It was the last time a generation captured events sans phone cameras. It was life before influencers (as we know them today), and of tabloid exploits that ran rampant before celebrities could control their caché and their brand via personal social media channels. And Irina Lazareanu documented it all.
The Romanian-born multi-hyphenate – who counts deputy executive director of special programs and partnerships at the environmental foundation No More Plastic on her lengthy resume – came to Canada when she was a child, and called Saint-Hubert, Que., home. After a years-long hiatus from the modelling career that made her an international star, this one-time muse of Karl Lagerfeld has published Runway Bird, a diaristic reflection on the now-distant spectacle of the mid-2000s.
Runway Bird boasts odes to a host of the time’s sartorial standouts including Lazareanu’s former fiancé, musician Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. She explores the impact of industry visionaries such as Marc Jacobs and Edward Enninful. There’s also a recount of the time she ended up sobbing at Kate Moss’ hotel door (and was given a talking to as only “Florence Katingale” could deliver).
The biggest take away from the read is that Lazareanu, and many of her peers, are back with a vengeance. We sat down to riff on models making an impact in the fashion world and beyond, and being a public figure today.
Why was it the right time to write and publish Runway Bird?
When I started working, I had a beautiful and very chaotic kind of life; and I was very young. It was like things were constantly happening to me, and I was just moving toward them without really taking the time to understand those experiences.
I stopped modelling for almost seven years and just got back to work; having that time off after 15 years of it being non-stop, moving to the countryside, becoming a mom and then writing this book – it really gave me the chance to look back with different eyes. When I do press today, it’s an amazing opportunity to be honest and transparent. I knew that before, there was a target on the backs of me and my friends; there was the tabloid press, and people trying to get information out of [us]. That was very scary and a little traumatic. Now, it’s more about having a platform to share my story and talk about the issues that I care about; to empower other young women and young artists and be as truthful as I can.
Tell me about writing the book; the descriptions of the people mentioned are so lush and heartfelt.
I’ve written since I was a kid, and I’ve kept journals since I was a late teen. They are actually what we used for the layout; a lot of the collages you’ll see are just scanned pages from them. But there was also a lot of info there that I had; old letters from Peter [Doherty] or Sean [Lennon], and old poems. I had all this material and wanted to do something with it. Figuring out exactly how I was going to present it was a bit tricky, because I would never want to write a tell-all book. I contacted all of my “characters,” because we’re all still friends, to let them know I was doing it.
I wanted it to be a portrait of a generation, before smartphones and social media got here; before we had Netflix and Amazon. That time was so precious because we had no distractions. If you were in the back of a tour bus, there was a guitar and a pen and paper. We wrote poems and passed them around; we played music. I wanted [the book] to be about my shared experiences with people that I love, admire and respect. And I had to be mindful of not oversharing things from their story. Hence, the phone call.
How are your modelling peers inspiring you now?
So many have gone on to do different things. Daria Werbowy picked up photography, and I really love music. Erin Wasson is amazing at design. And everybody has a cause. Carolyn Murphy is a champion for the planet. Alek Wek works a lot with refugees.
What changes have you noticed in that world?
I think we were modelling for a lot longer than many [models] have the opportunity to today. There are amazing supermodels but they’re also influencers, and that’s a little bit different. We had time to learn the craft, and really grow into who we were, and choose what we were going to do with it. The bad thing about [that time] was that diversity was being a brunette, you know? My favourite thing about what’s happening today is really seeing all kinds of beauty; it’s so important to see yourself represented. We talk about mental health a lot more; and the #MeToo movement gave a voice to a lot of girls that never shared their stories because they thought they couldn’t.
Let’s talk about the fashion angle of the book, because that era was still one where personal style still felt personal, if you know what I mean?
Karl [Lagerfeld] told me that style is a powerful tool of self-expression. Models represent brands, but we’ve still got to have some kind of identity left. Sometimes when we do fittings now for brands, it’s like, this is the look from the show. If the shirt is tucked in one side, that’s how you wear it. That’s the deal. But it takes away any individuality or creativity. I used to put gowns on backward, and show up to events in Dr. Martens. I had all kinds of moments where I didn’t do what I was told. It just didn’t feel right for me not to. And if somebody is going to invite me to go somewhere, let me bring something of me. Otherwise, why did you pick me if you want me to change?
This interview has been condensed and edited.