“What make of handbag do you think Violeta Alexandru has?” I asked a friend in a conversation about Romania’s labor minister. “Gucci,” she said. “Try again.” She thought and had another guess. “Musette.” Bravo, „right second time,” I responded.
Last week, the minister, Violeta Alexandru, came to universul.net for an interview. I listened in and made notes. At one point, the discussion became too technical for the English-speaking readership and my eyes wandered to her purse that she’d left on a desk. Black leather, well-made, discreet. I craned my neck to see what brand it was. Musette. That’s good, I thought. A sign of normality.
Musette is a Romanian brand that makes quality, leather products. It’s not extravagant or overly expensive. It’s the kind of purse that a British barrister or a French judge would have on her arm. This isn’t an advert for Musette. Some of their bags are boxy, or have an odd shape. Violeta Alexandru could have walked into the office with a Dacoma or an Anna Cori bag. The message would have been the same: Romanian, good quality and unpretentious.
Compare Violeta Alexandru’s handbag to the purses on the arms of other Romanian politicians. Former Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila was known for her fondness of expensive accessories, whether it was her trademark Chanel (so they said) brooch, a 20,000 euro watch or a pricey handbag. Dancila didn’t do discreet or low-key. Her electorate wouldn’t have wanted it.
A decade ago, the press wrote about Raluca Turcan’s designer handbags, wondering where she got the money to afford a Louis Vuitton or a Gucci on a MP’s salary. The now deputy prime minister justified herself, explaining that she paid monthly installments for her expensive tastes.
But it is Elena Udrea, who graced Romania’s political stage for the ten years Traian Basescu was president, who was the walking embodiment of the politician with the “pricey power purse” purchased honestly or gifted through shady deals.
Udrea was the poor, provincial girl made good who went on to become one of the most powerful politicians of an era. Her clothes and accessories cost many thousands of euros and she wore them ostentatiously, almost to the point of caricature.
Yet the sums that appeared in the press were so astronomical that in 2015 even Udrea was forced to deny that she’d spent between 50,000 to 100,000 U.S. dollars on a Hermes Birkin Crocodile purse. The claims came during a corruption investigation that led to her conviction and a six-year sentence for bribery and abuse of office connected to a boxing gala that she organized. The sentence was later overturned.
Udrea’s BFF, Romania’s former chief anti-terror prosecutor, Alina Bica, who fled to Costa Rica with Udrea in 2018 before her conviction, was sentenced to four years in prison that year for abuse of office after she intervened to help suspects in two cases, also had a thing for expensive bags.
As chief prosecutor, Bica instructed prosecutors to ask for a suspended prison sentence although for personal not judicial reasons. Her price? A bribe consisting in one Rolex watch and a 2,000 U.S. dollar Louis Vuitton purse. That handbag cost her her freedom and career as a prosecutor.
Many women love a Gucci, Louis Vuitton or Fendi purse, although vegans may balk at the use of leather and the price of a expensive purse may be what one family spends on food in a year; and when you’re a minister you need to be sensitive to that. As a public servant holding a post for a limited amount of time, restraint and common sense are qualities.
Romania is moving beyond the addiction to extravagance, flashy handbags and diamond watches. Women politicians rightfully seek to impress with their desire to carry out reforms and serve the public, not with their designer handbag and heels.