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Grunge Barbies and the Geopolitics of Fashion: In Conversation with Alexandra Sipa
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In this interview, talented fashion designer Alexandra Sipa shares her personal journey and artistic inspirations. She discusses the influence of Romanian costume on her work and how the fashion world is shifting to recognize Eastern European perspectives. Sipa also reflects on the importance of her local community in her creative process and her plans to involve them more as her brand grows.

N: Hi Alexandra, it's great to speak with you. Could you give me a glimpse into what has been happening in your life behind the scenes?

A: Hi! I am turning a year of living back in Bucharest, Romania, and we just finished shooting AW23 last week. I live with my husband/business partner, Lucas and our very anxious but very lovable kitty, Serafina.

N: Your designs blend colorful, delicate, and soft silhouettes with more industrial materials like wire, perhaps reminiscent of Romania's austere communist background. Would you say this synthesis captures the essence of modern Romania as a combination of grit and beauty?

A: We started calling it “Grunge Barbie tries to blend in Eastern Europe”. Me and Lucas had a brainstorming session about the essence of our brand and that was the result of it, so it matches what you are saying.

I think that’s a bit of my personality too, I am a very fragile person but I often push myself to appear different. So my clothes reflect that.

N: I would love to learn more about how Romanian costume and folklore have influenced your designs. Can you elaborate on how these elements are reflected in the patterns and construction of your pieces?

A: For the first collection, Romanian costume was something ingrained in me as a designer through childhood memories but not something I was consciously researching.

For AW23 I slowly started looking at traditional pieces, focusing on the “Brâu” (roughly translates to “girdle” or “belt”)...

I wanted to play with taking this piece into the 21st century. Not being inspired by it but actually pushing the garment further into its 2023 form. I would say it was the bedrock for the lace fringe technique that spun into most of the collection afterwards.

N: I am interested in your perspective on the geopolitics of fashion and how the cultural discourse often seems to be catered to Western Europe. Do you feel that there is a shift towards greater attention for Eastern European designers and perspectives? How do you think the perception of Eastern Europe is evolving in the fashion world?

A: Great question! So I graduated high school in 2015. The national and international conversation at that time was “Western Europe doesn’t want anymore Romanian immigrants, Romanian immigrants are thieves and they live off benefits/social services once in the west, or abuse the welfare system”. I was a teenager, so I was quite vulnerable to this type of news article. I felt like because I was Romanian there was something inherently wrong with me and I had to be ashamed of that and hide it, when I chose to move abroad.

Within the fashion industry, for me personally, seeing Demna mainly, and other Eastern European designers becoming huge around the same time shifted my perspective. It was the first time I saw people from Eastern Europe being in positions of power in fashion and people responding very positively to them.

I think because of him the fashion industry watches eastern europe’s fashion scene more closely and seriously in 2023 than it did 10 years ago. It gave me confidence to move back to Romania and try to be a designer from here, an experiment, instead of continuing to live in London. It made sense to spend most of my time in the environment that fuels my creativity now.

N: You have mentioned how your family in Romania has created a network to help you source discarded materials. Can you share how your community back home has informed your work and how you plan to involve them further as your brand continues to grow?

A: My mother is a huge help to me. She even learned how to make wire lace for my graduate collection in 2020 from CSM and made most of the collar pieces for the ruffle coat look during the pandemic. She constantly offers business advice and emotional support. 

I was lucky to go to an art and design high-school in 5th grade, so I belonged to a community of creatives since very young and grew up with them. The photographer I started working with last year, Robert Antoniac, is my kindred spirit creatively, and we met in high-school. I love working with independent people who go on to create something completely new from the research and development I provide for them. And I like to just let them create without too much input. The makeup artist, Mihaela Cherciu, went to the same high-school. 

The shoe designer for this collection I found through a game of telephone basically. My friend Ana Lita, who works at Galeria Posibila, in Bucharest knew I was looking, recommended a cobbler who in turn recommended Marieta Gheorghiu, the shoe designer I ended up collaborating with very successfully. And the list goes on.

Location scouting for photoshoots is very special to me too.

My dad used to work for Radio Romania years ago. I remember him taking me to work when I was little and always letting me loose around the gargantuan building. He helped me get approval to shoot there for SS23. For this collection, AW23, Robert had the idea to shoot in one of our old high school’s campuses, and it turned out great! 

N: As we conclude our interview, we'd love to know what's next for you in your creative journey and what exciting projects or ideas you have in store.

A: We think we finally found our creative footing so to say and Lucas and I are very excited to continue building our brand. We hope to make the shoe line available for sale as soon as possible. This is the first collection where I have not incorporated the recycled wire lace at all. We plan on moving that technique into a line of decorative objects and perhaps furniture to give it a more practical future.

It has been the most personally challenging year of my life so far, and having this brand to work on I think saved me. The love for what I make keeps me afloat mentally.

All images courtesy of Alexandra Sipa.

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