YANA’S WORLD: Episode 3 – Vinnette Grant Fashion Designer

| February 27, 2012

Dr Yana Johnson MBE

Caribbean Connection:          Jamaica

Education Pathway:       Fashion – University of Creative Arts, Kent

Unbridled; unrestrained; uncontrolled; as explained by the online dictionary, which is just as well because when you see the attention to detail, structure and complete creativity of the couture designs of bridal and fashion wear by Vinnette, it’s just as well that she is not on any leash, not that one could hold her.

I met Vinnette through a mutual interest of mentoring young people.  Yet in a short space of time this fun and highly inspiring go getter was sharing her interests and we found a common place.  Fashion.  Although the CEO of an international makeup company, I often get involved with creative shoots and quicker than you could say mascara, Vinnette and I were in the studio working in complete harmony bouncing off each others creative flow and truly in a zone that is without boundaries.

When I first saw Vinettes work, for the bridal shoot I was amazed at the high quality, and minute detail of every garment, with personalities of colours, textures and styles structured by a unique ability to capture all of that architecture in the hand finished item, translated into mood and character when worn by the model and tasty; that would make your mouth water if it were a culinary offering.

It would be great if I finished this article saying that Vinnette mentors young people in a schools program and establishing a more structured service for the young aspiring designers out there, however, I cannot stop there.  Vinnette is a high flyer and has achieved her goals on every level as a currently employed Air Hostess.  Vinnette is able to travel the world and soak up inspiration from people, places, and atmosphere that make up the diverse world, yet capture the smallest detail and translate every episode into its own uniquely inspired masterpiece; stitch by stitch.

Vinnette is passionate about her work and it shows. Her recent work was on sale and graced the window display of Selfridges in London.  Achieving this in just 5 weeks, Vinnette proves that she has more than what it takes to be recognized with the best of the best.

So, next time you are traveling and see an air hostess, consider who they are and what else they may have going on in their lives which deserve celebration.

When we sat down to talk about breaking into the industry of fashion, we both hit common ground identifying how we started and the positive and negative experiences in our lives taught us to work twice as hard to achieve.  How to get back up when we fell down, dust ourselves off and fight for a life that we created, fulfilled and achieving the best on every level and much more; needless to say we had a lot to talk about;

Vinnette, how did you start fashion?

Unbridaled in Selfridges, London

Having discovered that my Careers advisor was actually on my side, I realized that she believed in my talent from the evidence of school projects and the fact that as a black child in an all white class, I might stand a chance of getting into further education, which sadly was not commonplace in the seventies. My chances were increased further by my athletic achievements in a London club and at National level.  My tutors appreciated my tenacity at the college of my choice, Medway College of Design, now renamed University of Creative Arts in Kent.

I selected this College so that I could experience life away from home and enable me to devote more time to my studies.  Part of my  Fashion Design course included learning Machine Knitting design on a Knitmaster and I surprised myself and the knitting tutor with my ability to maneuver my way around the machine and to create new shapes and ideas.  One of my creations later became my signature piece, winning National Original Design category as well as the TV Times Best Original Knitwear Design years later.

Upon graduating I worked at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge with the aim of, studying to become a buyer with them when a vacancy arose. In the meantime I worked in the store, advising customers.  My parents bought me a Knitting machine as a birthday present, before long I was creating garments and taking samples around to boutiques in Kensington and Knightsbridge.

One day a Buyer from Harvey Nicks called me to one side and said… Vinnette I want to see what you have been offering other buyers and haven’t shown me!!!! We collaborated and an order was placed and was soon part of the season’s merchandise on the shop floor.

Who inspired you to sew?

My mother was a Designer and had her own shop in Jamaica, and my Father was a Tailor. They were the best dressed couple in town and naturally, my Mother went on to design and make many of our outfits.
Being the eldest daughter, I was intrigued and very interested in how to use the machinery and wanted to put some of my own ideas into action.
My Mum and Dad bought an early Singer Sewing Machine. It was hand operated with a wheel to turn, I couldn’t believe it when they called us one by one to learn how to use it, and I was only eight years old.
From that day forward, I knew what my calling should be, partly because I was the eldest girl and almost felt that it was my duty to continue in their footsteps, but mainly because I had a great feeling of being at home with clothes and fabric and the creation of clothing, even at that age I remember being let’s say…progressive with my ideas, but my Mum just looked at my sketches and cut and made some of my ideas come to life until I could manage on my own.

What kind of obstacles did you encounter?

Wow… That’s a big one!…….

I knew there was a price to pay, compromises to be made and sheer determination and solid hard work to be done in order to achieve my goals, which was for my work to be appreciated and respected and of course, recognized as a Brand.

My early educational years didn’t really present many obstacles other than being picked on for wearing nice and unusual clothes, the comments usually went…. God, where does she think she is going …to a wedding? To which I answered, actually I wouldn’t wear this to a wedding!!!

My true test was at Fashion College, where I was the only black girl in the entire College, and only came across one other black Lady, but she used to just drive by and wave, I wish we had stopped to chat, I was lonely in Kent with no one from my culture around, but I knew what I was doing, you HAVE to stand out from the crowd in Fashion, whatever Colour and denomination you are!

From the first term, I could see that I figured quite highly within my class of ’74. Our six weekly Critiques involved us working to a brief, researching, producing a sketched collection with fabrics and Colour boards and to cut a toile, complete the chosen design and to do a presentation at our Crits.

That wasn’t too bad, but when it came to the research time when we had to attend buffer classes as part of our syllabus, that’s where the problems lay. …

I remember a still life class, we were all seated around different tables, and our Tutor of advancing years, walked quietly behind each student, offered words of advise and encouragement, as she came closer to me, I moved to one side to enable her to comment on my work, the comment never materialized, she actually walked behind me, I saw her look over my shoulder then walk off, then go to my neighbor saying, ahhh yes, that’s very good ….. Needless to say I felt, demoralized, embarrassed, and somewhat shocked though I shouldn’t have been, this Tutor was set in her ways and needed educating into the 21st Century.

That experience did many things,…..but it did not demotivate me, it actually propelled me into working even harder, often times well into the night, a habit ,…..which I have just realized I still have, it’s as if I feel I have to punish myself with work to prove a point to be worthy!

What damage people do with their small minds can cause a lifetime of damage to one’s esteem!

I completed my course coming in the top three regularly with each Crit over the next three years, I would have said that I was a secure candidate for the special new Arts award named, SIAD which appears after your name, but I wasn’t selected to take the exam as the College had to pay for each student’s entry. One of the favorite students to pass from a previous year, failed the exam and they then decided they would only put forward “certainties” which did not include me, despite me finishing in the top three in each Crit consistently over the entire course. To rub salt in the wounds, I modeled the garments for many of the candidates, at one time one of my tutors asked me….” what time is your presentation? “. … I threw her a look , she realized that I hadn’t been selected as a candidate and scurried off, very embarrassed, they all knew they had done me wrong and to this day, many of my ex College mates still tell me how upset they were for me.

One crazy friend even said she felt like not accepting hers in protest !!!  No one spoke up at the time, so it’s nice to know that they cared.  Having broken through the  ” we need experienced designers” barriers, I worked in various Fashion establishments after leaving College, but always felt used, especially when I realized that the designs I had created for them, was now their property, they mainly wanted fresh ex grads to buffer up their design books.

It was at that point I decided to change tactics slightly and become a Fashion Buyer, if I  was lucky, I would get on one of the west end courses. I got a job in Harvey Nicks who did offer these courses, but instead I missed creating and sold to them instead.  I remember other obstacles, but one of the most poignant was when I exhibited at London Fashion Week, using money from the Bank secured on my latest National prize win with the TV Times. I was Vinnette Campbell by then, married with two children. I was interviewed and placed in the Designer section with established designers like Jeffrey Banks.

I knew I had to play clever and exchanged name badges with my good friend from College who remembered what I went through at College and was and still is, a good friend to me. We decided the best way forward was for her to stand on the outside and pretend to be “Vinnette Campbell”. I would go around the exhibition centre and go back to my stand with coffee for Tracy and asked if anyone needed my assistance, in the very busy stand, I remember one lady looked over her shoulder at me, waved her hand and said “oh no thank you, this lady is helping us !

Vinnette outside Selfridges

One day my three year old daughter was with me for a while, she had an asthma attack and I needed a phone to call an ambulance, so the stand in front of me offered to call the ambulance, it was only when they realized my daughters name was Campbell as in my signage above the stand that they realized that I was Vinnette Campbell, and they were speechless, they never spoke before or after that, but always spoke to Tracy, believing her to be me!

Snobbery in Fashion was paramount at the time, especially if you were a black woman, you were expected to talk the talk and walk the walk, but I didn’t want to change my personality to fit into the Luvvey culture, choosing instead to be true to myself.. But it doesn’t always work out for the best.

How would you say that the fashion industry has changed now?

I would say there is still an inherent amount of snobbery, for example as demonstrated in “The Devil wears Prada”, but it is more widely recognized that other cultures can influence collections, for example there was a period in the eighties where the theme was “Red Indian” influence, there has since been the “African “theme to name but a couple.

 

In the modeling world, Ethnic bone structures are appreciated more, with black Super Models, Naomi  Campbell and Alex Wek, breaking through the “normal” barrier. They contribute a more exotic and “rhythmic” modeling style to the Catwalk.

I would say the Fashion Industry is more accepting through natural evolution  rather than through the desire to change .

 

The Fashion Industry used to appear, out of reach to many aspiring creatives back in my day, and for some time after. To some extent, only those with confidence, defiance and tenacity will take on the climb that is required to sustain any kind of future in Fashion.

 

For all the reasons above, and reasons listed in my earlier questions and answers, I have created a support and encouragement community project  called Raw Inspiration. I have come across many young aspiring designers, models, make up artists photographers and those from related creative fields, who are calling out for direction, and asking “How do I get into my chosen field ?”

Following the success of the 2010 launch of “Raw Inspiration” at London’s Chelsea Football Club, my team members and I, are preparing for the follow up Raw Inspiration, which will start with candidates submitting their sketches for judging to semi finals then culminating in a finale Fashion show.

We aim to help the semi finalists and finalists with their submissions and  aide them in their pursuit of further education, awarding them prizes donated by related companies.

What would be your dream item to make or what is your favorite piece?

I dream of creating a wedding gown for a forward thinking Celebrity, someone where money for the materials is no object to allow my creativity to flow in a true ‘unbridled’ fashion, someone like Tyra Banks, would be brilliant.

I enjoy using three dimensional fabrics with some surface detail, if I cannot find what I want, then I create it, then the gown is designed with the client’s personality in mind to ensure that everything fits perfectly, in every way.

How did you become an air hostess?

After a relentless  period of designing, divorce, and single parenthood, I felt a change was due in mine and my children’s lives.

I had been struggling to recover from a car accident were I suffered back problems in 1995, so bad at one point, I was registered as disabled in my borough. My wake up call was when the occupational therapists offered a Zimmer frame and Dial a Ride to collect me for appointments! I had also lost my dear father that year so I was quite low and felt very guilty because my children were helping to look after me and had support from neighbours as I was far away from my family. I put mind over matter and gradually improved, enough to believe it was possible to achieve my goal. I should attribute my second ex- husband who introduced me to travel when we met in 1997.

 

I had always offered to drive people to the airport or collect them, just to soak up the atmosphere. I loved to people watch, so I would imagine where they were all going to and why and where they were coming from. Of course their fashion choices and style were also intriguing.

I was watching my youngest son play football for his team, when I overheard one of the mums mention that she had got through to the second base of the recruitment process for BA. I was a little surprised because like most people you imagine Air Crew to be stick thin, tall and beautiful. This Mum was just like me but tall, and very friendly like me. It got me thinking, maybe I should try to apply for a job with them too.

The following day I rang and spoke to recruitment. They asked me a few questions and then they advised me to apply.  I thought .. Oh well I wonder if they will call…and to my delight they called me as soon as they read my application form and invited me for a group day, which consisted of all the prospective candidates taking part in role plays etc. where our actions and reactions were monitored and noted. During the break, some of the candidates were nervously saying it was their last chance to apply for BA crew as this was their 3rd attempt. This was my 1st attempt and I suppose I just took it in my stride and went with the flow, otherwise I would probably be as nervous as them.

I was interviewed that day; I felt it went well as I made them laugh.  The next stage was the dreaded weigh in! I was over the limit which I knew. They gave everyone time to lose the weight before going through to the next part of the selection process six months later, having also crammed for my German exam. A second language was compulsory, or a Nursing  qualification.  The last time I spoke German, it was at my German Oral exam when I said  ” Meine name ist Vinnette Grant und ich bin seibtzen yahre alt “.  Seventeen years old, I was then 41years old with a life time behind me, but much more to come if I made it through the next process. I passed my weight and my German exam! At that time in 1998, only 4 out of every 100 were recruited so I was very proud and thankful.

I didn’t start my 5 week intensive training course until a year later due to  a lack of courses available. It was definitely something new and completely new to me and my family, I became more confident, happy and very tired, not to mention guilty for being away from my family and enjoying myself.

What do you enjoy most about traveling?

I love to people watch, I enjoy their cultures, diversity and identifying their languages.  It amazes me that within an hour you could be having lunch in Paris, an hour and a half be in my beloved Naples and all the peacock prowess of the Neapolitan male and the frenzy of market shopping and snobbery of the Designer street. As crew, we can often tell you where the best street would be to shop and eat,.. In my case within most countries in Europe.

As crew we have been spoiled with the quality of hotel we have become used to, alas we are not always able to afford the same standard when we go away on holiday.

On the other hand, the sad fact of life is that where there is a ying…. there is a yang.. And sometimes the contrast is too much to bear. For example, one of our trips was to Bucharest ,Romania. The street kids as they were called, knew when our crew transport would drive through the city. They would lay in wait and literally run behind our bus, banging on the windows and outstretching their hands for something…anything. Their bedrooms were the sewers beneath the manholes in the street …

Our main crew haunt was a fancy restaurant near our 5 star hotel, where we were not allowed to withdraw too much money as it could bankrupt the cashiers, also we could become millionaires in their currency. At the restaurant, our order arrived with several waiters who lifted the silver service  dome lids on ceremony. With money you can buy what you want, and what you don’t need, just for the hell of it. Monumental buildings framed the city, giving an impression of wealth and pride, but the underlying disharmony that was hidden beneath the sewers, cannot be denied……..travel really broadens your mind and outlook on life……

What is your favorite in-flight music?

Please see the “You Tube” link below illustrating my favorite flight music. It really does conjure up spirits soaring freely through our worlds sky, uniting and breaking through all cultural barriers under our “One World” umbrella.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qx2lMaMsl8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 Absolutely exhilarating, I invite you readers to, please comment, like and ask questions, even forward on this article.  Yana’s World is a two way experience and should inspire you if you ever wanted to do something.  We bring you interviews from people with a story to tell of how to get there which demonstrates: Nothing in life is impossible!  I look forward to your comments.

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