It’s 8 o’clock sharp and the doors of the skin-coloured wardrobe open large in the small bedroom of a cozy apartment in a common district in Bucharest, Romania. A new story starts unraveling in the sparkly brown eyes of a girl who tells stories in order to live. “We must tell ourselves stories in order to live” – it’s a quote from American writer Joan Didion that matches the wonderful and mysterious life of Madalina Dragoi, a Romanian born fashion creative, stylist, editor for a health and lifestyle magazine and self proclaimed Style Traveler, a fashion blog that documents her travels throughout the Universe.
When thinking about creating a piece of art, a story, you start with inspiration, with an idea that you usually write down. Her story starts every morning in front of a wardrobe. For some it may be just clothes, just some fabrics that you put on in order to look good. For her it’s pieces of clothing, it’s pieces of art, it’s pieces of a story and every little decision, every little detail – be it an earring, a shoe or a belt – every piece has its own sense and a purpose in this story.
Seeing her wandering the hallways of the building I work in everyday for many months now, it got me wondering: what’s her story? and why are there so many cultures and so many emotions in the way she dresses? Madalina Dragoi inspired the idea of presenting people’s life stories through a suit. Because a suit (in a day-to-day/office suit) tells a story. And this is her suit.
What’s the relationship you have with your clothes?
It’s a very personal relationship, it’s a co-dependency one. Sometimes I get mad at myself for putting so much passion into it. I care too much when they break, damage or I just break them when I’m in a hurry. I know it’s not ok to care that much about objects. Is it unhealthy to be passionate about it? I guess I see them as more than objects.
When you look back, what are the first moments that you remember when this relationship started?
In my childhood, there were 2 moments. I was really small. I had a pair of little red boots with a drawing of a girl on them and, as I was growing up, my mother wanted to give them to my sister as it fitted her. I cried for a half a day or entire day and I felt like it was my boots and I needed them for my children. I remember thinking: what are my children going to wear? And I was only 3 or 4 years old. And the second moment happened one or two years later when I had the most wonderful white dress with polka dots and a mushroom shaped application on the lower part. It was getting really cold outside and my grandmother said I should wear a cardigan but I was keen on not accepting that because the long sweater would cover my mushroom and no one will be able to see it.
And did you take good care of those clothes?
I always took very good care of my clothes. I never needed many. But I wanted them to be as beautiful as they can be. And I keep them for years and years. Some pieces last for 5-6 or 10 years.
What did your family think about this passion? Did they give you the money to support it?
I used to make a lot of sacrifices in order to get the pieces I wanted. When we used to go on holidays with all the family, I always refused ice cream, any juice or any sweets. I used to tell them: “it’s better if you give me the money and I’ll buy a nice dress that I saw in a window shop or a nice pair of shoes at the end of the holiday”. It was the same with money that I got for my birthday or on New Year’s Eve.
That’s a serious sacrifice for a young girl. Were there any sacrifices you made throughout the years to buy certain pieces of clothing?
I used to work around and made all the chores at my grandma’s, in the countryside in order to get money. When I was there, I used to gather fruits, take care of the flowers, do the gardening and carry water from the fountain. At the end of a holiday I had the money for one piece only. But I always worked a lot of my clothes, I didn’t get them for free.
I was playing with dolls and making clothes for them all the time. Lots and lots of clothes. I got inspired by magazines and Neckerman, I used to create them out of my imagination.
Were you drawing them before putting them together?
I’m not good at drawing so I used to sew them on. But it was never just clothes. It was costumes. And there were shows. We used to make shows with our dolls and they would wear the appropriate costumes. I always loved putting together a great theater show with dolls. And every piece of clothing had a purpose, everything was intentional. Not just looking pretty. It had to have a purpose. And my sister took part in it too. She used to do the make-up with markers and cut their hair, brush it, style it and put paint (not the one that you usually use for hair) in their hair. She was creative with styling hair. Even for cats. Oh, those poor cats (laughs). So it was more than clothes, it was costumes. With a purpose.
Was there a certain person’s style in your family that you admired when you were a kid?
That person was my grandmother. She had some amazing dresses and silk blouses, skirts that I loved so much and I couldn’t wait to grow up and wear them. My grandma inspired me. I admit I didn’t like how my family used to dress in the ‘90s because everyone was wearing pyramid jeans, jumpers, training suits, it was a sport trend after the Romanian Revolution.
How did you save the money for clothes in high school? That’s the time where your fashion sense truly starts…
When I was in high school my parents had little to no money so I was staying at a boarding school and I was borrowing clothes from other friends and colleagues in order to make it more interesting. I also had a part time job as a cosmetic sales person for a well known brand. And at the end of the month I was so proud that I managed to get a pair of black leather shoes with squared heels – it was the trend back then. And another month, I paid my taxes in the boarding school with the money I earnt. I always used to come up with an idea to get money, find something to work on in order to fulfill my wishes. I never had a lot of clothes and never bought a lot. I used to save money for a special piece. I always want that special piece.
Did you ever felt that it can be dangerous, that it can get addictive to spend money on clothes?
Since I was a teenager, I was self-conscious about this… virus. In any time it can turn into a monster and drive you towards bad decisions. But I never started a credit card for clothes. Although I admit I postponed paying my rent and expenses a few times or I cut back on certain wishes in order to save the money for clothes.
How do you choose what to wear and how to combine your special pieces of clothing every morning when you open up your wardrobe?
The less time I have to do it, the better will be the decision I make. If I don’t have time, I will act on my instinct and that’s always a good choice. I usually start from a dress as a base and then I start my composition. Depending on what events I’m supposed to attend in the day, I will add a necklace, some earrings but in a different note than the necklace. And the shoes must always be comfortable. But I always have a spare of heels in my purse. It’s great to have an extra outfit and make-up at the office – I always have a dress and make-up there. One must be efficient and flexible to the rhythm we live in.
It’s a fashion studio and photography studio as well created by my friend, Ailin Ibraim and I. We always say that we inspire each other. She’s a neverending source of ideas, inspiration and creative mood. We do photo shootings for magazines and companies and we manage this program for a look transformation for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable in their own skin. We try to match them with their best look. Strike a Pose also has a wardrobe detox program and a personal shopper one as well. And we’re working on a fashion line with exclusive clothes.
What’s the experience that inspired you the most recently?
It was a parachute jump. The first one ever. It was a journey inside of me and the most important part was before the jump, the thoughts, the emotions that I had before. It was like a rollercoaster. I jumped from 4000 meters up in the sky. It was a lesson about trust, an ultimate test about trusting someone you met 10 minutes before. He checks your harness, he talks to you and explains everything in detail but you don’t have time to figure it out. And I also bumped my head 20 minutes before so it was pretty crazy. During the jump, the instructor – who did his 9000th jump that day – he kept telling me to look down and enjoy the view. But I was only interested in looking up at the sky. I’ve never felt so close to the sky before, it was fascinating. After all that adrenaline and rush, you feel calm. Everything feels calm and it’s an unique kind of inner peace that I felt.
Where do you get designer clothes from and what’s the most treasured piece you have?
I think my first designer piece was some sunnies from Armani, I found it in Budapest. I have some shoes from Yves Saint Laurent that I found in an outlet over there. In Italy I also found some outlets where I got a Dior coat and a Jean Paul Gaultier dress. I was on holiday in Napoli, stayed for two weeks with my mom and I spent a quarter of that time searching through shops, boutiques and outlets. I was studying the clothes, the fabrics. It’s more than shopping for me, I learned to look at every seam, every detail, every finishing, I was trying them on to experience how they feel. The people who worked there, they kept congratulating my mother for being so patient. They must’ve thought I was crazy (laughs).
To be completely satisfied, I have to get the best quality at the best – and that is the smallest – possible price. I do shopping on instinct. If I’m on a street with a lot of shops, I can tell before going inside if I will find something that would be interesting for me to buy or try on. A few seconds is enough for me to figure that out.
I was window shopping all the time. But that got me excited and motivated. I find out the price and start saving money for that piece of clothing. If or when I’ll have kids, I want them to grow in a story, through albums, through nice clothes, movies, art pieces, documentaries and a beautiful life.
What do you feel when you wear your clothes as a story? How does it feel?
I love stories. I try with clothes and through myself to create stories, beautiful experiences. For me and for others. A piece of clothing doesn’t have the sole purpose of covering your body in order to get away from the inquisitive looks or to protect you from sun or wind or cold. A piece of clothing lives with you everyday and goes through the same experiences as you do. It carries on that energy, that experience. So it becomes part of you. The more they live with you, the greater will be the experience.
I try to live in a story. It’s my way of embellishing my own life, by trying to create stories through the images that I make for certain photoshootings. Sometimes people feel admiration, other times it’s curiosity and sometimes it’s just question marks.
What do you feel it’s your purpose in this world?
I want to inform, I want to influence people to get out of their comfort zone and be more daring. I want to improve or mend, to help. Every single person has their own message that needs to be heard by everyone. We take pictures, yes, it’s nice but it also needs substance, depth. You need to deliver your message through as many ways as you can. I think I have a sense, a passion and the others need help in finding their way. It’s about your way to being dressed according to your personality, to your true self.
Some people invest their money in houses and cars, others in studies or art pieces. I spend my money on clothes, trips to new worlds and experiences. Life is an experience and I make sacrifices to get what I want. I’d rather eat less and stop going out and keep the money to get the pieces I want. If it comes easy, it’s not worth it.
We’re not all artists but most of us are. Some people create lives, others create stories, others tell stories that match with our lives. And that’s what she does. For herself and for the rest of the world: she bares her soul on her clothes. It’s not a wish, it’s something she needs to do. It’s about bringing a sense of togetherness and collecting the pieces of her soul that she left on the floor when getting undressed to go to sleep. It’s a puzzle that looks different everyday.
When we create, we need to release our inner child out. We release that pure and raw emotion. That fragility, that sensibility and that spirit – the things that only our inner child has. In her case, that child has to tell a story in order to live. Stories become the bridge between our childhood and our adult life.
Photo, interview & creative: Edi Enache, The Fashion Jumper