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Embellished Legacy

Aug/04/2023 / by Abhijit Masih

With a distinguished career as a textile designer and fashion mastermind, Veena Advani is truly an original.

Veena Advani is an artist at heart—an inspiring woman, who has been able to extend her talent and passion for textile design to fashion, art, and real estate. She has confronted challenges and sorrow, which she channeled into  meaningful works of art. Advani has worked with major international fashion houses, and her creations have been worn by international supermodels and musical superstars like Naomi Campbell and Whitney Houston. In her current passion of painting, she uses embroidery and beading, a nod to her long career as a fabric designer and embellisher to New York fashion houses like Pamella Roland, Marchesa, Isaac Mizrahi, and Lanvin.

Shaping for the future 

My mother had great foresight and vision to think that all women should have a vocation so that they could be financially independent. I was very into art, so she sent me to JJ School of Art in Bombay. She made me do textile design, so that I would have a career prospect to be able to earn a living for the rest of my life. I am ever so grateful to her as my whole journey is dependent on this first move.

Birth of a Brand 

When I got my green card, I started this label called DIVA, very innocently not even knowing what the word meant. At that point embroidery was just emerging. It wasn’t even mainstream and not many people were doing it and I was lucky enough to be there at the start of it. So I had instant success. I found myself in the windows of Saks, Lord & Taylor and Elizabeth Arden. Also in soap operas and Whitney Houston wore my clothes for her concerts, so it was one hell of a high in the early eighties with my label when there were no such things as brands. 

DIVA to Debt and Back

I had my first crash when my business partner and I couldn’t see eye to eye. My husband and I were falling apart at the time. I was about 31-32 years old and I owed the IRS a huge amount of money. I was so frightened, I couldn’t sleep and I kept getting notices from them. One fine day I just went over to them and said, ‘Hey, help me find a way out.’ They were so happy and amused with me and asked how they could help. I said, ‘Leave me alone for 5 years, and I will pay back.’ I never got a single notice from them ever again. Five years later, through Design Archives I was able to pay them back in full and also bought myself an apartment in Bombay, as well as having one in New York. So I was thriving again.

Inroads into International Fashion Houses

After Diva, I realized I didn’t want to sell and the production and sampling was too much for one person to deal with. I started Design Archives to offer my embroidery services and I made one call. That was to Isaac Mizrahi’s company to offer my embroidery services. I liked the idea of doing embroidery for these fashion houses and getting exposed to a much bigger picture of the fashion industry. I started working for him and that was the heydays of the supermodel. At that time, most of his shows were very electric. Naomi Campbell wore one of Isaac’s dresses that I had embroidered and it came on the cover of Time magazine. I went with the flow, through word of mouth, people introducing me to the next designer and before I knew it I was working with mostly everybody on 7th Avenue—Anne Klien, Geoffrey Bean and his assistant at that time was Alber Elbaz, who went on to become the creative director of Lanvin. That’s how I went from one company to the other, and was completely occupied and busy

Overcoming challenges

There has to be dedication and discipline along with talent. It’s not just you and not just luck. You have to work at it and you have to really want it. You can manifest whatever you want. I saw that happening with myself. I crashed twice, not just once, even with Design Archives, work got lesser in value because more people got into the business and then China came into play with cheaper options. It became a huge challenge to even stay afloat in that kind of an atmosphere. But I feel everyone can manifest, have an open mind, be inquisitive and you can come up with lots of wonderful ideas. Just work with your heart and have a discipline and there’s no way you’re not gonna make things happen the way you want.

A love story with Ali McGraw

I met Ali in Santa Fe. She and I turned out to be textile junkies. I loved embroidery and textiles, and she had a passion for it too. She had a bought shawl that I had made and a friend introduced us. The next time she came to New York she came to visit me. We had supper together and ran the idea about doing something together. So we came up with this label we called Milagro, which is like a play on her name. We did beautiful embroidered Pashmina’s and lovely little handbags. That enabled us to have a nice deep friendship which grew over time. Even though we stopped our business after a while (we both got busy in our own lives and other businesses), we still continue to be very close friends. I was very happy to meet her because she was a hero of mine when I was young.

From apparel to designing villas

As my embroidery got less creative and important for me, I got into interiors and home. On a trip to Goa, I completely fell in love. It is so peaceful, so quiet, it hasn’t been discovered yet. At that time I lived in Trump Tower in New York and I would come home and say, Why am I here? So I had this idea to sell my apartment and use all that money to buy myself a land bank in Goa that will give me 9 villas. I was very sure that I wanted to decorate them as well. In India you just get the walls and the floor. I wanted to be creative. So my villas had bedrooms done, had paintings up, curtains, carpets, ash trees, fully equipped kitchens and it was such a thrill. It was much more engaging than the embroidery had come down to. I was the first one in Goa to do a fully furnished house which has become the norm now. So I’m proud of that achievement.

Pivoting to Painting

Sadly I lost my brother in 2018. He was very young and we were very close and it was a huge shock. So I locked myself up for a good long period and that’s how I started to paint. I had conceived this idea that I want to do embroidery mixed with my art because that was a story. It is a legacy of my 40 years of work in the fashion business. I didn’t want to just dump it. I loved it. It was time to move forward, and art was really my passion. So I completely got into painting and the embroidery manifests in my paintings. Textile embellished art is a huge category now in the art world. I am very pleased at the moment because I got acquired by a major collector in India and another very big buyer in Saudi Arabia. I’m overjoyed. 

PQ Suggestions:

“My mother had great foresight and vision to think that all women should have a vocation so that they could be financially independent.”

“I found myself in windows of Saks, Lord & Taylor and Elizabeth Arden. Also in soap operas and Whitney Houston wore my clothes for her concerts, so it was one hell of a high.” 

“I liked the idea of doing embroidery for these fashion houses and getting exposed to a much bigger picture of the fashion industry.”

“Naomi Campbell wore one of Isaac’s dresses that I had embroidered and it came on the cover of Time Magazine.” 

“I was working with mostly everybody on 7th Avenue – Anne Klien, Geoffrey Bean and his assistant at that time was Alber Elbaz, who went on to become the creative director of Lanvin.”

“I met Ali [McGraw] in Santa Fe. She and I turned out to be textile junkies.”

“It is a legacy of my 40 years of work in the fashion business. I didn’t want to just dump it. I loved it.”

Seema

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