Before moving to London to pursue fashion 5 years ago, Romanian designer Rafaela Pestritu had been studying acting in Bucharest. The 26-year-old claims the sense of “extra drama” in her designs are a result of the observations she made backstage. “I think I quit acting because there’s nothing in this world that I can relate to more than fashion. Fashion provides an outlet for my turbulent emotions and a soothing calm to my restless self, but it also empowers me.”
Rafaela’s eminent work ethic throughout her Bachelor’s was commemorated by the University of East London – she was awarded the ‘Prize for Creative Endeavour’ during her graduation ceremony in 2019. “During my 4 years of study at UEL, I participated in several competitions such as Graduate Fashion Week, DrawFashion Competition, ITS, AOF in San Francisco etc… And won many prizes. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been interning for many designers such as Mary Katrantzou, Iris Van Herpen, Dilara Findikoglu, Tencel.”
Although Rafaela was set on completing her Master’s at Central Saint Martins, her tutors were sceptical if she would get in. Their concerns were fortunately unfounded: “But here I am currently doing my MA in Fashion Womenswear at CSM and it just fills my heart with joy to know that I walk the same halls as most of my favourite designers did before me.”
MY GRANNY IS A HACKER is Rafaela’s MA graduate collection featured in this article. “The collection is focusing on nostalgia, exploring the past and wondering the future through the medium of fabrics that don’t normally work together.” Keen to hear more about her creative endeavours and inspirations behind her graduate collection, Œ caught up with her earlier this month.
Œ: Who or what inspires you the most?
Rafaela: As a designer, I want to conjure up all the things I care about most, things that I find intriguing such as the future, past, artificial intelligence robots, nature, video games, anime movies…somehow they all end up in the clothes that I make. But Leigh Bowery has definitely been one of my biggest inspirations.
Œ: As a designer, you’ve already been awarded for an eminent work ethic. What else sets you apart from the rest?
Rafaela: The story that I want to tell through my fashion is not about trends or fleeting moments but about values and things that last. I don’t want my potential customers to just buy a piece of clothing but to join a narrative. Everything that I do kinda revolves around the female body. The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than realizing how we truly are and what makes us so unique.
We are frequently portrayed as sex objects, partially nude, our body is offered to the public as a visual product to be devoured. Or another way we are portrayed is as empowered and successful women who must dress the part and be introduced to tailored suits and different outfits derived from masculine attires. The world has changed! We have more rights now, we no longer have to perform conventional roles but instead, society encourages us to adopt a masculine subjectivity while simultaneously telling us the best way to view and present our bodies is as indicated by manly understandings of female sexuality. It’s the woman’s duality that’s always present in my work and that creates a sort of utopian future where she can be this creature that emanates female energy. The woman that I have in mind when I design makes her own rules. She is childish and mature, sexy yet modest, laud, unapologetic, ridiculous, a maximalist, a nonconformist who’s in charge of her own sexuality and choices.
Œ: What’s the backstory of your latest collection MY GRANNY IS A HACKER?
Rafaela: I created the collection during the 2020 pandemic and it was definitely challenging to have the shooting in my room with my friends. But it also gave me another perspective and forced me to redefine craftsmanship, pushing me to find different solutions that emphasise sustainability.
I’ve always wanted to express my gratitude towards my grandma not only because she raised me but growing up she was the only connection I really had with fashion. Before the pandemic, I had the chance to spend a whole month with her and I started to pay attention to the small details that make her so fascinating – like the fact that sometimes out of the blue, she likes to wear a Romanian traditional costume that her mother made for her when she was around my age. I really wanted to capture her youth and melancholy, translating them into my work. By gathering pictures of her and her parents, and combining them with different robotic elements from video games, I created a discrepancy between the traditional shapes and the clothes that I imagined women would wear in the future as described in my favourite book- I, Robot by Issac Asimov.
Œ: The collection is pretty diverse when it comes to materials, can you divulge a bit more on this?
Rafaela: The fabrics that I used were reclaimed or end of rolls such as lame, satin, and vinyl. And since I have this weird fascination with combining technically challenging elements, I looked at natural and overly synthetic/shiny and matte fabrics. As well as recycling old devices like old phones, earplugs, etc. I upcycled some old embroideries and tapestries inherited from and made by my grandma – I tried to give them another purpose. The oldest tapestry that I’ve used is 100 years old.
Œ: What can we expect from you next?
Rafaela: At the moment, I’m working on a new collection which is also a translation of my memories and experiences – as I remember them perhaps falsely – of growing up in post-communist Romania. The persistent remnants (both physical and psychological) of bygone times that were suddenly of no use, lingered to create some type of kitschy reality that remained stuck in a loop of its own existence. So I’m pretty excited to share that with the world.
In the future, I would like to have my own brand that’s not only focusing on coming up with different sustainable solutions. But also to carry on with this storytelling aspect of design and work around personal themes, emotions and memories and reflect them on external elements, to communicate them to the world.