The team at Together Journal sat down with our Creative Director, Anita, at the Atelier to discover the Vinka difference and discuss all things bridal.
Words by Emily Simpson, Photography by Erica Jane
No sooner have you popped the champagne and raised a toast to your engagement, then the search begins for That Dress. You know, the unforgettable one that makes you feel 100 percent like yourself – as in, your happiest, most radiant and drop-dead gorgeous self.
Any bride-to-be on this quest knows as soon as she steps into Vinka Design that she’s entered a place like no other. A lofty atelier in the heart of Auckland’s Queen St, this space is a treasure trove of the very best fabrics and laces imported from around the world – but it’s not just that.
The exquisite gowns that hang in this work-room are each bespoke designs made in-house by an experienced staff lead by Anita Turner, the label’s owner and head designer, who has a depth of knowledge of bridal couture unrivalled in New Zealand – but it’s not that either.
What truly sets Vinka Design apart is that its brand has the kind of pedigree that the smoothest of marketing campaigns could never conjure.
To understand the DNA of Vinka Design you need to go back to its namesake, Vinka Lucas NZOM – Anita’s mother – who sadly passed away last year but is remembered as a national fashion icon. Not that Vinka was born in New Zealand. She arrived here as Vinka Dragica from the Croatian village of Kozica – a coastal melting pot of influences from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Quite different, then, to Northland Aotearoa, where the glamourous Vinka landed in 1959.
“She was appalled at the fashion!” says Anita, laughing. “It was so dreary, so she used to get busy whipping up little numbers to wear to the dances. She’d make dresses for others as favours and she got a reputation for her style. She had something extra – she always wanted to be the best dressed.”
Before long, Vinka was living and working in Auckland where she met and married Anita’s father, the entrepreneurial David Lucas. The dynamic pair channelled their energy into an evening and bridal wear business that was to span decades and go through many evolutions. For decades, United Bridal Salons in Queen St was the ultimate destination for brides-to-be – not just to find the finest fabrics and laces for the inimitable craftsmanship that Vinka had learned in Croatia. “They were taught to sew with tissue paper”, says Anita. “She learned the hard way – a true trained couturier.”
As you can imagine, Anita grew up as the best dressed child on the block. “Hats, a muff, gorgeous little outfits,” she recalls. And it wasn’t just her mother’s style she absorbed, but her work ethic too. “I was given a little sewing machine, iron and ironing board at about age four and encouraged to make dresses for my dolls. I was a real mini-me.”
As a young adult, Anita juggled raising her own two daughters with working alongside Vinka in the business and, as her mother grew older, she gradually became the boss. But the vast depth of knowledge she’s spent her life acquiring comes with a healthy dose of modesty. “Who cares who Anita is?” She laughs, as she takes a quick break from her schedule at the luxuriously chic Vinka Design space – still based on Queen St but now boasting high ceilings, sumptuously upholstered furniture and polished concrete floors.
“It’s not about me, it’s about Vinka’s DNA and philosophy, her commitment to quality and excellence.”
A lifetime of bringing out the best in brides has made Anita an expert in everything from couture to psychology. “I’m here to listen,” she says. “Some brides, when they come to me, are overwhelmed and need clarity. My job is to interpret what they like and what they need. It’s a bit of a collaboration, I’m able to help put all their ideas together.”
She also designs according to each client’s unique shape. “As women we’ve got curves and those curves need to be met,” says Anita. “An off-the-rack dress won’t necessarily do that.” But a dress that fits you like a glove and enhances your best angles will feel good and Anita knows that comfort and style are inextricable. “If you feel beautiful, you are beautiful”.
Because Anita is an expert with beading, the fall of fabric and the finest laces, some associate her with highly feminine dresses, but she’s a designer with range. “All of our gowns are so different”, says Anita. “We can do simple, more tailored dresses or ones with a lot of detail. It depends on whether the wedding is a small-scale elopement or 300 guests in a cathedral – everything needs to be in harmony with the bride.”
Once the style of the dress is agreed upon, Anita does a detailed sketch to ensure that everyone is – literally – on the same page. It’s such small services that make the whole process a pleasure and ensure the gown lives up to the client’s vision.
Because, forget compromise. Anita has been behind the scenes of enough weddings to know the importance of the once-in-a-lifetime gowns that she crafts.
“Why should the bride have to settle?” she asks, echoing the powerful spirit of Vinka.
“She wants perfection, and she deserves perfection”.