Excitement emanates from Vivian Laurence’s smile as she describes how she transforms simple ideas into pieces of art created to be worn. Last summer, Laurence had the opportunity to design her own fashion collection in Vuda Marina, Fiji with the help of a French designer, Alexandra Poenaru-Philp.
Upon meeting Poenaru-Philp in Fiji, Laurence’s mom brought attention to her daughter’s fashion blog. Poenaru-Philp, developing an interest in Laurence’s blog, then asked to spend a summer working and traveling with her.
Laurence said that the most interesting part of designing clothes in Fiji was experiencing firsthand the work of a freelance designer.
“The coolest thing in Fiji was being able to travel with the designer, being able to go to the factories with her, and seeing how it is when you’re a freelance designer and when you’re working for different clients,” Laurence said. “In Fiji, fashion is not a prominent career path, so it was really interesting to watch [Poenaru-Philp] work because she’s essentially [paved] the path as the only fashion designer based full-time in Fiji.”
According to Laurence, there are many restrictions in the fashion industry in Fiji due to the inaccessibility of high-quality fabrics. These obstacles, along with Fiji’s distinct culture, create a different working environment from what Laurence would have experienced if she were working in other fashion centers.
“Everything takes a little more planning and perseverance,” Laurence said.
However, Fiji is rising in the fashion industry; not only does it host the world class Fiji Fashion Week that promotes designers in the Fiji fashion industry, it is becoming a multi-million dollar design, textile and clothing industry.
When Laurence arrived in Fiji without knowing of what her internship would consist of, Poenaru-Philp assigned her to design three shirts, three bottoms, four dresses and one jacket for her mock collection. According to Laurence, creating a collection requires immense effort, from drawing rough sketches to choosing fabrics.
However, Poenaru-Philp helped to guide Laurence through the steps of creating her own collection. Poenaru-Philp had a successful fashion career in Paris working with many labels.
She is currently working with Australian, Fijian and French labels in the Fiji Islands. Specializing in knitwear, Poenaru-Philp works with clients and designs both male and women collections.
Despite being freshly exposed to the chaos of the fashion industry, Laurence was able to pull together a collection she loves and describes as clothes that she herself would wear. Although her collection will not be coming out, Laurence is incredibly satisfied with her creations.
“I was impressed with myself,” Laurence said. “I was proud to be able to stick with [the project] and create a collection that I’m satisfied with.”
Laurence’s interest in fashion intensified when she began to experience fashion as another form of self-expression and art. To Laurence, fashion is almost exactly the same as studio art; instead of using oils or charcoal as mediums, she uses textures, colors and cloth to express herself. Although Laurence is currently undecided whether or not she will pursue fashion, she left Fiji with an enhanced perspective on working with fashion.
“The experience definitely gave me an insight into what the fashion industry is really like and how challenging it can be,” Laurence said. “It was really rewarding.”
As well as expanding her connections throughout the fashion world, Laurence also established relations with teenagers her own age. As opposed to Laurence’s previous trips where she vacationed, being able to build these bonds through exerting her own influence made her experience in Vuda Marina truly different.
“What I really appreciated this time was being able to have a group of friends to hang with and to go back to when I visit,” Laurence said. “That made it really special.”