BUCHAREST, Romania -- It's only a dress, but it's the talk of Romania.
Controversial Tourism Minister Elena Udrea has sparked outrage with her star-printed Dolce & Gabbana number, a frock she admits cost as much as many Romanians make in more than a month. She defended the dress this week, insisting it cost less than the thousands of euros that media has reported.
She told B1 TV that clothes are one of her few joys in life, and the dress was a gift from her businessman husband that cost 780 British pounds (euro900, $1,290).
Journalists accused Udrea -- known for her love of expensive purses and shoes -- of being insensitive during the economic downturn in Romania, where the average national monthly salary is euro320 ($455) after tax.
Udrea is the most prominent minister in the government and President Traian Basescu's closest ally. She has long been dogged by rumors that she has an inappropriate relationship with the president, and Basescu was forced to issue a statement recently denying he was at home after Udrea was filmed entering the presidential palace late one evening.
She appeared to be relishing the attention. This week she posted on her blog she would be going to the hairdresser early Tuesday, later adding an update that she was disappointed the paparazzi had not pursued her.
In the TV interview, Udrea said her passion for clothes started when she was a young girl growing up in the provinces, where her family were not well-off. She accused Romanian journalists of misogyny, arguing that male politicians who wear equally expensive clothes do not get the same the scrutiny.
But, she conceded that wearing the pricey dress may have been a mistake.
"Had I have known what passions and discussion the dress would have fired, I'd have never worn it," she said.