Chat with the designer

Suzanne Vinnik is no stranger to fashion having been singled out by The New York Times, as a "stylish lyric soprano" prior to retiring from her career as an opera singer to become one of Los Angeles' most exciting new designers specializing in inclusive ethical fashion. Her work exploded onto the scene having been worn by Jennifer Coolidge on The White Lotus, on Dulcé Sloan on RuPaul's Drag Race, and on some of the most celebrated classical musicians and Broadway stars.

Why did you start designing?
In 2018, I'd just gotten out of an abusive marriage and moved across the country from NYC to LA. I'd been involved in fashion as an opera singer and entrepreneur with my previous business but, I longed to wear garments that just didn't exist in my size. While I carry a variety of sizes, I've really enjoyed designing for plus size clients the most. I love seeing divas excluded from the fashion conversation owning who they are and able to find clothing that makes them look and feel their personal best in shapes, silhouettes and textiles that are often seen on the runways but not available for everyone. 

Even though my brand is small, I know that I am making a big impact with most of my clients coming back for more with each release. I have some of the most talented stylists and Hollywood costume designers reaching out to dress their talent in my creations. It’s really incredible!

I’m an artist no matter the medium. Whether it is music, photography or designing clothes… this is how I express myself. 

What inspires your work?
Everything. You see my past as an opera singer and my love of fashion history with a contemporary twist in each garment. I largely ignore trends and just make clothes I know I want to wear. You see my love of taking up space. You see my love of color and texture. Everything I do is driven by who I am as an artist first and foremost but, my clients really inspire the direction I decide to go with each garment! When I'm sketching a design, I am constantly thinking about who would look amazing in it and how can I make the garment in as few sizes to fit the most divas of differing heights and body types. I’m thinking about how I can style it multiple ways because I want people to put these outfits in their regular rotation for days, weeks, months, years, decades and centuries to come! I've been known to message certain clients and send them fabric I just selected with an "I'm sorry!"

What are the biggest hurdles in your business?
TIME. There’s just not enough hours in the day. I wish that I could clone myself to do everything I want to get done in 24 hours. It’s so hard to compete with big brands when I am doing so much on my own organically. I wish I had a bigger budget to devote to bringing on more people with specialized knowledge or the ability to manage people. I think we are getting closer each day!

What do you think about fashion today?
Fast fashion has ruined what people think is "Affordable" as it is ALWAYS at the expense of someone. Your clothes shouldn't be something so cheap you feel no guilt throwing them away or donating where they are probably going to end up in a landfill. I'm not impressed with my generation who have grown up with disposable clothing but claim to care about equity and the environment while wearing clothes produced by children and marginalized people all over the world making little to nothing while CEOs and investors get rich. In no universe does it make sense to support these exploitative brands. I’ve had my original designs stolen by some of them too. It’s not a great feeling seeing something I’ve poured hours of my life developing being ripped off either but, the whole copying and lack of originality is a post for a different day! 

Who are some of your favorite designers?
I fell in love with fashion because of Betsey Johnson. The clothes in her boutiques in the 90s when I was first beginning to perform as a child always inspired me. There was something about walking into the stores and feeling like you were being transported to a place where everyone was welcome and part of something bigger. I've really tried to tap into that feeling with byVINNIK. Fortunately, I stopped growing in the 4th grade so, I was able to wear her work very young and I wore it up until the stores closed in 2012! I have several of her illustrations in my office from her UWS store. Some of my favorite memories singing were wearing her gowns! I've met her a few times and every time I was wearing her designs. Now that I am a designer, I know how special that is to be out in the wild meeting the designer in their work!

I'm also obsessed with Zandra Rhodes. I got to work with her when I was actively performing in her spectacular production of Pearl Fishers. A few years later, I was on a flight to Moscow to perform and saw her in all yellow flying coach. I gained a new respect for her that day! She's a dame in freaking COACH!!!!!!! I love her use of textiles and the way the clothes just feel weightless even though they have so much personality. Everything she does is timeless but, wild! 

Patrick Kelly is another designer that I truly love. I love when a designer's work makes you feel something. He's someone who I think would have been a household name had he lived longer. Everytime I buy buttons, I think about him. 

I of course love the masters like Yves Saint Laurent, Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristobal Balenciaga and Madame Grès.