9 female & 2 male artisans
community organizer: ana florea
co/rizom partner since 3/2019
It took a French couture house
& a successful global campaign
to realize that local heritage
is part of people’s identity.
a team of weavers & embroiderers
have taken on a legacy
on the verge of extinction.
by recovering centuries-old patterns
at a time when local tastes
& needs have moved on
from traditional wear &
by applying this knowledge
to a range of products they ensure
the continued relevance & survival
of their craft.
andrei georgescu business development
chiara van praag creative wiener times creative cooperation jasmin jouhar texts nazef rerhuf photography
A small Romanian flag hangs on every lamppost in Cluj. One of the university buildings also bears a flag flying several storeys high. Our tour of Transylvania begins just before the national holiday on December 1, and many places, such as Cluj, are adorned in the national colors. Andrei, the Romanian in our small tour group, is visibly annoyed by so much nationalism on display. The Hungarian border is less than 200kms away and a large Hungarian minority, making up to a fifth of the population, lives in the region. Also most of the Transylvanian Saxons who shaped the area for hundreds of years have now emigrated. But their villages, and their churches that were fortified against Ottoman attacks, are still there. Picturesque cities such as Sibiu, formerly known as Hermannstadt, or Sighișoara, formerly Schäßburg, are highlights of tourist itineraries. Another minority, the Roma, is often marginalized and lives in poverty on the outskirts of villages. Some have also amassed wealth and built magnificent houses, palaces that are symbols of their success. It’s a scene typical of south-eastern Europe, where ethnic groups, cultures and religions have coexisted, more and less peacefully, for centuries. However, on their national holiday, Romanians have to show who is in the majority. Blue, yellow, red.
On the main street of Beiuș in the Bihor region there are cars everywhere. Today is market day. A man loads plastic bags full of textiles into a van. Right next to the market hall is a shop with a large storefront that reads ‘Bihor Couture Craft School’. We go to the back room. In the corner is a wooden loom. Women from Beiuș meet here to do handicrafts. Photos of lace blouses, floral scarves and embroidered skirts are pinned onto a partition wall. There’s also a picture of a young woman wearing a traditional waistcoat casually thrown over her shoulders with next to it the words, ‘Bihor Couture’. This seemingly effortless combination of local color and high fashion is actually an act of self-preservation. When the Dior fashion house sent a model down the catwalk in a lavishly embroidered Bihor-style sheepskin waistcoat, many locals were initially outraged. Then they started to realize the value of their regional textiles. In the 90s, many had simply thrown out old clothes, tapestries and blankets – dowry items laboriously crafted by hand over the years. Some local women decided that the rediscovery of their heritage shouldn’t be left to fashion people in Paris. Since then, they have immersed themselves in the history of their region and spent time weaving, crocheting and embroidering in the back room of the school. This journey into the past hasn’t only created a new awareness of their own identity, it is also the foundation and engine for the ‘Zestrea’ project (Romanian for dowry).
Ana is the heart of ‘Zestrea’ and where all threads lead. She finds the people who can still master old handicraft techniques. She found Gladiola, she found Zorin, she found Diana. And she firmly believes that people can make a living working with their hands. That's why she and others founded the meeting place in the school’s back room two years ago. After the Dior thing shook everyone up. “Until then traditional techniques, patterns and shapes had been pretty much forgotten,” says Ana. Traditional costumes were worn only by folklore ensembles and on special occasions. “But suddenly lots of people wanted to buy these vests, buy something traditional and local.” So craft became Ana's mission. On top of working in a kindergarten and, as an actress trained in Bucharest, offering acting courses. She’s a small person with a great talent for dedication. She checks fabric samples, researches old sample books and translates customers' wishes. A lot of the work produced is still a little rough, and the skills and products still have to be developed. Sometimes things don't work, the fabric is too smooth, the embroidery is placed incorrectly. But Ana senses how proud people are when their efforts are recognized and their work is exhibited internationally.