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Bohemian chic and little-girl innocence
Last year, Irina Lazareanu, the Romanian-born, quirky-looking girl from
Saint-Hubert, Que., broke a record by strutting down 76 catwalks in one season, which earned her the nickname “the fashion tornado.” Since most of the girls on designer runways are barely out of puberty, one might say that Lazareanu, at 24, is already a grande dame of the modelling biz. Her debut in 1999 was stalled because it coincided with the dominance of Brazilian bombshells like Gisele Bündchen. (While many adjectives describing Lazareanu’s looks come to mind, “bodacious” and “buxom” are not among them.) Yet Lazareanu is glad that her career took awhile to become airborne. “It was just a case of bad timing,” says ELLE’s fashion editor, Denis Desro, who gave the model a helping hand at the start of her career.

By the fall of 2005, however, Lazareanu’s rangy physique, luminous eyes, small, oval face, delicate yet unsmiling mouth and mod hair were garnering her all the attention a girl could want. She seemed to capture the spirit of the moment with her twitchy blend of bohemian chic and little-girl innocence. When Emmanuelle Alt, French Vogue’s fashion director, saw Lazareanu’s profile for the first time, all she could say was “So cool!”

A nudge from Kate Moss
It was Kate Moss who nudged Lazareanu into the modelling elite. When Moss was guest editor at French Vogue in December 2005, she cast Lazareanu in the fashion editorial “Extravagance de plumes….” The phone began ringing off the hook with job offers. Steven Meisel shot 70 pages of Lazareanu for Italian Vogue. Runway shows and photo shoots in Milan, New York, London and Paris soon became a part of her non-stop schedule. A typical day for Lazareanu at Milan Fashion Week: 7:15 a.m., hair and makeup for the first fashion show; 9 a.m., walk the show; 9:45 a.m., jump into a minivan to be driven to the next one; 10 a.m., hair and makeup — again; 11 a.m., walk the show, then on to the next. Byblos, Ferragamo, Costume National, Prada, Versace…seven shows a day, with fittings late into the night for the next day’s shows. She returns to the hotel at five o’clock in the morning, gets an hour’s sleep and then showers, changes and does it all over again — for six more days. “You have to be in shape and have a strong stomach,” says Lazareanu, “since I only get to eat little bites of sandwiches and pizza on the fly.”

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Karl Lagerfeld has shot Lazareanu for Chanel and calls her “the Juliette Gréco of our time,” referring to the French singer/actress who embodied the chic of bohemian intellectuals of postwar France. But it’s Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière who has made her his muse. He says Lazareanu’s personal style is a source of inspiration for him. “He asks me what I think of the cuts and colours,” she says. “He gives me the feeling that I have a say in what I wear on the runway. For a model, there’s nothing more affirming.” In addition to Chanel and Balenciaga, Lazareanu has done high-profile campaigns for Burberry, Anna Molinari, Just Cavalli and Hugo by Hugo Boss.

These high-paying jobs have enabled her to pursue her more creative side. Lazareanu is fluent in seven languages and is an accomplished singer-songwriter. “I’ve always loved the ’60s and ’70s — the music and fashion, the beat poets, Stanley Kubrick films, Andy Warhol’s Factory,” she says. “I love the risks that artists took and their freedom of thought.” While studying at the Royal Ballet School in London, England, Lazareanu met Pete Doherty, lead singer of Babyshambles. “He is a brilliant and sensitive person who taught me how to make lyrics fit melodies,” she says. He asked her to collaborate with him on writing the song “La Belle et La Bête,” which he recorded with girlfriend Kate Moss. And in the summer of 2004, Lazareanu went on tour with Babyshambles as the group’s drummer.

A musical passion
Citing such influences as Dante, Turgenev, William Blake and Oscar Wilde, Lazareanu says that she keeps a notebook close at hand at all times to capture song ideas. She is recording an album with Sean Lennon. “The album was conceived as a book, with each song representing a chapter that opens a dialogue between Sean and me,” she explains. There are only two voices, one guitar, one piano and the occasional strains of a harmonica, creating a spare, introspective recording.

True to her Canadian roots
At the end of a whirlwind fashion season, Lazareanu’s favourite trip is the one back to Saint-Hubert. “When you live out of a suitcase all year long, you start to feel uprooted,” she says. “Being back with my family in Quebec grounds me. It’s nice to be coddled by Mom and Dad.” Lazareanu is deeply loyal to family — and friends. Even though she is the toast of every town and everyone wants to work with her, she gives first dibs to her earliest supporters. Hence Lazareanu interrupted her family time to do this shoot for ELLE Canada and even asked to work with photographer Martin Laporte, who did her first shoot for ELLE Québec before she became a star. “Irina has that rare quality: gratitude,” says Desro. “She remains true to Canada and supports the people and the modelling agency [Montreal-based Giovanni] who cut her a break when everyone else thought she was just a strange-looking little girl.”

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Image courtesy of Martin Laporte