The Material World

No one is going to confuse Gemeni, a department store in the heart of Chișinău, with Milan or Paris, or even with an American fabric shop. Located next to a McDonald’s on the city’s main street, Gemeni is old. It’s cramped. It has no parking, no food court, no modern rest rooms. It’s more of a bazaar than a modern department store. Most of its shops are small or tiny.

But if you’re looking to sew anything from a simple shirt to an elaborate gown, it’s a great place to shop. The third and fourth floors, especially, are abundant with fabric, yarn, buttons, ribbons, zippers, thread and everything else you need. The prices are nothing special but the selection is great.

Champa and I learned this recently when we bought supplies for a big grant project she has begun to create a costume wardrobe for her school’s drama program. We shopped with Ana, the head of the program (middle in the photo below), and Ina, a designer and seamstress (left) who is helping with the project.


Most of Gemeni’s vendors are women. They rent the stalls, which are arranged by category throughout the store. On the first floor, for example, are shops selling perfume, stationery and jewelry.IMG_6971

The store, whose name means twins in Romanian, evokes its Soviet heritage. It’s functional, not glamorous. Customers almost always pay in cash. They receive their purchases in cheap plastic bags rather than the store bags we expect back home. Customer service desks? Benches for resting? Fountains? As we say here at the blog: not exactly.

IMG_6961Bolts of velvet, cotton and other material surrounded many of the shops we visited. Champa and her partners visited one place after another to select the best cloth for the costumes they’re planning. They also bought buttons, gold braid, ribbons and other haberdashery supplies. Within a few hours, we were loaded down with bags, which we carried on a bus across town to Ina’s studio. She is now cutting and assembling the cloth for each costume — Romeo, Juliet, kings, queens and more.

During the next several months, Ina will join with students and parents at Champa’s school to sew these pieces into more than 40 glorious costumes, which I’ll describe in future posts. For now, one thing is for sure: They have great material to get started.


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