For Vinka Lucas, receiving an Order of Merit for services to the fashion industry and design has been the perfect adornment to a long and colourful career.
Vinka reigned supreme in New Zealand fashion circles for 50 years, her use of flamboyant fabrics and vibrant colours always creating a stir, and not just with her designs but her own dressing style too.
Now a resident in the hospital at Grace Joel retirement village, Vinka’s signature style and love of colour is still as strong as ever even though a stroke in 2009 effectively ended her ability to work.
Her proud and protective daughter Anita Turner-Williams, who has continued her mother’s legacy by taking over the Queen Street-based Vinka Design, says the accolades have poured in since the announcement was made, the recognition moving her mother to tears of joy.
“There was a letter from the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Auckland and our local MP Simon O’Connor,” says Anita, who recently featured alongside her mother in a beautiful four-page spread in New Zealand Woman’s Weekly detailing Vinka’s achievements.
“But there have been dozens from past clients and those are the most important ones. So many people have a Vinka story, she reached so many women over several generations.
“She was overjoyed and overwhelmed to see that people still cared.”
Croatian-born Vinka trained at the Academy of Dress & Design in Zagreb and her stunning bridal and evening gowns became the perfect channel to express her many European influences.
Her husband David Lucas helped to promote his wife’s talents by launching New Zealand’s first bridal magazine, Bridal Annual, and the pair secured import licences to source the best fabrics, distributing them through stores up and down the country.
They even established a pattern-making service which made her designs accessible to amateur dressmakers wanting to recreate her designs.
“She’s done so much, she was so innovative and I’m thrilled that people are remembering what she’s contributed,” says Anita.
“She worked for over 50 years as a designer, actually physically working, and that’s a lot!”
Vinka’s reach also went beyond New Zealand through her uniforms for Air New Zealand hostesses, the outfits she designed for pageants such as Miss World and Miss Universe and dressing international actresses and diplomats.
She even set up a branch in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – since most of her designs were paired with elaborate headpieces they were easily adapted for Muslim women.
Anita believes the secret behind her mother’s success was never losing the focus of what good design should represent.
“It’s all about the dress. And highlighting the body in the most beautiful way.
“The women that came to Mum were those that dreamed of a Vinka gown. It was pretty special, something that they saved up for and cherished.
“I’m so proud she’s finally got the recognition she deserves.”