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 colour 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 realise 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).
Text: Jasmin Jouhar
Photo(s): Nafez Rerhuf