Pree10: Victoria Brown finds freedom in fashion

Pree10: Victoria Brown finds freedom in fashion

Written by Editor

Topics: Fashion & Beauty

The peace of mind and satisfaction that comes with pursuing your dream job is absolutely priceless, and if you’re doing it while reconnecting with your roots, the joy of the experience is undoubtedly amplified. Born in Nottingham, England, Victoria Brown travelled the world working in the field of childcare before settling in Jamaica – the land of her parents – and realising her dream of being a fashion designer. She’s lived a life that’s far from ordinary, as you will discover from the insights that she has kindly shared with Pree Jamaica.

Victoria Brown and international model Jeneil Williams at Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW) 2011

1. You had an early love for fashion. Why didn’t you pursue it?

I guess I didn’t follow my dream. The education system that I was schooled in didn’t necessarily encourage black youths to follow such dreams. Those professions seemed predominantly selected for middle class white children. Also, back then, many black parents in the UK just expected their children to leave school and work, as they had done, and encouraged them accordingly. I don’t feel that my aspirations for fashion were necessarily nurtured or encouraged on any level.

2. How did you end up becoming a maternity nurse/teacher?

I loved babies and small children, so when I left school I decided that was the career path I wanted to follow. I also wanted to travel the world. Once I started working as a nanny, I found I really enjoyed what I was doing…I loved the children and families I was working with, so I decided to further my education and get qualifications/expertise in those fields. Working for some very affluent families gave me the opportunity to travel and live in many different countries. I really enjoyed learning about new places, peoples and cultures. I also qualified as Maternity nurse, which allowed me to care for new born babies.

The families I worked for didn’t all send their children to private schools…some did and some had home schooling. Today, they would still use the word “Governess”, but I guess that was what I was employed to do…teach children in private households. These children did not interact with the ordinary kids, but kids in their social circle. Then, one day, as I was coming to the end of a teaching contract, my employer’s friend, who was pregnant with her first child, mentioned that she was looking for a maternity nurse. I offered my services and got the job. I looked after that baby for 12 weeks. Then she had another friend who was expecting twins and I cared for her twins…and then her friend was expecting triplets and it went on and on.

Thereafter, I was hired through word of mouth. My resume grew and then I began to specialise in multiple births, which was tough but very lucrative. These people never looked after their baby because they had household staff to care for them. In every home they had a maternity nurse who is only employed from 4-12 weeks, thereafter, they would hire a nanny. They had a butlers, chauffeurs, groundsmen, estate managers, cleaners, make-up artists, personal shoppers and personal assistants. They would have multiple homes around the world; wherever they went they had an entourage of staff to care for them and their children. You name it! It was hard for me to leave that kind of job, as I had grown accustomed to that lifestyle.

3. Which countries have you lived in?

Ok let’s see! I’ve lived in Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Holland, Greece, Tunisia, Spain and various states in the USA…Cayman, Canada and Jamaica; over the years I’ve probably travelled to twice as many countries and have enjoyed them all. It was a fantastic experience and I feel truly blessed to have had such opportunity.

4. What was the turning point that made you decide leave teaching and fully embrace fashion designing?

After having my son, I gave up travelling and just wanted to focus on bringing up my child. The nature of maternity nursing is not conducive with raising a family of your own; you’re on call 24/6 and required to live in with that family for the length of the contract. The thought of only being able to see my son one day a week was too much, so I had to make a choice, and for me, there was no contest…my child came first.

I spent the next few years being a full-time stay at home mum and then went to work for a reputable firm of estate agents, managing properties for some of their well-to-do clients. I suppose this also fuelled my interest in design, but in terms of interiors of the homes I managed. I’m not the world’s greatest seamstress or upholsterer, but I’ve always had an eye for what looks good and what works well, and I can defiantly advise people on what not to wear.

My skill is designing and that’s what I enjoy the most…sitting down and drawing the foundation or the body of the design, pulling all the necessary elements together and seeing the end result. I like that. That’s why I have a lot of respect for architects. They start with a blank page, they will sit down at their drawing board and start to draw and the final results are outstanding; that’s why I have a love for architectural buildings, especially unusual or abstract looking buildings because I understand the thought and creative processes that have gone into them.

5. How has living in all those countries influenced your views on fashion and your design aesthetic?

Travelling really opened up my experience of the world and has opened my mind. Luckily I was in my early teens when I started to travel so I had an open mind about everything. It opens you to a different levels and possibilities. I come from a traditional working class Caribbean family but my work and life experience has given me an understanding of how the other half live, think and experience the world.

I’m a better person for having had this experience. It’s made me adaptable, open and not afraid to try or experience new things. I believe I also take that approach to whatever I do in life, including fashion and design, my experience of travelling has made me embracing of other peoples, their culture, religions, customs, beliefs and their fashions. In Holland, women dress like men and they look like men. They cut their hair in the shortest hair styles and they always wear jeans and dark clothes; they’re not really fussed about their beauty.

Now if you go to Greece, the fashion there is like Italy, which I’ve also visited. They wear bright colours and fashionable clothes. The women and men are immaculately put together. The architecture is very grand, regal, prestigious and detailed; detailing and an immaculate finish is really important to them and that’s something I try and incorporate in my designs.

Victoria Brown design from CFW2011

“A good fitting garment should feel like an extension of your own body, you don’t have to think about it.”

I initially started designing clothes for myself because of my shape – Coca Cola. I would often find that of the peg or ready-made garments would never fit right; they were either too small on the hips or too big in the waist…just didn’t fit right.

Through travel, I learned to appreciate the many different, shapes, sizes and shades people come in, and I can see the beauty in them all. So when I design, it’s with a view to ultimately bring out the best in the individual. A lot of women don’t actually wear clothes to enhance their figure, they just merely put on something that they think is fashionable because it’s a particular brand or has a well known label. Good fashion is an individual thing that comes from knowing and accepting who you are, what attributes you have and working with them to the best of your ability. A good fitting garment should feel like an extension of your own body, you don’t have to think about it. I guess that’s what inspired me…to design clothes to embrace a woman’s figure, her appearances and her individual beauty while making her feel confident and comfortable in what she wears.

Anastagia Pierre, Miss Bahamas Universe 2011, in a design by Victoria Brown at CFW2011

6. How did you pick up sketching?

I picked up sketching through looking at fashion magazines and observing architecture and design along my travels. As a child, I would often cut out dresses and other beautiful things I would find in fashion magazines, newspapers and the teenagers’ weekly magazines, and hang them on my bedroom wall. I started to copy the pictures, colouring them in and adapting them to suit my own taste or idea of what looked good. I never really saw it as a particular talent or skill, it was just something I enjoyed doing.

7. You were born in England to Jamaican parents. How connected were you to your Jamaican roots?

I wasn’t really connected to my Jamaican roots because I hadn’t any real knowledge of Jamaica until I was an adult. My father came to England when he was in his 20s and married my mother, who was a good ten years younger than him. My parents, particularly my mother, seemed to assimilate and adopt a very British existence and distanced herself from her Jamaican roots early on. I only knew that my parents had come from Jamaica, we ate the food, listened to the music, but that was about it.

They didn’t speak much about Jamaica either. I guess the little I knew came from friends whose parents stayed connected to ‘back home’ as they called it. As I stated earlier, I left home in my early teens to pursue a career that has taken all over the world. I suppose I was preoccupied with seeing other places but always I knew that one day I would visit Jamaica.

8. Having seen the world, what prompted you to settle in Jamaica?

My father divorced my mother and retired here back in the 80s. I remember because it was the time Hurricane Gilbert visited Jamaica…my father arrived in Jamaica on a Sunday, Hurricane Gilbert came the next day. Anyway, he overcame that. Some years later, he suffered a heart attack but he came through it ok. Then he had a second heart attack and a stroke, which left him paralysed on his left side of his body. That’s when I came to Jamaica in 2006 to care for him. Then in 2008, he had another heart attack and another stroke. This time he didn’t make it.

My son and I decided to stay on in Jamaica because we loved it so much and we grew accustomed to the life in Jamaica. I really didn’t want to go back to the ‘rat race’ in England. Although Jamaica has its own problems, what country doesn’t? Jamaica is the right place for me. [It’s] where I want my son to be brought up and educated and where I know that he will develop a positive sense of identity as a black male. That is something the UK , USA or Canada won’t give him.

9. Tell us about your recent summer collection.

These are the last of my maxi dress collection. They are a one size fits all and made from a 95% spandex and 5% cotton mix fabric. They are loose fitting in design and elasticised at the waist band so they can fit anyone from a size S, M, L to XL. These maxis are colourful and can be worn at any social or casual function; you just need to accessorise accordingly.

A design from Victoria Brown's Summer 2011 collection

Designer Victoria Brown (centre) is flanked by Pulse model Canaan Wallace and international Pulse model Oraine Barrett.

10. What are your future plans?

I have completed my Office Collection, which will be out in the near future. This collection is very special to me. As you know, much of my inspiration comes from the 1950s, so I wanted to design something for corporate Jamaica with a touch of that era. I find Jamaican women to be bold and confident in their dress sense generally, but I just want to bring something unique to their wardrobe. So when they put on a VBC designer dress, not only will they be comfortable in it, but they’ll also look and feel sophisticated and absolutely fabulous in them…and at an affordable price.

One of the things I would love to do in Jamaica is to have my own TV reality programme, which would focus on fashion! So if any network managers out there are looking for programme ideas and/or a host that is guaranteed to increase their general audience and ultimately their ratings, well I’m open to discussions!

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