Happiness keeps you sweet,
Trials keep you strong,
Sorrows keep you human,
Failures keep you humble,
Success keeps you growing,
But only God keeps you going!

I have a new puppy, she is three months and just broke her leg, rambled Vanessa Barbery before taking a deep breath to talk about the dress that started it all. 

It was the first evening gown she had ever sewn. Inspired by the Santa Cruz green flag, woven with raw silk and lined with satin silk, the emerald green silhouette was created while studying at the American Intercontinental University in London where Barbery received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Fashion design & Marketing with honors. This garment not only paved her path but set the tone for many more haute couture dresses to come. “It just makes me smile, I was so proud when I finally finished it, it took all quarter to make,” she said.

Often life experiences and places she traveled are reflected in her silhouettes constructed from satins, silks, chiffons, lace and jersey fabrics. 

“My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere,”



said the Bolivian designer whose based in San Jose. “I love fabrics and am often times inspired by a particular print or color, then I take that to my studio and drape for hours on my mannequin.” 

All of her dresses are named with a personality influenced by women in her life including her mother who modeled in Canada while pregnant and her grandmother who was a fashion icon in South America but died at 65 from colon cancer. If she could clothe anyone in a VB Design it would be “mamanita” (her grandmother). “She used to design dresses for my mom,” Barbery said softly after a sigh. “I made a dress for my mother but not my grandma.”

Barbery whose nicknamed Nanita after her grandmother began sketching in the third grade. “I was born into the industry, literally,” said Canadian born Barbery. She deconstructed jeans and T-shirts just to glue pieces back together with staples, pins and tape reinventing one-of-a-kind pieces. Laughing, she recalls a time after she learned how to sew when her mother asked, “You’re not going to pin your clothes together anymore?” 

Eventually, Barbery received the opportunity to have her drawings brought to life by a seamstress. While living in Bangkok, Thailand she was unable to find a prom-style gown to fit her 14-year-old, size four curvy body. So she designed it herself and went shopping for fabric. Perhaps it was the raw silk, one-shoulder long sleeve gown with a high slip or the dusty rose strapless frock that confirmed her destiny to design.

She created her first collection for a graduation fashion show in 2006 at AIU where she graduated alongside Season Four Project Runway winner Christian Siriano. There, she also won her University’s Children fashion show competition. This time it was a denim skirt with a ruffle on the side and top with a VB logo fitting for an eight year old that won her the praises.

“At the end of the day, I realize that I prefer women’s wear,” said Barbery who designs children’s, haute couture evening wear and ready-to-wear

Besides formal training, Barbery gained knowledge while interning for the British company EMA, Kate Clarkson and London Fashion Week. Shortly after graduating, she took a course in Milan where she fell in love with an elaborate piece of lace. “I splurged,” said Barbery who campares her personal style to a chameleon. “The lace just brings me happiness.” She incorporated what became a prized possession into her wedding gown in 2007.

The 26-year-old recently participated in Fashion Week Ecuador 2009, where she showed a portion of her Spring/ Summer 2010 collection emphasizing color and fit. This translates into exotic prints, subtle details, drapery and a bright-color palette. Staples include Nena (a leopard chiffon bubble skirt), Anita (sky blue satin gown) and Cynthia (starburst orange dress with a tier of ruffles). “Women in South America are proud of their curves and appreciate designs that flatter their body,” she said. “I like to keep my consumer in mind.” Although South America greatly influences the hues and textiles used, her silhouettes are global.

The eclectic international designer books a variety of models and prefers to pair the model with the fit


“I’m kind of open-minded on models depending on the dress,” she said. “Some dresses look better on slender models and some work better on voluptuous shapes.” She would like to design a Plus-size line someday. 

This collection will be expanded into 15-pieces for the Santa Cruz Bolivian Fashion Show on February 24. 

Excitedly, she interjects, “I’m leaving on the 16th.”

A total of 20 dresses will complete the collection for the American Red Cross Fashion Show later this Spring. “It takes a confident woman to work them,” said the Canadian-born designer. “But it can work for a broad age range.”

Meanwhile, Barbery is collaborating with former roommate, Michelle Madsen to design a Pret-a-Porter line called i heart smitten. The feminine and artsy collection which aims in the opposite direction of VB Fashion will debut early this summer. 

Ending with her final words, she confesses that a signature piece from Valentino last collection would be her pick if she could return as a dress. 


When did you know you wanted to be in the fashion industry?
I have been interested in fashion since third grade when I began sketching dresses and soon after that as a teen I would cut my t-shirt and jeans and create one of a kind pieces even though I could barely sew I tried it all staples, pins, tape. The big moment was actually when I had the opportunity living in Bangkok, Thailand when I needed a prom dress for a high school dance and found nothing my size I was a curvy 4. I decided to buy my own fabric and have a seamstress bring my creations to life, I knew then I was destined to design.

How long have you been in the industry?
I was born into the fashion industry, literally. My mom was a model in Canada and modeled when she was pregnant and right after I was a baby walking in heels backstage. My grandmother was also a fashion icon in South America known for her classic fashion style and she would design dresses for her daughters for Quinceaneras. I officially started my first collection for my Graduation Fashion Show in London in 2006 where I received my BFA in Fashion Design & Marketing with honors.

What is your role in the industry?
My role as a fashion designer is to bring my eclectic international design style to all women, of all ages. I want to be part of those special moments that life has to offer. Celebrate life in style.

What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion to me is an expression of oneself bringing your inner beauty out to the surface, capturing a mood.

What is your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. I am naturally influenced by all my travels and life experiences. I love fabrics and am often times inspired by a particular print or a color, then I take that to my studio and drape for hours on my mannequin. All my dresses have a name a personality influenced by all the women in my life.

Is there a theme or message in your clothing?
Yes to be comfortable in your own skin and enjoy beauty. My designs are made with love.

What makes your clothing/accessories unique?
My clothing is unique because I am fortunate enough have experienced the world and my gift to you is bringing beautiful designs that are an expression of my life.
What is your target demographic?
For this collection I am targeting ages 18-35, however all my designs can be altered to different age groups.

What is fashion like in South America vs. US?
After recently participating in Ecuador Fashion Week 2009 (
I realized that Latin designers have a strong influence on color and fit. Women in South American are proud of their curves and appreciate designs that flatter their body. In Santa Cruz, Bolvia where my family is from the style is highly influenced by European style mixed with an exotic feel. They love their ruffles and rhinestones, detailed work.

Are you Haute Couture or Ready To Wear?
This collection is Haute Couture due to all the draping, hand work and the quality of materials being cut on bias and many dresses only having one seam. I am also starting a ready to wear line called “I heart Smitten” that will be coming soon... (

Where can shoppers buy your clothing?
My clothing is available now. I am taking orders for my Spring/Summer 2010 collection. Contact me at to make an appointment.

What are the materials you work with?
I enjoy working with satins, silks, chiffons, lace and jersey. I love color and am not afraid of experimenting with it. I am fond of combing prints and bold colors. Prints have to catch my eye and inspire a design immediately.

What is your favorite piece/item you have ever done?
That is like asking who is your favorite child…I love them all. However there is a dress I designed in my eveningwear class in London that paved my path. It’s an emerald green dress woven with raw silk and lined with satin silk that just makes me smile I was so proud when I finally finished it, it took all quarter to make because we had to start with an inspiration I chose Santa Cruz Bolivia and research it till we created our master piece. (Pic of green dress)

What is your favorite fashion season?

How do you feel the recession has affected the fashion industry, if it has at all?
Consumers are concentrating on quality not trendy pieces to invest in that can be versatile & classic.

What trend could you do without this year/season?
I personally cannot pull this trend off, Harlem pants but to each their own.

What trend do you love this year/season?
Booties with dresses/shorts/skinny jeans it’s fun and edgy.

Most loved designer/brand?
Valentino, Chanel, Lanvin, Carolina Herera and Roberto Cavalli just to name a few I could go on.

What is your most beloved fashion item?
After graduating in London I did a summer course in Milan and splurged on a piece of lace that I incorporated into my wedding dress. The lace just brings me happiness it’s that beautiful.

Being a (Bolivian/Canadian) designer, do you feel American and (Bolivian/Canadian) fashion tend to differ, and if so, how much?
I have a hard time classifying myself as any type of designer because I am a Bolivian born in Canada raised in California, Thailand, London and all this and more make me who I am today so the fashion does differ but everything has already been done in fashion history we simply have new perspectives of showcasing the designs.

How would you define your city's fashion?
San Jose is an up and coming city that has the hunger for fashion and with such diversity there’s something for everyone.

Do you market in the United States or internationally?
I market internationally because I want to share what I have to offer to everyone.

What is the most memorable accomplishment in your fashion career?
The first big fashion accomplishment I had was winning my University’s Children’s fashion show that lead to an internship with a British company. There were so many talented students at my school including Christian Siriano winner of project runway whom I graduated with.

Next events to come?
February- Santa Cruz, Bolivia Fashion show for Bolivian homeless kids. ( )
March-2010 Fashion show featuring new ready to wear line: I heart Smitten.

For more information on VB Fashion, visit



Fashion Writer Shaneia Caldwell
Images Vanessa Barbery
Designer Vanessa Barbery
Images #3 - #4 Miss Ecuador 2009



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