For this Designer Profile, I have the pleasure of introducing you to one of the kindest people I know in the Chicago fashion industry. Vicky Winkler, designer extraordinaire, took me under her wing as a naïve, eager-to-learn college student. With her help, I made industry connections and learned some of the workings of the city’s industry. I will forever be thankful to her! Beyond her gracious heart, the owner of VZuniga Designs is a great and talented Chicago jewelry designer. I recently had the privileged to chat with Vicky and learn about her beginnings and how she grew to her current level of design talent.
We began speaking of her early years which led me to ask about her introduction to art and the creative process. Vicky credits the generous artists within her own family. Among the family artists from her early childhood were her mother who handmade pieces, as well as her uncle who liked to sketch and paint. At the approximate age of 8, Vicky traveled outside of the country to visit an Aunt who was a jewelry maker. Intrigued by what she was doing, Vicky thought to herself, “I want to learn more. I want to learn how to do this.” During her month-long stay abroad with her Aunt, Vicky learned to help by sorting and selecting beads for a jewelry project. Soon after she discovered that she “could draw jewelry and then make them.”
After finding herself with these ideas and thoughts of design, it was a special day in high school when colleges came to talk to the students. “One school in particular, the International Academy of Design and Technology “caught her eye.” “I immediately enrolled and was so excited.” While her start in school began with clothing design, Vicky discovered her true passion in the design world. “It was through clothing design that I embarked on jewelry design. I would spend so much time embellishing garments that I realized I liked the garnishing more. Everyone has their own unique path. I have no regrets.”
When speaking on her fashion design schooling experience, Vicky admitted it was very “challenging.” “It was not what I expected. There were sleepless nights. It was very intense. I did not realize how much work there was behind a garment. With everything from creating it from scratch, draping, cutting and sewing. It was really intense.” During this time Vicky was working in the morning and going to school at night. “I was rushing around doing as much as I could for the next day.” It was during this busy time that Vicky experienced an “A-Ha” moment. “The school had an annual fashion show, and my garment was a two piece tailored jacket and pantsuit, and it was selected! Linda Yu (of ABC7 News) was the host for the annual fashion show. When she read my name with the description and my model came down the runway, I remember thinking, wow. With all the effort put in and the response from the audience, I knew it was my path. My inner spirit said this is the way. I have to keep doing it. I couldn’t fail. Failing is not an option.”
After school ended, Vicky was eager to build experience and “would say yes to anything.” She said she learned that “not all venues were for me, but I learned a lot through that.” She learned to be “selective and when to say no, and the importance of doing what’s best for you.” In 2005, Vicky founded her own company, VZuniga Designs.
As VZuniga Designs has taken off, I was curious about what inspires her both for her design work and in her own personal style. “For me, nature is full of inspirations. I look at a flower, the shape, the color palette and all that speaks to me. It gives me inspiration and with that I figure out what kind of jewelry set to make. It almost seems like it’s too simple, but it’s really my inspiration.” Included in her love for nature are the four seasons in the Midwest, including “fall leaves with the vibrant rust orangey color. It amazes me that they were once green. I work off that and anything I feel a link to.”
When speaking of her own fashion sense, “the things I love to make for myself mainly include nature colors, as I am very drawn to the ocean with all the different shades it has.” Having traveled to many places, “I remember seeing Cabo San Lucas versus Cancun versus the Bahamas. Every ocean is different. There are endless shades of blue. I was mesmerized. When I see beads, I remember certain colors of the ocean.”
Using such inspirations, Vicky’s first designs began as small individual pieces, but as time went on she “noticed the value of a collection.” “It can give a person that option to pick from many ideas. I’ve noticed myself starting to do more collections which offer a wider selection.” When asked about future designs works, Vicky indulged us saying, “I’ve been sketching different types for a body chain collection using more embellishments and fabric. The sketches are done, so we’re going to try it.”
As we spoke of future projects, I was curious to ask if she had a piece that she’s made that she holds close to her heart. I was blown away as she began to answer, brushing her long dark hair off her neck and shoulders, revealing an absolutely stunning necklace. While I tried to remain composed through my excitement, Vicky described the details of this piece (shown as the article header and the below right image). “Inspired by the ocean, it includes more than 500 pieces hand sewed together, including gemstone pearls. With the idea of making an embellished collar, I thought to myself, why not make it more of a fashion statement necklace! It took a total of 4 months to complete, working 2-4 hours a day. This piece gave me the affirmation that I could do this. This was my moment to know that this is what I could pursue with confidence.” When I asked about the weight of the necklace, Vicky replied. “It’s very soft and not too heavy. There is felt on the back. When I design something, I ask, what do I want in a piece? What will I feel good yet also comfortable in?”
As part of the Chicago industry, I was curious to hear Vicky’s thoughts on the Chicago Art and Design scene during last couple of years. “The recession did it’s damage. The city pulled out funds for fashion, cutting back about 80%. On a positive note, I’ve noticed neighborhoods are very supportive of local artists, shopping local and for handmade pieces. I’ve noticed a rebirth in neighborhoods like Andersonville. They are extremely supportive. It brings hope to the city. You have L.A. or N.Y., but why leave Chicago? Why do we have to leave? I believe Chicago has it.” In the neighborhood of Andersonville, mentioned by Vicky, you will find an amazing collection of boutiques and shop local stores. Included amongst these is the Andersonville Galleria, where VZuniga Designs have been sold for 10 years.
With all of her knowledge and experience I asked Vicky to share some words of wisdom to those who aspire to work in design. Her message is to “encourage people to set goals. Each person is different, but the formula is the same. Stay consistent with your goals (even daily goals) and priorities. Don’t give up. You will find a way. If it’s important to you, you will find a way. Network and do research. I took baby steps through out my whole journey. Work with what you have, and you will get there.”
While my interview with Vicky was coming to a close, I decided to close with a light-hearted question, asking who her ultimate style icon or muse is/was. A hard question to think of on the spot! Vicky openly shared her adoration for Jennifer Lopez. “She’s all over the place; her line at Kohl’s, her style… She’s not afraid to come out with a unique looking gown. She’s creative, hardworking, entertaining and has an artistic gift. Besides the whole Latin thing, she just gets better with age! She’s had bumps along the way, and she worked hard to get where she is today. And I love seeing her outfits in concert!”
After wrapping up my interview with Vicky, I couldn’t help but feel personally inspired and motivated by her words. With everything from finding inspiration in the nature around you to her advice on staying proactive while following your dreams.
I’d like to thank Vicky of VZuniga Designs for sharing her story and love for design with us. For more information and where to shop Vicky’s designs, follow the links below.
A special thank you also to the Andersonville Galleria and Photographer Samie Deyo for ‘I Live in a Magazine’ for capturing these great images of Vicky and her designs!