation officially announced the long-term partnership with Semne Cusute Association founded by Corduneanu. This meant that starting the beginning of 2014 Stejarii, the Romanian national rugby team will wear the symbols of the Romanian traditional culture on their equipment. 

When asked about this initiative,  Lucian Lori, Communication & Marketing Director of the Romanian Rugby Federation, said: “We wish Stejarii to be the essence of what Romanian means. We all know the sport is the best ambassador and we would like to take advantage of this opportunity and show the world proofs of our culture. Out of the dozens of Romanian traditional motifs, we chose the strongest ones for what they signify inspires us. Moreover, the symbol we chose for 2014 will be embroidered on the t-shirt to strengthen the message linked with the preservation of our tradition.”  

Suman - symbols explained
The Spiral & The Horns of the Ram symbols - explained by Ioana Corduneanu
It is an honour for us to support the connection between our Romanian tradition and such a sport with a long history, by ennobling Stejarii t-shirts with ancient symbols expressing the values of our people. Taking such responsibility is is a step forward towards rediscovering our identity.
Ioana Corduneanu
Ioana Corduneanu
Founder, Semne Cusute Association
Romanian Rugby National Team 2015 T-Shirts
Romanian Rugby National Team

IIANA 2015 - Queen Marie Suman

Alina Elena Iankovic

Alina Elena Isakovic
Source: Alina Iancovik Facebook page

Back in 2015, Alina Elena Isakovic, founder of IIANA, an online fashion shop brand of ethnic inspiration, revived the classic peasant winter coat called “suman”. Back in 2015, Alina Elena Isakovic, founder of IIANA, an online fashion shop brand of ethnic inspiration, revived the classic peasant winter coat called “suman”. 

It is not by chance that now I bring to your attention IIANA’s 2015 collection. Yes, it has everything to do with Tory Burch copy-cat Romanian suman.

My inspiration comes from old books I have been collected along the years from antique shops. I believe that the best source of inspiration is the one from coming from the old Romanian books. In my design shop, we do not necessarily take into consideration the fashion trends. We rather prefer to think of new ways of how to integrate an old traditional Romanian piece of clothing into a stylish modern urban outfit.
Alina Elena Isakovic
Alina Iankovic
Fashion designer, Founder of IIANA

One of the pieces is a suman named “Queen Marie”. It makes a meaningful connection with Queen Marie of Romania, one of the most elegant and influential royals of her time. The pictures are self-explanatory, yet I added a few details below. 

IIANA 2015 - suman

It is worth mentioning that all these pieces use natural fabrics and the hand made embroidery is mostly by local artisans in Gorj area, Oltenia. It’s a region well-known for the suman both men and women wear for centuries. This means a lot when it comes to preserving the authenticity of the embroidery and respect for what it means. As you know, symbols carry meanings and when put to together, they tell a great life story. 

Just a brief conclusion

Marrying original folk pieces and modern clothing

To the present days, Queen Marie of Romania remains the greatest promoter of all times of the Romanian traditional folk costume. The sumans, the IAs, the rich and amazing folk costumes she so proudly wore were not just an inspiration for the fashion designers across the world. For Her Majesty, wearing the Romanian folk costumes was a way of connecting with the energy of the people who welcomed her as their Queen of Hearts. Queen’s Mary legacy is today carried out by fashion designers and folk costume curators such as Alin Gălățescu, Iulia Gorneanu, Ioana Corduneanu, Alina Elena Iankovic, Philippe Guilet and many others.  


  1. Corduneanu, IoanaAbout me, ioanacorduneanu.com
  2. Clay, Henry L. — A Rumanian Quee in the West, Frontier Times, April-May 1968
  3. Deacon, KristineQueen Marie of Romania’s 1926 visit to Oregon, The Oregon Encyclopedia, 
  4. Edwards, Tom — Queen Marie and Her 1926 Visit to the Pacific Northwest, Maryhill Magic Newsletter, 2008
  5. Galescu, RoxanaIIANA, eleganță cu influențe tradiționale, Fashion Premium Magazine, January 16, 2019, 
  6. Marie, Queen of Romania — America Seen By A Queen: Queen Marie’s Diary of her 1926 Voyage to the United States of America, Bucharest, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, 1999
  7. Moldovan, Medeea — Gypsey Vest – cojoc tradițional românesc, made in India, vândut de un brand celebru la un preţ exorbitant, November 19, 2018 
  8. Neblea, Andreea — Cum a ajuns cojocul românesc să fie made in India şi vândut de un brand celebru la un preţ exorbitant, Adevărul Newspaper, November 19, 2018
  9. Pakula, Hannah — The Last Romantic, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984
  10. Însemne solare și modelele pandurilor pe tricourile de cupă mondială, Romanian Rugby Federation, August 18, 2015
  11. Simboluri ale culturii românești vor fi promovate de Sttejarii începând cu 2014, Romanian Rugby Federation, December 17, 2013
  12. Maryhill Museum of Art Opens 80th Anniversary Season with Romanian Textiles Exhibition, Maryhill Museum of Art, January 31, 2020
  13. Maryhill Museum of Art, January 31, 2020


I I highly encourage you to click on these links and enjoy even more amazing images. 

Falling in Love with My Romanian IA

To me the beautiful Romanian IA or La Blouse Roumaine, as some of you may know it, it’s not just a fashion icon. For me, IA is a part of me! It’s a way of being connected with the DNA of the Romanian people. Wearing it is one way of preserving the heritage left by those who came before me. IA mirrors all our life experiences — the history, the traditions and most profound beliefs, our entire history. My Romanian IA is who I am!

My friends know how much I love my Romanian IA. I’ve been wearing them for years, whether at a business meeting, social event, wedding or when going out with my friends.

I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with my Romanian IA or why. It might have happened the first time I laid my years of the old picture of my grandparents wearing their Romanian traditional costumes on their wedding day. As well it might have happened during high-school years when I was reading Queen Marie of Romania’s memories. It’s not even important, I think.

The Romanian IA

This traditional blouse represents the main element of the Romanian folk costume. Worn by women, originally the IA was made from a homespun material either white linen or cotton. Later on, the blouse was manufactured from different materials such as silk or “borangic”. The intricate details of the embroidery bear the weight of numerous popular Romanian motifs, patterns and mystic symbols. Nothing is at chance, at least not when it comes to truly authentic or vintage IAs. They are directly linked with the traditions and specificity of the region the IAs were made. Therefore, the cut, the embroidery and even the colours on the IAs differ from one region of the country to another. Truth to be told, there are embroidery elements shared across different regions of the country. And from a cultural identity perspective, I would say, these common elements brings it all together. They unite us in one country.

One might say the IA comprises the life and history of the people living in that region. Put together IAs tell the story of the Romanian people.

Marie of Romania & a blouse fit for a Queen

Marie of Edinburgh (1885-1938) or Missy, as her dear ones used to call her, was the fifteenth granddaughter of Queen’s Victoria, wife of kind Ferdinand of Romania, sister of Alexandra of Russian and one of the greatest ambassadors my country ever had.

I came to this country at very young age, yet I became one of you. Queen Marie of Romania

Queen Maria of Romania
Queen Marie, the 22th granddaughter of Queen Victoria, became at an early age a great Ambassador of Romania.

Queen Marie brought the world’s attention on the beautiful Romanian folk costumes not just by writing about it, but also wearing them and inspiring the same love she had for it to her children. Here are just some of the pictures she had taken of herself and her children wearing these awesome Romanian traditional costumes:

1. Queen Marie and King Ferdinand (left). 2. Queen Marie with her grandson, young King Michael of Romania (right).  3. Queen Marie (middle) with her daughters – Irene of Greece (Duchess of Aosta), Princess Ileana (Archduchess of Austria), Princess Marioara (Queen of Yugoslavia) and Princess Elena (Queen Elena of Romania).

Queen Mary – English by birth, Romanian by heart

Twenty-three years have I now spent in this country, each day bringing its joy or its sorrow, its light or its shade; with each year my interests widened, my understanding deepened; I knew where I was needed to help. (…) I want only to speak of its soul, of its atmosphere, of its peasants and soldiers, of things that made me love this country, that made my heart beat with its heart. I have moved amongst the most humble. I have entered their cottages, asked them questions, taken their new-born in my arms. Queen Mary of Romania

These are some of the opening lines from Queen Mary’s book called “My Country”.  Her thoughts reveal a woman who got to know now her Romanians in a way like no other. That’s who she was … the most loved queen by the Romanian army. It was a love that grew step by step not on the grounds of the official relationship between a sovereign and militaries, but on courageous deeds of war. One could not help admire her taking care of the wounded soldiers, cholera and typhoid sick people. She did not care about the danger she exposed herself and risked her life without hesitation.

Communist regime’s historians did their best to diminish her role and influence in shaping Romania’s future, and maybe for a while they succeeded, yet their victory did not last long. Probably one of the reasons had to do with our grandparents who opposed the regime the way they knew best… by keeping alive the memory of the heroes and history as it happened, although they had to whisper it to their children. Here’s a short British Pathe interview from 1934 with Romania’s most loved queen. As you’ll see, the Romanian IA is always there!

Queen Marie once wrote, “I came to this country at very young age, yet I became one of you”. And she really did that despite all shortcomings and distrust she experienced because of it. She lived and breathed Romanian. Nowadays, her heirs are trying to give her back the place she deserves among the great Romanians.

Henri Matisse’s IA

The French painter Henri Matisse is known as one of the first to capture the beauty of the Romanian ie. Simply called La Blouse Roumaine is an oil-on-canvas painting dated 1940. It measures 92 × 73 cm and is held at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris.

It took Matisse few years to show the world his Romanian paintings. There were hundreds trials and sketches before there was a Romanian blouses collection.

Henri Matisse IAs
1-3. Sketches done by Matisse.  The second sketch (middle) called “Femme à la blouse roumaine” (1943) was drawn in Vence was sold by Christie’s in 2011 to a private collector for $191,951.

Few know that Matisse’s Romanian paintings were inspired by a collection of traditional blouses he received as a gift from Theodor Pallady, one of most famous painters, whom he had been friends with for many years.  Matisse and Pallady met around 1892, in Paris, in Gustave Moreau’s studio were they were working along with Georges Rouault and Albert Marquet.

The Romanian IA as seen by Henri Matisse

Matisse’s interest in oriental themes first emerged in the 1920s when he began to express an interest in the interplay of ornamental patterns. This fascination with decorative designs is seen in these works and it will remain with Matisse till the end of his life.

Matisse and Pallady’s friendship lasted a lifetime. What neither one of them imagined is that their admiration for our national blouse will turn years later Romanian IA into a fashion icon… and that’s my next story all about … And it’s called La Blouse Roumaine and Henri Matisse.