In 2012 I had the honour of being literary portrayed as part of an anthology named “Donauweiber” – which loosely translates to “Danube Women”- stories about extraordinary ladies from Wachau, the area in Lower Austria where I was born and raised. Next to leading Austrian female chef Lisl Wagner-Bacher and award winning actress Ursula Strauss, which had also been portrayed.

Author Beatrix Kramlovsky was so kind to provide her story in English translation to help to satisfy the international audience of the youngest portrayed woman – me.

If you wish to purchase a hard copy in German, please follow the link.


A voice on the telephone.

She is in London, in the middle of the final preparations for her presentation. She knows that the days will be long, the nights short: too much to do, too much to think about. Too much is at stake. Competing against the best in the year in a public show not only means daring to take the next step, or being considered or overlooked for certain opportunities in future: more than that, it means seeking an answer to her own questions, finding out whether the path she took was the right one, whether it has brought her forward. An echo to help her reflect.

Tina Elisabeth Reiter was born in Krems, Austria, on 18 October 1984. No wonder she sounds so young.

„No matter what you choose to call the Wachau, the point is that it’s a unique place which you only really come to appreciate when you’re not constantly surrounded by it. But I think that’s human nature – you only learn to appreciate things when they’re gone. Particularly when that thing is something as sentimental as the concept of ‘home’“, says Tina.

That I find exciting: Tina has been working for some time on the concepts of homelessness and home. Using ‘Tracht’ – traditional costume – she has examined them intensively both at home and away. And yet she considers the concept of home to be sentimental. Is that because she herself is away from home and sometimes misses home-cooked food, as she admits? Or is it because she is young and has not – yet – experienced the trauma of loss?

Home is the Wachau valley; home means the contrast of dark brown wood and white walls in her parents’ flat; home connects her to the autumn Danube, the mists which rise from the water and release the explosive colours of the deciduous trees and the grapevines. The picture of home which is burned into her mind and will never leave her is the one viewed from Melker Strasse, near the Kuenringer baths: the rock formations of the climbing park, the ruins over the roofs of the medieval town, the blue and white tower of Dürnstein’s church, where she was christened. This image accompanies her when she is away, just like her predilection for peppery Veltliner wine, which not even elegant dry Sauvignons from more renowned growing regions can diminish, and her fondness for stones, their patterns, shapes, consistency and marks of erosion.

As a young girl, Tina goes to school in Krems. At the HAK Trade Academy, it becomes clear that the world of figures and accounts is not for her. For years, she has said that she only wants to become one thing: a fashion designer. For her, dolls have never been something to play with, but something to adorn in dreams of carefully dissected dresses and fantasies of old fabrics.

She relocates to the College for Fashion and Economics. Passing the ‘Matura’ exams liberates her from everyday school work. She knows that her family supports her. Her dreams are more than castles in the sky: she is encouraged to follow her path. First of all, that means leaving the Wachau.

She begins her studies in Munich, which she completes a few years later with distinction. Already her work displays an originality which takes her to the final of the Baltic Fashion Awards 2010 as a representative of Germany. Her path does not lead back to Austria. At the London Graduate Fashion Week in 2010, she receives a handful of personal invitations to embark on further study. She chooses the London College of Fashion for her post-graduate course. Promising work earns her the only grant in the year group. The final project is a chance to show what she is capable of and how successfully she is able to transfer the experiences of her studies into a personal language of fabrics and forms.

The idea – a product of the mind

Tina decides to create a menswear collection. This establishes the body lines.

If clothing can be seen as walk-in sculpture, as art for the body, fabric is something different. Material which can be folded has a certain architectural firmness; it allows for additional experimentation with light and shade. The third dimension comes to the fore.

In the past, form and colour always had a cultural connection. Tina has known this ever since she began designing and creating costumes for medieval festivals and role plays. Every society has its clothing norms, every class has certain colours. This applies to every culture which has ever used a loom. The variety is as impressive as the number of different languages. Previously, the cosmos of patterns was subject to a strict body of rules. Modernity has broken these restrictions, but to transmit a message, one has to control the subtext, understand the history behind it. And so Tina has spent the past few years working intensively with traditional costume.

When she was young, she dismissed dirndls and loden suits as old-fashioned, as the epitome of parochialism. Now, she is exploring the possibilities of skirts, dresses, shirts, lederhosen, bodices and simple working clothes.

„I started getting involved in folklore because I needed a challenge. Folklore was the ultimate challenge for me, because it is almost the complete opposite of avant-garde.”

Tina wants to combine the clarity of Scandinavian design with the playfulness of traditional costume, but she wants more than superficial gimmicks.

„If you haven’t understood something from the foundations up, there is no point focusing on the decorative details of windows and doors”.

She has an idea: traditional costume is a visible sign of affiliation, a determination of place. But what happens if you use traditional costume to represent homelessness?

Tina, who has lived abroad for several years, departs from the English word “homeless”, which refers to both the state of not having a home and the sense of not belonging. On the one hand, there are those who have been banished from the world, with their coverings, oversized, in layers intended to keep out the cold; with pockets which keep their meagre belongings close to their bodies; belts and straps which hold everything together, fastenings. On the other hand, there are those who have gone out into the world, who have lost roots which they may not even seek any more, or those who suppress their homesickness with quotations which they carry on their bodies, or those who have lost themselves on their global travels. The clothing of both types can be discoloured, worn, misshapen.

Dressing up is a game. Masquerading is theatre. But this isn’t about creating costumes. It’s about creating practical, wearable clothing which must be sufficiently original to reveal her signature; sufficiently attractive to tempt purchase; clothing which says something about the person wearing it and establishes a connection between creator and wearer. Art which envelopes the body is like jewellery; something deeply individual which connects two people who are usually strangers.

The execution – a product of craftsmanship

Chain stitch, cross stitch, slip stitch, zigzag stitch.

Drawing with needle and thread.

Fluff, tuck, pleat,

Roll, smock, pull, layer, embroider.

Fingers tracing a poem in linen and silk.

Giving the material contours, a body it didn’t have before.

Directing the flow, highlighting edges, using ribbons not only for knots

but also as joins and bridges. Incorporating pockets

as if designing buildings with different rooms.

It is home which dictates the material.

It is home which suggests the choice of pattern: cotton and linen, a regular weave,

monochrome background, tiny squares made from flowers, a dirndl motif.

The colours reflect Tina’s predilection for her autumnal home, earth tones,

dying foliage, the vibrant red-gold of a ripe rose apricot that the jury,

lacking knowledge of the Wachau, describes as ‘tangerine’.

„… I used traditional, tried-and-tested Tracht techniques like the smock and stand-up pleat to try to bring them into a new context, but also to create a new and unusual volume, particularly in the area of menswear.”

„… and used materials like linen and floral prints to create the impression of an item of clothing with history. All materials are new, and yet they look worn and old. And then traditional Tracht details, too. I wanted to combine elements of women’s Tracht – especially the dirndl – but also men’s. And all fused together with modern menswear.”

The sewing work is performed by a manufacturer in Berlin. For four weeks, Tina sits in a quiet corner there, working on the smock sections, the ‘Hänsel’, while the machines process her materials. The knitted sections are completed by a traditional producer in the Mühlviertel in Austria, exactly according to her designs and specifications. The leatherwork is done by a Swedish colleague whose original pieces happen to complement Tina’s vision perfectly, although the two are independent artists. This international team successfully bridges distances by fusing foreign modernity and Austrian heritage. Here is another of Tina’s strengths: her ability to connect people in realising her ideas and presenting her vision of what ‘home’ could mean.

What Tina perhaps doesn’t see during the work is how her offbeat humour manifests itself. She will later realise, to her slight surprise, that the jurors not only understand this wit, but view it as a mark of quality. It is a subtle effect, because she bestows a brilliant elegance on her pieces. On the catwalk, the flowing culottes, the tightly pleated bell sleeves, the softly falling necklines and sophisticated oversized jumpers create an almost imperceptible melody, leather on wool on linen.

Tina will give her work the title “The Sound of Homeless(ness)”, once again demonstrating her black humour. Rarely have features of homelessness come together to help create such elegance.

The result – a work of art

Fashion lyrics

!! a gilet !!

!dirndl pattern!

___ /on cotton\ ___

\ tangerine and ochre /

!sparkling rows of buttons!

!tailored body-hugging sexy!

! tapering at the front !

Dandy d’Austria

The work is presented in London in 2012. Tina Elisabeth Reiter from Krems in the Wachau is named Designer of the Year for Menswear, beating competition from all over the world in a city which has once again become a Mecca for innovative spirits in a range of artistic disciplines.

MA Fashion Design & Technology: Menswear

London College of Fashion – London, United Kingdom

Collection of the Year: Menswear Award

Awarded with the Harold Tillman Scholarship for post-graduate studies

Degree: Master of Arts (Distinction)

The jury’s verdict praises the extraordinary fusion of traditional forms, regional features and thematic interpretations; the intriguing silhouettes and the wearable culotte variations; the sophisticated craft and workmanship.

Tina is not yet thirty years old. She has a promising future ahead of her. A short visit to Austria is next: a friend of hers needs a wedding dress. A sartorial poem as a prelude to a new chapter in life. Her world has expanded in recent years, and she carries the Wachau within her as she travels through it.


Editors: Sylvia Treudl & Martin Vogg

Author: Beatrix Kramlovsky with Schnittmuster

Translation: David Rowe

Photocredits book: Dominic Packulat


DONAUWEIBER – Wachauerinnen und Autorinnen machen Geschichten

ISBN 978-3-9503432-1-2