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Written by WLE

Every now and then, our editorial team engages in meetings with personalities who embody the essence of WANT through their unique perspectives, visions of a better living, and overall sense of style. And since we think details make the whole difference, here is a questionnaire about the little (and big) things in life, inspired by writer Marcel Proust.

For this month's feature, WANT had the pleasure of meeting with Irina Lazareanu.

The world discovered her in the early 2000s as Karl Lagerfeld's muse, but the one who later became the face of Balenciaga, Lanvin and Versace, gracing the covers of magazines, has a rebellious child's soul whose heart also simmered with other desires. Top model, author, folk singer, artistic director, Irina is a free spirit, marching by the beat of her own drum.

How would you introduce yourself and describe what you love doing?

I would say I’m a storyteller. I feel like I’ve worked in the arts pretty much my whole life, first as a dancer, then through modeling, which is another way to tell a story. I’ve always loved writing—it really is my love language (laughs)—whether it’s poetry or songs (NDLR: Irina wrote and sang with Sean Lennon); all the way to today, doing artistic direction. I’m interested in the exploration of all the different ways to express and share an emotion to connect with individuals.

Your parents fled Romania to escape dictatorship, bringing you to Montreal in 1989 at 7 years old. How do you think this experience shaped who you are today?

My parents escaped Romania in 1987. I was reunited with them six months later, in 1988. We ended up in Traiskirchen’s refugee camp, in Austria, where people from the East fled before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a kid - I was 6 then - it was a scary and intense time, and what's happening in the world today resonates with me a lot. Two years ago, I went to Paris to promote my book (Runway Bird: A Rock 'n' Roll Style Guide), and Russia declared war on Ukraine the morning that I arrived. I have many Ukrainian friends, and this situation revived a lot of souvenirs. When you’re a refugee or an immigrant, there’s a period during which you feel like you don’t really fit in. By the time I got in Montreal, in 1989, I felt “décalée”. It was a whole new world. The kids around me had very different lives from mine. My experience in the camp and being separated from my parents for a while made me grew up quickly, but I think it also made me resilient and very empathetic. To me, that’s a strength. Years later, in 2004, I went back to Romania to process things. Although I realized I couldn’t really connect with people there either because I hadn’t lived their experience, it helped me understand myself more, and heal. It made me grow.

Photo credit : with Kate Moss, by Alasdair MacLean; for W Magazine; with Karl Lagerfeld, by Toni Anne Barson

Is it really Kate Moss who encouraged you to model, and what role did Karl Lagerfeld play in your life?

I was already modeling a little when I met Kate. We had friends in common and the same agent in Paris, but I was considered weird or different-looking at the time. The day I went to the casting for Chanel, I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea. When I arrived, 300 beautiful, tall girls in heels were waiting in the corridor. And here I was, a small brunette in ripped jeans and boots, writing poetry in my journal, sitting on the floor. I remember Karl passing by with his entourage. He stopped, stared at me for a second, turned around, and kept on walking. A few minutes later, the casting director came up to me, asking me to follow her, which is something that had never happened before! Karl and his team put me in a dress that was way too long, and I kept talking and talking - which I tend to do when I’m nervous (laughs). I think Karl liked me because of my difference. I made him laugh, especially when I spoke with my French-Canadian accent (laughs), and I was honest in my answers, which he appreciated, I think. On the day of the Chanel runway show, I was the only one wearing flats. It made me stand out, and my career took off from that moment! 

About a year later, in 2005, Kate (Moss) was the guest editor for a Vogue Paris issue, and she picked me for a shooting where I met photographer Steven Klein and artistic director Fabien Baron. Fabien then asked if I had met photographer Steven Meisel, and I said “Who?” (laughs). Five days later, I was on a plane to New York to have a casting with him. I was sure it went wrong because he took only one shot and said “Perfect, bye!”. Days later, I got confirmed for a Vogue Italia cover. So, it’s really a combination of encounters that traced my path. But Karl put me on the map. He saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there, and to be honest, it took me time to see it too. I suffered from impostor syndrome for years, feeling like people would finally wake up one day (laughs). Throughout my career, I was often told to change this or that about myself, but I always tried to stay true to who I am, and I think that helped me in the long run. 

You said in an interview to the New York Times “I went from trying to be invisible to an industry where I was asked to be a different person all the time”. Looking back, did it help you become yourself or did it make you lose yourself?

In 2014, I took some time off. After more than ten years of a crazy fast-paced life, I felt emotionally and physically drained, trying to be whatever people were projecting onto me. I was beginning to lose my sense of self and purpose - which was very strong in me when I began. I wanted to try other things, like singing and styling. So, at that point, I really needed to figure out who and where I was in my life. I traveled alone a lot, with the urge to disconnect and recover a sense of magic and wonder. Today, I feel very lucky to contribute to creating images that make sense and inspire.

You sing, model, write, do artistic direction and are a full-time mom to your 7-year-old son. What do these different passions bring out of you? And are there projects you can talk to us about?

To me, what’s exciting about artistic direction is that it allows me to bring everything I’ve learned over the last 20 years and do something new with it. I feel like I’ve trained for this new role my whole life, which led me to find my drive again. What I also love is the feeling of giving back while learning from the people I work with. It’s super interesting and inspiring. I miss writing, but after the launch of my book, I needed a break. I have an incredible community around me to help me raise my son, but creative pursuits don’t always fit with a mom’s schedule (laughs).

My main personality trait: I'm unpredictable.

My hidden talent:The capacity to remember useless facts, like who won best picture at the 1975 Academy Awards.

Last time I laughed: Just now, after rereading all my answers.

The thing that amazes me: People who are quintessentially themselves.

The quality I love the most in others: Kindness 

The sound I love the most: My son’s laughter 

The gesture that comforts me:The middle finger 

The meal I could eat everyday: Pizza 

The ritual that makes me feel good: Shut down my phone 

To let go, I: Listen to music 

Photo credit : Zev Starr-Tambor; with her son, River, by Lawrence Cortez

How I picture myself old: Like Virginia Woolf 

I’ll never forget: My first heartbreak 

The piece of advice that stayed with me: This too shall pass.

The advice that I’d give to the child I was: Don’t forget to breathe, don’t worry too much. 

The song that appeases me: Fade Into You, by Mazzy Star

The thing I love to do the most in me free time: Sleep 

My favorite book: First Love, de Turgenev. I read it when I was 14 and it left a lasting unrealistic impression of romance in me.

My fashion style: 70’s vibe androgynous

My favorite WANT piece: The loafers, Graves.

The role/project that was the most challenging for me and how I overcame the difficulties: Writing my book, Runway Bird, during the pandemic; and collecting 415 signatures for publishing rights under impossible circumstances. 

An anecdote about the behind the scenes of a work project: Read my book ;) 

The collaboration of my dreams: Writing poetry with Bob Dylan. 

The accomplishment I am most proud of: I never give up. 

Follow @irina_lazareanu on Instagram to know more about her inspirations, her looks, her travels, her projects, and more.