Local fashion designers have recently been dressing some of the world’s most famous women performers. More and more Romanian fashion brands are catching the eye of Hollywood stars and gaining coveted brand ambassadors from all over the world. So how do they do it?

Romanita Oprea

In recent years, Romanian designers have been eyed by international celebrities looking for a creative yet impressive designer piece with which to wow the red carpet or take over the stage. Teodora Burz, Maria Lucia Hohan, Lorena Sarbu, Ingrid Vlasov, Aura Cercel and Dinu Bodiciu are just some of the top local names coming to international notice, and the list goes on.

According to Unica magazine, the first famous Romanian designer overseas was Doina Levintza, who was invited to New York Fashion Week several years ago, at the “birth” of the Romanian design industry. She was followed by Catalin Botezatu, whose collection closed Milan Fashion Week in 2002, right after Versace’s show. He went on to have big shows in Cannes, Monte Carlo, Bali, Venice and Paris, while his design pieces continued to enjoy success in countries such as Greece, Italy, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malta.

Moreover, while Venera Arapu has been successful in Japan, Razvan Ciobanu has opened stores in Miami, Ireland, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Maria Lucia Hohan sells her works in Copenhagen, Oslo, Athens, Singapore, New York and Tokyo. One of the best performing brands on the international market in recent years is Murmur, by Andreea Badala, winning over international superstars such as Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears.

The secret strategy

Even though many people ask, all BR’s interviewed designers agreed there is no one clear recipe for entering the international market; the breakthrough is different from one player to another, depending on personal strategy. For example, the new Styland Crystal Rose collection was initially launched for the international market, but recently debuted also on the local scene, through a photo campaign, starring actress Flavia Hojda (who starred in the movie Selfie 69).

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“My plan was first to create a great Romanian brand and go international in a second stage,” says Teodora Burz, owner of Styland. Styland is the latest Romanian designer brand to impress an international superstar: Katy Perry. The singer even appears on the cover of her recent single, Chained to the Rhythm, wearing pieces from the latest collection.  Photos of the chosen outfit were shared by the star on all of her social media channels, with her Instagram post alone receiving over 1 million likes.

The local and international markets are important for other Romanian designers as well when deciding how to develop their future business. For example, Andreea Badala of Murmur has participated in international tradeshows, opening her door to the international fashion scene.

“From the beginning, I didn’t want to limit the brand to the local market, but focus on international markets too. Knowing that the tradeshows in Paris would get a lot of attention, we showed our pieces there,” says Badala. “We entered the well-known Italian shop Luisa via Roma in our second year of activity and also managed to penetrate the markets in New York, Tokyo, Beirut, Paris and Lyon. Since then, Murmur has been featured in editorials in renowned publications such as international Vogue, Elle and Paper Magazine and has expanded distribution worldwide.”

And the wave of young Romanian designers making their mark on the international scene has started to swell. For example, Ioana Ciolacu is the only Romanian winner of the Designer for Tomorrow award, which she claimed in 2013, when she wasn’t even 30 years old. With a master’s degree from the London College of Fashion and a permanent presence at Berlin Fashion Week, Ciolacu managed to impress Stella McCartney with her creations, receiving positive reviews in Vogue USA and Vogue Runway. She also created a capsule collection for Peek & Cloppenburg and opened her first online shop last year.

“I create for real women; I bring my personal take on clothing and run a sustainable business. My international customers are my promotion abroad and I love this organic word-of-mouth publicity of my designs. Our main focus this year is to secure ​several international retail deals. Also, through our presence at Berlin Fashion Week, we want to expand in the EU,” said Ciolacu.

 

Case Studies

Styland

In recent months, Styland fashion pieces have been worn by other Hollywood stars, who preferred the already famous two-piece created by the Romanian brand on the red carpet to more classic cocktail dresses. Styland’s signature pieces include suits for women in non-colors, pastel colors, but also in strong choices of green, yellow, blue, red or orange.

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“In December 2016, our black suit was first worn on a red carpet during the awards season and requests started to come from different stylists who were searching for suits for their celebrity clients. The power-suit trend came back and we have the right suits! That’s our strength,” said owner Burz.

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In order for the brand to feel international, the designer says she makes the quality of the fabrics a priority, cut and handcrafted to deliver a powerful look and feel for a woman. Styland suits are made by hand in Bucharest, combining menswear-inspired tailoring while keeping a woman’s shape and movement in mind, striking the perfect balance between professional and sensual, adds the designer. “I am a feminist and I have always wanted to create a brand for powerful, strong and active women. Good quality tailoring for women wasn’t easy to find, especially with a modern cut. Therefore, I created a line for those women who need to wear formal and cocktail attire with a twist. I’ve spent the last 15 years working in the menswear field and I know that the perfect formal attire has the same confidence-boosting effect on women as it does on men. Women wearing a tailored jacket feel more secure and strong and less vulnerable and so, Styland was born,” said Burz.

 

Murmur

According to Badala, the brand’s international strategy is to work with leading stylists on a regular basis, a strategy that has so far proved to be a winning one. The first top stylist that discovered the brand in a New York store used a Murmur bodysuit for Beyonce’s music video Pretty Hurts. It got such a good reaction that she continued to use Murmur’s pieces for Britney Spears and Madonna. “Over time, we have developed an ongoing relationship with Madonna’s team, who are constantly in touch with us. Before her Rebel Heart world tour in 2015, we had a request for a Cosmopolitan shoot starring her. We were just developing our Roleplay Collection, inspired by intimate roleplaying clichés, and one of the pieces, a transparent tulle dress resembling a nun’s habit, struck me as so right for Madonna. She liked it so much that she chose to wear it throughout her entire world tour,” said Badala.

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Recently, Murmur entered the Asian market, and the designer says that focusing on growth there, while developing the markets that are already successful for the brand, such as the United States, Russia and Europe, is the right move. “Speaking of celebrities, we realized that the biggest media coverage and sales happen when very ‘in’ and fresh celebrities, such as Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid, wore our pieces, so the focus is on such stars,” added Badala.

 

Who’s wearing whom

  • Maria Lucia Hohan became famous after her creations were bought and worn by international names such as Katherine Heigl, Stacy Keibler, Maria Menounos, Jennifer Hudson, Eva Longoria, Nicole Kidman, Vanessa Hudgens, Jennifer Lopez, Kelly Osbourne, Maria Sharapova, Taylor Swift, Megan Fox, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez.
  • Lorena Sarbu was born in Timisoara, but now lives and works in the USA. Her dresses have been worn by Eva Longoria, Nancy O’Dell, Brooke Anderson, Giuliana Rancic and Kristen Connolly.
  • Ingrid Vlasov is the choice of Lady Gaga.
  • Aura Cercel, with the Eva Culture brand, dresses the likes of Amber Heard, Rihanna, Jessica Biel, Eva Longoria, Jessica Simpson, Hilary Duff, Mena Suvari, Miley Cyrus and Halle Berry, and has been included in pictorials in top fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
  • Dinu Bodiciu of Timisoara became famous after Lady Gaga started wearing his creations.