Romanian nuns weave cloth that soon could make the runway

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

TIGANESTI, Romania -- From the sanctity of a 19th-century convent, Romanian nuns weave vivid, Byzantine cloth for Orthodox priests. Now word of the sumptuous silk has reached fashion designers -- and soon could debut on the runway.

The Romanian Orthodox Church disclosed recently that the Versace fashion house is negotiating to buy the cloth, a rich fabric encrusted with metallic embroidery and usually made into priests' robes costing about $120.

"Fashion houses have shown an interest in the Byzantine cloth, including Versace," said the Rev. Radu Boraciu, a technical director for the nunnery's fabric workshop.

But not all the nuns are thrilled that their handiwork might be worn off the altar.

"We don't want to dress mannequins. We want the cloth to be used in church," snapped Mother Mira, who runs the workshop but is not involved in the negotiations, which she said are being discussed "at a high level in the church."

A spokeswoman for the Italian-Romanian Chamber of Commerce said many Italian fashion houses have operations in Romania but are secretive about their activities.

Tiganesti Convent, 25 miles north of the Romanian capital of Bucharest, began making the cloth in 1924 as employment for the nuns.

The sisters have sold it before, though never to a fashion house. Bolts of the shimmering cloth have been purchased by churches from the United States, France and Germany, and by the wives of diplomats visiting the nunnery.

"I'm happy the cloth will be used by a fashion designer," said Sister Justinian. "Don't they make material like this abroad?"

A yard of Byzantine cloth costs $4.50 to $14. Imported German or Italian material of similar quality would cost about $120 a yard in a Bucharest fashion shop.

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