Meet the Maker: Cristina Repanovici

How a designer found her groove in Caledon East by offering one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces and sculptural clothing creations.

November 24, 2020 | | Made in the Hills

When I arrive at Caledon East clothing and jewellery studio Criopia, owner Cristina Repanovici ushers me in like a long-lost friend. I have no chance to even look at her clothing because the first order of business is peach tea and cheese pie (at a distance). “I like to create an experience,” she says, as we sit and chat in a bright room filled with shelves of neatly folded fabric.

After two pieces of pie (her idea), I watch her happily pull up to a large wooden table in the next room, where pieces of pumpkin orange fabric are laid out neatly. Behind her is a huge shelf filled with jars of wooden beads, buttons, ribbon and cording. She is working on a coat, embellishing it with black circles and waxed cotton cord from Japan. Cristina’s process is as unconventional as her curvy, layered and sculptural pieces. Her inspiration always starts with the fabric: “Sometimes I don’t even use a pattern, I just start cutting!”

Cristina Repanovici works on a new piece in her Criopia studio in Caledon East. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Cristina Repanovici works on a new piece in her Criopia studio in Caledon East. Photo by Pete Paterson.

One of her distinctive bold, chunky necklaces. Photo by Pete Paterson.

One of her distinctive bold, chunky necklaces. Photo by Pete Paterson.

The showroom portion of the space expresses her minimalist design esthetic. Rich earth-toned tunics, coats and scarves with pockets are displayed against bright white walls covered in black polka dots. Her bold, handmade jewellery provides colourful accents everywhere.

At Criopia, Cristina caters to women in their 40s and older, women ready for unique, uber-individual clothing. Using natural fabrics such as wool, linen and silk, as well as some poly-blends that lend themselves to easy maintenance, each piece is made to be highly versatile. Some can even be worn inside out. “My clothing is for real women, not Barbies,” she says. “You have to believe you’re beautiful, and clothing has a big impact on that.”

It’s hard to reconcile Cristinas’s résumé as a chemical engineer and longtime corporate employee with the bohemian woman whose eyes dance as we speak. Cristina grew up in Communist-ruled Romania, but her childhood was filled with “love, great values and good education.” Although she did her best to keep up with convention, she admits, “My soul was screaming to find an outside expression.”

Her father called her aspirations “green horses on the wall,” a Romanian expression that means dreaming the impossible dream. So she did her “homework,” obtaining her degree, getting married, and landing a good job. But after moving to Canada in her 30s, she felt that old artistic calling. And this time she listened. While working full-time over the years, she pursued several artistic avenues, ultimately finding her passion in creating clothing. She was drawn to Scandinavian and German fashion, where minimalism, asymmetry and layering reign supreme. When I ask where she learned to sew, she smiles. “My husband taught me to sew in university. I’m not a seamstress. My lines are very simple.”

Cristina uses flattering, form-fitting cuts to accentuate the waistline and elongate the lower body. “The bottom of the piece is where I play!” she laughs. “I use pockets, draping, asymmetry, underskirts, anything that is good for layering.”

She also has strong opinions about fast fashion, the antithesis of her craft. “I don’t go by trends,” she says. “You don’t have to change your look every season. Pieces should be timeless and we should have less quantity, better quality. Too many clothes go into the garbage.”

Better-made clothing does mean a higher price tag, with tunics ranging from $185 to $265 and cozy coats in the $300 to $450 range. The amount of work that goes into each piece is extraordinary and as Cristina says, “These still aren’t designer prices.”

In 2014 Cristina went all in with Criopia, and in 2017 she and her supportive husband, Radu, along with their three dogs and three cats, moved to Caledon East from Mississauga as an experiment. The experiment definitely worked out. “We love it here,” she says, delighted by the natural beauty of the countryside and the “unbelievably friendly women and local entrepreneurs. Moving here expanded my network in a big way.”

A geometric Criopia necklace and trademark outerwear in red and shades of grey. Photo by Pete Paterson.

A geometric Criopia necklace and trademark outerwear in red and shades of grey. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Normally, Cristina would now be in the midst of her busiest time of year, selling her line at winter clothing showcases and considering the occasional custom order, but because of Covid, all events have been cancelled. So this entrepreneur, who is also a professional organizer, has launched a website (criopia.com) so customers can view her portfolio and find a link to Etsy, where her wares are available. (Details of her organizing business can be found at timealacarte.com.)

As the afternoon goes on, Cristina smiles and asks, “You haven’t asked what ‘Criopia’ means yet!” I urge her to explain, and she tells me it’s a combination of her name, Cristina, and the word utopia because, she says, “Now I get to do what I love!” It seems Cristina has found those green horses after all, here in the land of Criopia.

About the Author More by Johanna Bernhardt

Writer and dancer Johanna Bernhardt lives in Orangeville.

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