From Chennai to China, via the runway

18MPVINO_SUPRAJA_2441837g (1)There are strong people. And then there’s Vino Supraja.

She vaguely said she was in town for a family emergency. Only after the interview did I find out that her brother had passed away in a road accident just a few days earlier. That’s why she was here. And graciously agreed to meet me for a quick morning chat.

I will never forget the ease with which she answered questions, posed for photos and laughed and joked around with me and our photographer. 

Here’s the story of how her life changed, moving from media to mannequins:

What does a person with a media career do when they land in China without knowing the language? In Vino Supraja’s case, she decided to go back to school. “I moved there with my husband on his job posting, but I didn’t want to sit idly. I couldn’t continue with my previous career, and most of the courses were in Chinese. I had very few options in English, and had to choose between MBA and fashion designing. I decided to go with the latter,” says the chirpy former radio jockey and TV host from Vandavasi (a small town near Chennai), who studied architecture at Anna University before pursuing her passion for media.18mp_vino_supraja__2441839g

On her first day at the Shanghai campus of International Fashion Academy (IFA) Paris, she was surrounded by youngsters fresh out of school. “But I didn’t feel out-of-place; they were all very friendly. I think I knew within a few hours that I had made the right choice,” says Vino, seated in the lobby of ITC Grand Chola on a short visit to the city last week. “We had French couture professionals teaching us everything from the basics of pattern making and sewing to marketing. It was a 360-degree training, and looking back, I can’t believe how much I improved over the three-year course.”

18mp_vino_supraja__2441842gAnd improve she did, enough to win her the Golden Laureate Award of her batch, for her graduate collection called Patang (inspired by the kite festivals of India), which was showcased at the Shanghai Fashion Week in October 2014. In the same year, she was a finalist in the China International Fashion Designers Creation Contest. Her work also found a favourable mention in the Chinese edition of Vogue magazine.

When her husband was transferred to Detroit on a two-year assignment, Vino followed with their son, and there, continues to pursue her new career. She runs her studio out of home, where she does all the work herself, from conferring with clients and sourcing material to cutting and sewing. “So you can praise me if it’s good and blame me if it’s bad. I don’t have anything to hide behind! Textile designing is also a passion of mine, and I design the materials myself; I love the freedom of playing with colours,” says the 35-year-old.

18mp_vino_supraja__2441840g“Very early on, I realised that fashion designing was no different from architecture — we either dress buildings or human bodies. The understanding of the structure is what’s important,” she explains, when asked how she found it so easy to adapt to fashion designing. Her latest collection, W, which was featured at the WALK Runway Fashion Show in Detroit 2015, pays homage to celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his signature windows. Her designs are structured, yet manage to have a lot of movement. As for the colour pallette, Patang featured bright splashes of pinks, reds and yellows, whereas the WALK collection plays with browns, blues and beiges.

18mp_vino_supraja__2441844gVino prefers designing long dresses, jackets and evening gowns, and is getting used to sporting her eponymous label. In the long-term, she plans to move back to Chennai and get into costume designing for films and television. “I want to travel a lot and learn, and later in my career, I would love to mentor young designers. That’s my goal,” she says.

A version of the story can be found here.

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